If you have read my about page and/or the first blog entry, you will understand that I have travel limitations. I live in Turkey and as such I can only visit the British countryside on my annual pilgrimage back home. My folks, wonderful people, and I spend a few days away together during my all-too-brief time back in the UK and it was during one of these breaks that we travelled to South Wales last summer.
The Brecon Beacons, one of the most picturesque parts of the United Kingdom, full of lush valleys, flowing rivers, woodlands and wonderful dramatic hillsides, was our destination. It’s home to the aptly named ‘Waterfall Country’; there being at least seven or eight impressive falls and cascades all within something like a 10 mile radius near the village of Pontneddfechan, all linked by scenic trails and pathways.
A pdf of Brecon Beacon Trails Map can be found on this link:
One such trail is the Elidir Trail. It runs down alongside the River Neath from the tiny mill bridge at Pont-Melin-Fach down to Pontneddfechan. Why did I choose this and not one of the other wonderful trails?
I had one day here. This trail had the maximum number of falls in the shortest walking distance, and all connected by the same path. It was my best option by far. Planning in advance makes a lot of sense.
Sadly, in keeping with my travel constraints and my alias of the Frustrated Photog, when I visited in August, as feared, the river was very low. Low compared to many of the outstanding images of the same falls you’ll see on the internet captured in spring or late autumn. It’s just my luck that, prior to my visit, the summer had been dry, after my visit, deluge! Typical. But we take what we can, when we can, right?
Despite the lower water level, the Elidir Trail was as beautiful as the name suggests. The name alone conjures up images of Tolkein’s Elvenland of Lothlorien. The landscape is awe inspiring with every twist, turn, hill and slope. Quickly you become absorbed by the ancient woodland surrounding you; the sound of birds and the wind in the seemingly endless canopy of trees. Then there are the falls, in low flow but still marvellous!
But I have leapt forward. The story needs more background.
A weekday, good, fewer tourists. Starting relatively early; also useful. Guidebooks always advised walking north from Pontneddfechan, but my plan was to do the opposite. Top down. Surely it was more logical t start at the northerly point and walk down to the village and the nice warm pub at the bottom. The Angel, in Pontneddfechan, which I have to say served the best cup of coffee I have had in many a long year. Was it the desperate need for a sit down and a drink after a 3-hour 3-mile hike and photography session that made the aching knees scream in agony? No, the coffee WAS that good!
Starting at the bottom, near the pub itself, that’s too risky. No toilets on the trail! Also, the first half of the trail heading north was flat, with no waterfalls. I planned to beat the other photogs that I expected would be out and about to the main falls. My plan to go south also meant that the trail was mostly downhill. Why on earth do the guide books recommend going up hill?
My kind folks dropped me and my wife at the small Pont-Melin-Fach car park after a hairy drive down a very narrow lane at around 10:30am. Not sure how they managed to get the car back to Pontneddfechan, but thankfully they did. One tent near the carpark. No one else around. The smell of meadowsweet and a hint of wild garlic, a breeze and fresh clean air! Beautiful!
I needed the loo.
The sound of a river rushing can play havoc on a bladder. No toilets until the pub at the bottom; three miles later through the woodland. Add to that the weight of a Canon 70D + 15-85mm lens bouncing on your hip as you walk, endless kneeling, bending, climbing for locations and... Well, by the time I got to the end of the trail, a full three hours later, the toilet was found to be even more perfect than the coffee that followed it.
The Elidir Trail in local myth is reported to conceal the entrance to the Faerie Kingdom. It’s easy to see why. Thick woodlands climb up and down from the path which ran at intervals flat and close to the river, or arching up onto ledges with the river 20-30 feet below. Rocky outcrops above and below, tree roots bending up and down and in and out of the well-trodden soil of the path. I forgot my wife’s nervousness of heights as I chirpily bounded along wondering why she crabbed on all-fours for an extra handhold. I peered over the edge, not very far. Trees, rocks, water, and look up at the tree canopy, beautiful. Breathtaking! Oops, sorry love.
The first falls were soon encountered, but they were not the expected first stopping point. Sadly, the first cascade seems to be nameless(?) I spent some time framing and composing, mindful of the fact that we had set an expected rendezvous time of three hours for the distance and the four major falls to be covered.
This was a beautiful scene. A flow of dark water, shadowed by the canopy above that reflected golden light onto the river. It swept round in an arc before it narrowed and forced the flow to trip down a couple of feet to the pool below.
Polarizer on; remove the glare of the reflections of the filtered light falling through the trees. No need for a Big or Little Stoppers to blur movement, the polarizer itself cuts a couple of stops and gave a nice silky feel, at around 0.4 seconds but I had to make the most of the location, I may never come here again, regrettably. Imagine how this would look in full flow! That day, it was gorgeous!
I always have the same problem when I get to a good spot. I rush into it, fearing that this brief and rare encounter with gorgeous scenery that I have all to myself will be lost in a moment. I bound in without thinking about it first; think bull-china shop and you have the general idea. I am usually desperate to catch the view before a bunch of yellow-waterproof-wearing bodies appear and make the serene scene look like a clean up after a hazardous waste spill.
I packed up too early from this first spot, too and I always feel a pang when leaving one location.
I am trying to follow a mantra: Breathe before you start setting up your kit, think. See!
Also to make sure I go through a checklist BEFORE I leave:
Of course, I reviewed the images before leaving. Glasses on, scanning the rear screen intently. Silence, ah this is beautiful. Have I got enough here? I have to move on.
This wasn’t a scheduled stop and still 4 major locations to go and at least 1.5 miles of a ‘moderately easy’ trail to follow before it became ‘easy’ on the bottommost section.
The next instalment of this adventure will be posted later this week, moving from the nameless fall on to the first major fall of the trail, The Upper Gushing Falls, Sgwd Ddwli Uchaf.
Please post comments, questions, suggestions and I will reply as soon as possible. If you have some good fall photos, please share a link so we can check them out!
The Frustrated Photog