Northern Waterfalls Round I
Maesglase Waterfall, Pistyll Cain, Rhaeadr Mawddach, Rhaeadr Du, Rhaeadr Cynfal, Rhaeadr y Cwm, Diffwys Dwr, Llanberis Falls/Ceunant Mawr, Pistyll y Gaseg, Pistyll Rhyd-y-meinciau/Rhiwargor Falls, Pistyll Eunant/Eunant Waterfalls, Nant y Gwnfa, Llaethnant, Craig y Pistyll. Is that enough for a weekend?
None of these are particularly long walks, as the intention was to visit as many as possible within just one weekend. Therefore, the chosen routes are always the shortest possible routes to the waterfalls. You may want to come up with more imaginative routes that take in more sights.
Pistyll Cain and Rhaeadr Mawddach
- In the Coed-y-Brennin Forest between the Rhinogydd and Arenigau mountain ranges, famed for its cycling routes, a small road leads from Ganllwyd, up the Afon Mawddach. The easy footpath at the end continues upstream.
- At a bridge over the Afon Gain, there is this view of Pistyll Cain, and that is where many visitors stop. On the right side of the river, a narrow path along the cliff gives a better view.
- Pistyll Cain - easily one of the most impressive waterfalls featured in this gallery. Our calculations give a height of 20 metres for the main cascading waterfall - see the human for scale. (Note that the rock on those ledges is extremely slippery.)
- A small, exposed path just before the bridge climbs up to the upper waterfall above the main Pistyll Cain waterfall. It's only about 3 metres high.
- Small cascade a little further upstream, shown on the map, but not worth the effort.
- Another cascade further upstream. The top of this cascade is about 46 metres above the river at the bridge, but this includes very significant sections of river, so they cannot count as one waterfall. The total height of the main Pistyll Cain is therefore less than 25 metres, broken into two waterfalls.
- Just beyond the bridge (best viewed from a little way before the bridge) is a similarly large waterfall on the Afon Mawddach; Rhaeadr Mawddach. The lower drop is about 17 metres, and the upper is about 5 metres. See the human for scale.
Rhaeadr Du (Afon Gamlan)
- On the other side of Ganllwyd is the Coed Ganllwyd nature reserve. The lane through it has no proper parking area, so use the dedicated car park in Ganllwyd.
- The map shows over 30 waterfalls within about 1 km of the Afon Gamlan, as it drops a little over 110 metres. However, such a low drop means these are only going to be cascades with plenty of river between them, and none will be very high.
- Mossy cascade.
- They will get bigger.
- Trust me.
- Finally, the map starts showing them, just below a bridge, where the path now follows the left bank.
- A 4 metre cascade into a large plunge pool marks the proper Rhaeadr Du.
- The upper part is about 6 metres high, and is the tallest on the river. The path stops just upstream.
- Just above it is a 2 metre cascade, one of the prettiest on the river.
- Upstream, the cascades get smaller, and harder to reach, with thick foliage and undergrowth, and no path.
- Swap sides...
- When the map said 'Waterfalls', and marked it as a tourist feature, I was hoping for more than this.
- Someone actually laid a pipe through this terrain.
- I wonder if they actually drew all these correctly on the map, or just randomly placed a few lines.
- Nearly there.
- The last cascade is the best since the main Rhaeadr Du cascades. It is most easily reached from the forestry track bridge that is just upstream.
- The track not only offers a quick way back down (keep hanging rights, then go through the gate into a walled path, which leads back down to the road), it also offers good views over to Glasgwm (780 metres) in the Aranau.
- Rhobell Fawr (734 metres), one of the tallest of the Arenigau range.
- Y Garn (629 metres), one of the smaller peaks in the Rhinogydd range.
Rhaeadr Cynfal and Rhaeadr y Cwm
- View over the Vale of Ffestiniog towards most of the Moelwynion range; Moelwyn Bach (710 metres), Moelwyn Mawr (770 metres), Moel-yr-hydd (648 metres), Moel Druman (676 metres), Allt-fawr (698 metres), then several bumpy hills.
- We approached Ceunant Cynfal from the south, from a narrow lane near Cynfal-fawr, which is marked on the 1:25'000 OS map (there is also a longer path from Llan Ffestiniog to the north). The footpath crosses a bridge at the start of the gorge. Head downstream on the north side.
- Unusual stack in the middle of the gorge.
- Soon, a stepped path on the left reaches a viewing platform above Rhaeadr Cynfal. The upper section is visible, and is around 6 metres high. Another waterfall can be heard but not seen below.
- Not to be defeated, I tried to get down to it by heading downstream to where the map incorrectly showed a slope instead of a cliff. This was by far the hardest part of the weekend, fighting through thick brambles and trees, while climbing down a slimy cliff. Do not copy me. This is simply too dangerous. Still, there was a small inlet waterfall, perhaps as much as 10 metres tall (the tallest in the area, though that's not saying much).
- And after all that, there was a deep pool guarding the way up to the waterfall.
- Climbing up the other side, I got to a platform where I could see the lower waterfall, and an obscured cascade below it. Neither were worthy of the effort, at only a few metres tall. Perhaps this point is easiest reached from a path on the south bank, but I'd advise against it, given that it is perched on a very exposed cliff.
- A few km upstream, a viewpoint on the B4391 (a small car park is located a little way before it) offers a great view of the Rhaeadr y Cwm waterfalls. There are at least 4 waterfalls, and several cascades, with a combined height for the main ones of 80 metres.
- The best looking set of waterfalls, where the largest was calculated as 20 metres tall (calculated using fall time for pulses of water, and allowing for terminal velocity of the falling water - yes, really - so errors may well have occurred in the calculation). The sometimes-quoted height of 37 metres would be impossible, given the total depth of the gorge.
- Above Blaenau Ffestiniog, the small Afon Du-bach stream tumbles down some cascades. The total height is less than 20 metres, and probably much less than that. The map shows a tourist feature symbol, but that relates to the mill below the waterfall, not the waterfall itself. There are also some cascades on the nearby Afon Goedol, which may make a nice walk, but they are also quite short cascades, and do not even earn a name on the 1:25'000 scale map, so they were intentionally ignored on this trip.
- Ffestiniog Slate Quarry, part of the extensive quarrying and mining that took place around Blaenau Ffestiniog, deforming the Moelwynion, and littering them with vast quantities of spoil.
- Moel Siabod (872 metres), the outlier and tallest of the Moelwynion range.
- Diffwys Dwr (known by ice climbers as Craig y Rhaeadr), a very tall waterfall in Snowdon's Cwm Glas Mawr. According to "Rock Climbing in Snowdonia", the waterfall tops out at 61 metres high - the tiny red smudges at the bottom are walkers. In very dry summers, it can occasionally dry up, but is normally a dribbly black smudge. In winter, it can freeze into an ice fall. On some 1:10'000 scale maps, this is named using the archaic spellings Craig Rhaiadr and Diffws Ddwr.
- On the side of Glyder Fach, the Afon Las plunges down a tall cascade called Pistyll Gwyn. Our estimate puts it at 25 metres tall for the cascade, though the end points are obviously hard to define.
- A cascading inlet to the Afon Las.
- In Llanberis, the tourist trash mountain railway viaduct marks the start of the main waterfalls. There is a sign on the small ring road that passes under the railway, pointing to a viewpoint on a side lane (park on the roadside on the ringroad). Just after the start of the lane, an unmarked path on the left heads under the viaduct into the gorge.
- Arddu Gorge.
- Llanberis Falls is not a single waterfall (hence the plural name). There are four waterfalls, of which this is the bottom one, about 2 metres tall.
- Llanberis Falls second waterfall.
- A dam and weir then artificially raises the height of the river bed by 2 metres.
- Ceunant Mawr, the largest of the Llanberis Falls. This is an 18 metre waterfall that slides down a distinctive watershoot into its plunge pool. Originally, this would have been 20 metres tall, before the river was dammed. In flood, the water shoots off the left side to create a more normal-looking waterfall.
- A tiny side stream also falls a respectable 10-12 metres to land in the same plunge pool.
- The lane leads up to a crossing point on the railway, where there is a small viewing platform.
- The viewpoint shows the characteristic waterslide of Ceunant Mawr, and the upper fall of Llanberis Falls, which is about 8-10 metres tall. The foliage is annoying, but that cannot be helped.
- The next day, the cloud had lifted, and for the first time ever, Snowdon finally decided to let me see the Yr Wyddfa summit (1085 metres), the highest point in Wales. To its right are a hidden summit and Crib Goch (923 metres).
Pistyll y Gaseg
- A long drive away is Ysgo, right by the end of the Llŷn Peninsula. Little more than a farmyard, with a private, charged car park.
- A small stream drains towards the sea at Porth Ysgo bay.
- Looking over Porth Cadlan to the headland at Ebolion, with Bardsey Island in the distance.
- Rocks at Porth Ysgo.
- Upper waterfall on the stream.
- The stream then falls down a 5-6 metre cascade to the head of the main waterfall.
- Pistyll y Gaseg, the main Porth Ysgo waterfall. This is the tallest of the waterfalls, at about 12 metres - see the human for scale. It really needs some more wet weather to properly fill out, and it also needs some cloud cover or a late evening to get some better lighting, but I cannot control the weather or the sunlight.
- Carved boulder clay on the side of the waterfall's cove.
- Snowdonia from the Llŷn Peninsula. On the left are the hills on the peninsula, where the tallest is Yr Eifl at 564 metres. On the right is the Moel Hebog range, with the Carneddau, Snowdon and Moelwynion ranges behind that.
- Garnedd Ugain (1065 metres) on Crib y Ddysgl, and Yr Wyddfa, the two tallest mountains in Wales, finally both showing me their tops - this is the first time Garnedd Ugain has done this for me.
Pistyll Rhyd-y-meinciau/Rhiwargor Falls, Pistyll Eunant/Eunant Waterfalls
- Arenig Fawr (854 metres), the tallest of the Arenigau.
- Arenig Fach (689 metres), a far less impressive mountain. Note the slow caravan - the sort that makes these roads so frustrating. Oh, and note that it has no number plate.
- Llyn Tegid, the largest natural lake in Wales (slightly enlarged artificially). In English, it is called Bala Lake, which is simply an ignorant name, referring to the nearby town, instead of using the lake's correct name given to it by those who live there. The spiked mountain behind it is Aran Benllyn (885 metres), the second tallest of the Aranau, at the end of the main Aranau ridge.
- Approaching the impressive scarps of Hirnant Pass.
- The three tallest peaks in the Aranau range; Aran Fawddwy (905 metres), Erw y Ddafad-ddu (872 metres) and Aran Benllyn. Aran Fawddwy is the tallest mountain in the south of Snowdonia, and also the tallest point in Britain that is south of Snowdon's Yr Wyddfa summit.
- At the northern end of Lake Vyrnwy, the Afon Eiddew cascades rapidly down Pistyll Rhyd-y-meinciau (known outside the area as Rhiwargor Falls, probably because the real name is especially hard to remember).
- Easy paths on either side of the river from the nearby car park (the one on the left bank has a better view) lead directly to the base of the waterfall. Note the human for scale.
- Split cascade. This is the tallest of the Pistyll Rhyd-y-meinciau/Rhiwargor Falls cascades, at about 10 metres (or perhaps 12 metres, if you really want to push it).
- Waterslide and upper split cascade.
- And the upper cascades. These top out at 100 metres above the base of the waterfall.
- Cascades some distance upstream of the main waterfall. There is a muddy path that leads up to here, on the left side of the main waterfall.
- Looking down the Eiddew, to where it joins the reservoir.
- Waterfalls on the Eunant Fawr (informally known as the Eunant Waterfalls or Pistyll Eunant), the next feeder to the reservoir.
- Lower cascade. Some distance below this, the Eunant also has a waterfall about half a mile upstream of the reservoir, but it's really just a small cascade, and not worthy of the detour. (Note for map users; due to proximity of two words on the 1:25'000 map, they may be incorrectly read as "Eunant Waterfall", but the two words are supposed to be separate, as can be seen by them having a different text size and different alignment. The first is the name label for the stream, and the second is the marker for the unnamed minor waterfall.)
- Magnificent view from Bwlch y Groes into the upper Dovey Valley.
- And the brake-burning road down into it.
- Nant y Gwnfa tumbling for 50 metres.
- Llaethnant, a series of cascades that corkscrew down from the Dovey headwaters for 76 metres. Not worth visiting today. There were several other waterfalls in this area that we missed, two of which are particularly tall. These will (hopefully) be visited in round II.
Craig y Pistyll
- Starting from Llyn Pendam (on the road from Ponterwyd to Penrhyn-coch), a forestry track heading northwards climbs up to the pass between two hills. When it turns, continue along the edge of the forest. Pumlumon Fach (664 metres) and Pumlumon Fawr (752 metres) may be visible over the tree tops.
- Craig y Pistyll quickly appears ahead. The 455 metre peak of Pen Craigypistyll is not very high, but the cliff makes it far more dramatic. Note the white caravan, which appears to be in use while the nearby cottage is being repaired - the access track is private, so although they can get their cars closer, you cannot.
- Decay amid destruction.
- Craig y Pistyll gets its name from the otherwise unnamed waterfall on the Afon Leri. It is about 20 metres high in total, with the taller drop being about 12 metres, and rarely, if ever, sees any sunlight.
- Returning through the forest path shortcut to the car park. It is not really a footpath - like much of this area, it is set up as a biking single track.
- We approached Rhayader at sunset feeding time, and saw the usual display of wild red kites, waiting to be fed (part of the programme that brought them back from being critically endangered). This one put on a beautiful display for me, sitting just above the treetops, waiting for me to take my pictures.
- One of the buzzards that takes advantage of the feeding.
- Sunset lighting the wings of the red kite.
- Back to South Wales at last. The northern edge of the Black Mountains, which top out at Waun Fach (811 metres).
- Mynydd Troed (609 metres). Though a metre short of being a mountain, it makes up for it with 286 metres of prominence.
- Sunset on the Darren Fach crags, at the southern edge of the Brecon Beacons, a fitting end to a weekend.