Secret Waters 2011

Hunting some of the more obscure Welsh waterfalls: Glangraig Waterfall, Rhaeadr Porth-llwyd, Afon Ddu, Afon Tuen, Craig y Llo, Craig y Ffrwd, Nant Ddeiliog Falls (and nearby Ffrwd Fawr), Cwm Dwfn Falls, Craig y Llyn, Cwm Cerrig-duon Falls, Pistyll y Ceunant. Oh, and the Dolanog Falls weir.

Glangraig Waterfall

There are several little waterfalls between Llangrannog and New Quay in West Wales. The majority of these are small streams falling off the sea cliffs, and have no safe approaches from above. In the majority of cases, these waterfalls are best seen from the dolphin-spotting boat trips that run down to Ynys-Lochtyn from New Quay. The only exception is the largest waterfall below the Glangraig farm, which can be clearly seen from the Ceredigion Coastal Path. My visit was made after heavy rain.

The shortest route to the waterfall is also the easiest, starting on the B4321 between Pontgarreg and Llangrannog. 700 metres after Pontgarreg, a lane doubles back on the right. There is some space to park on the junction, in front of a post box. A short distance down the lane, a smaller lane leads off on the left, heading down to the Glangraig farm. At a corner just before the farm, a footpath continues ahead, down towards the coast. The waterfall is situated in a tiny bay to the left, near where the path joins the main coastal path.

Rhaeadr Porth-llwyd

WARNING: The Afon Porth-llwyd is an extremely dangerous river. The water originates in two reservoirs, which cause the river to flash flood suddenly and without warning, with a flood pulse powerful enough to kill. Even in dry summer conditions, it is possible for the river to flash flood, if the water is not drawn to feed the turbines. The best advice I can give you is to stay a long way away from the river. The power station authorities have also made it very clear that they do not want anyone to risk their lives by walking along the river bed. Several signs point out the dangers, and advise the use of safe paths.

The river and waterfall are located at Dolgarrog, in the Conwy Valley. Under normal summer and winter conditions, the hydroelectric power station takes all of the water from the river, leaving it completely dry. Rhaeadr Porth-llwyd, the main waterfall, lies at the upper end of a deep gorge, protected from view by the difficult access, and the lethal river. Apart from the dribbles of water provided by small streams, the waterfall is normally dry. It is in autumn or winter that the river is most likely to carry water. This apparently happens most reliably in February, but can happen as early as October or November, needing about 3-4 days of heavy rain for the leats or reservoir to overflow. My visit was made with very careful planning, with guidance from the power station staff (Innogy PLC). It was made after several days of rain, but without the reservoir overflowing - the water was provided by an overflowing leat. My route was extremely hard, and should not be used as an access route. There are better ways to view the waterfalls.

The smaller waterfalls lie at the bottom end of the gorge, and the main waterfall lies at the top. To view the bottom ones, start at the disaster monument on the south bank of the river. Follow the path from the monument, staying near to the river whenever the path splits. Eventually the path dies, with a faint glimpse of the last of the lower waterfalls.

The main waterfall is much harder, requiring experience with walking around crags and through undergrowth, and I would advise a GPS with 1:25'000 scale maps to aid navigation. If you are unable to cope with the conditions, do not attempt to visit - even experienced visitors need to exercise extreme caution and great care. One option is as follows; Start at the bottom of the pipelines, at the side of the B5106. Walk up the right side of the pipes to the next road, then continue up the left side of the pipes, until a stile gives access to a footpath in the forest on the left, not long before the pipelines get much steeper. Follow this path as it zigzags steeply upwards. At the top of The Zigzags, use the stiles and paths to skirt around a large pipe junction. Locate a wall running horizontally on the far side of the pipes. Follow the upper (left) side of the wall, until it descends to a small stream and fence. Cross a stile and continue to follow the wall until it dies out. Try to continue carefully along the same line, taking great care to avoid the steep slopes, clambering down to lower ledges if needed, to reach a ledge overlooking the top of the waterfall. Following the fence (after crossing the stile) leads to the stepping stone river crossing above the waterfall. The path on the opposite bank, normally followed from the upper road down to the Conwy Valley, also offers obscured views. I advise against trying to see the lower steps of the waterfall. You follow these suggestions entirely at your own risk.

For more details of the disaster, I recommend A Topographical Study Of The Flood-Swept Course Of The Porth Llwyd Above Dolgarrog, the Dolgarrog & Dam Disaster gallery and the Dolgarrog Disaster silent film.

Afon Ddu

The Afon Ddu is located at the southern end of Dolgarrog, with its source in the Llyn Cowlyd Reservoir, between Creigiau Gleision and Pen Llithrig y Wrach. Part of its flow is also piped to the Dolgarrog Power Station, and used as the Conwy Valley water supply. Like the Afon Porth-llwyd, it can flood quite suddenly, but seems to be trusted more, as it is frequently used by gorge walkers. This is perhaps due to the more normal spillway that it uses, as well as the long distance between the reservoir and gorge. Its water is also partly supplied by leats, but flow is generally very low in dry weather. The gorge walkers have named just about every feature that they encounter, but none of their names are official, or recognised outside of the gorge walking groups.

Afon Tuen

The Afon Tuen is located directly above Gyfarllwyd Falls (part of the Devil's Bridge/Pontarfynach waterfalls site), on the northern side of the Rheidol Gorge. It falls down the perilously steep crags of the gorge, and should not be approached from the northen bank. Due to the depth of the gorge, and the fact that this is one of the very few vertically-sided deep gorges in Mid Wales, viewing the waterfall must be done with great care. It is not visible from any of the normal tourist routes. Visits are best made in winter, once the trees have lost their leaves.

The 1:25'000 scale maps clearly show the location of Gyfarllwyd Falls, with a large cliff immediately to the east of it. At the northern end of that cliff is a small building (also marked), with a track leading to it. This is the view point. From Devil's Bridge, take the A4120 northeast towards Ponterwyd. Just after the forest ends and the fields begin, there are a series of abandoned cub huts on the left. The track starts just after these, and there is roadside parking about 250 metres further along the road.

Craig y Llo

While the name (meaning "crag of the calf") clearly refers to the crag, and the waterfall is simply a side feature, the name has become commonly used to refer to the waterfall as well. This is one case where the waterfall has taken on the name of the crag, so it is included in my listings.

Craig y Ffrwd

The next major valley upstream along the Severn is the Nant Colwyn, sitting at the edge of the Hafren Forest. The name (meaning "crag of the torrent") clearly refers to a waterfall, but the map fails to show a waterfall at the correct location. It lies quite close to the lane running up the valley, with the easiest access route starting one field before the last farm on the access lane, before it enters the forest.

Nant Ddeiliog Falls and Ffrwd Fawr

Though overshadowed by Ffrwd Fawr (one of the most impressive of all waterfalls in Mid Wales), Nant Ddeiliog has a very beautiful series of waterfalls, which are worth a visit. Ffrwd Fawr, of course, dominates the views, and in fact, the route used by this walk gives the best possible views of the lower waterfalls below Ffrwd Fawr as well. Therefore, I recommend this route as a way to view Ffrwd Fawr.

There is a dedicated parking area at the Dylife Gorge viewpoint, on the lane running between Staylittle/Penffordd-las and Machynlleth. 400 metres before this, a track leads off the lane, heading along the eastern rim of the gorge. I recommend a trip in winter, so there will be less foliage blocking the views, and the water levels will be much higher.

Cwm Dwfn Falls

Also on the lane running between Staylittle/Penffordd-las and Machynlleth, as the road begins to drop down from the Pumlumon plateau towards Machynlleth, it passes a deep valley on the right, which contains the waterfalls. There is roadside parking at various points. The easiest access route starts at the Cae Eithaf farm (the first farm by the road), following the track from there into the valley.

Craig y Llyn

This walk was actually a bike ride to speed it up, as it was around 8 km in total, and the route was steep, mundane forestry tracks. Although it would be possible to devise more extensive routes, my route was the most convenient, with very good views. The area is extensively forested, without many convenient tracks, so other routes would almost certainly need to follow fire tracks. Many tracks are not shown on the maps, including the one that I used.

Cwm Cerrig-duon Falls

These are situated off the side of Cwm Dugoed, on the border of the Snowdonia National Park. There is no useful access route, as there are no nearby paths into the open access land containing the streams. My access route was from the A458, at the point where it leaves the national park at Pont Nant-y-dugoed.

Pistyll y Ceunant

This waterfall sits right beside the road that runs around Lake Vyrnwy (Llyn Efynwy). It lies on the southwest bank of the reservoir, about 3 km from the dam, about 1 km beyond the Llechwedd-dû parking area. There is roadside parking on either side of it. Although it is not as tall as the waterfalls at the other end of the reservoir, it has taller single drops, and certainly deserves attention. It is, however, a distraction for passing drivers. Visits are best made in winter, as the upper stages can be obscured by foliage in summer.

Dolanog Falls

Since my route took me through the area, I paid a visit to Dolanog Falls. This is a large weir, and not a natural waterfall.