In a National Park justly renowned for its sweeping, but barren, mountain scenery, lovers of high ground are in danger of completely overlooking one the Brecon Beacons' hidden gems. This is the pocket of dramatic limestone scenery often referred to as Waterfall Country. South of the upland plateaux of Fforest Fawr, geological faults and water erosion have produced a series of deep, narrow gorges, sheltered by impressive woodland and randomly broken up by a succession of gushing waterfalls. The highlight of this is Sgŵd yr Eira, where it's possible to venture right behind the falls. Walking here is a completely different experience to that of the windswept scarpments, but the scenery is marvellous and the generally sheltered nature of the terrain makes it an ideal outing for those days when cloud obscures the peaks.
Hard sandstone shelves
In simple terms, the falls are the result of a geological fault that pushed the hard sandstone, which makes up the backbone of most of the National Park, up against softer shales. The force of the rivers, which spring up high on the mountains of Fforest Fawr, has eroded the shales leaving shelves of the harder rock exposed. These shelves are clearly visible on most of the waterfalls.
Caves and sinkholes
At the southern edge of the high ground, a layer of carboniferous limestone overlies the old red sandstone. This younger rock is soluble in the slightly acidic rain and river water that constantly pounds it. The erosion results in caves like Porth yr Ogof at the start of this walk, where the rivers literally disappear underground, and craters where rainwater exploits weaknesses and faults in the rock – these are often referred to as sinkholes or shake holes.
Cross the road at the entrance to the car park and head down the left-hand of the two paths, waymarked with a yellow arrow. Ignore a right fork marked 'Access for Cavers' and follow the main path through a kissing gate and on to the river bank. Now keep the river to your right to follow a rough footpath through a couple more kissing gates to reach a footbridge.
Don't cross but continue ahead on the main path to climb steeply up to a fence. Stay with the path, with a wooden fence now on your right, for a few paces and you'll reach a junction of footpaths marked with a large fingerpost. Bear sharp left on to a well-surfaced track, waymarked to Gwaun Hepste, and follow this for a short distance to another junction, where you should turn right (waymarked 'Sgwd yr Eira').
Continue walking along the well waymarked forest trail until another fingerpost directs you right, downhill. Follow this track to the edge of the forest and then bear around to the right. This track leads to the top of a set of wooden steps, on the left.
Go down the 167 steps to Sgwd yr Eira (Waterfall of the Snow) and then, having edged along the bank and walked behind the falls (waterproofs recommended), retrace your steps back up to the edge of the wood. Turn left and continue, still following the redbanded posts, to a fork marked with another fingerpost.
Turn left here (waymarked to Sgŵd y Pannwr) and descend to the riverside. Turn left again to Sgwd y Pannwr (Fullers Falls), then turn around to walk upstream to Sgwd Isaf Clun-gwyn (Lower Waterfall of the White Meadow). Take care, the ground is very steep and rough around the best viewpoint.
Retrace your steps downstream to your original descent path and turn left to climb back up to the fork at the top. Turn left and follow the red-banded waymarkers along to Sgwd Clungwyn Isaf. From here, continue along the main trail to the place where you split off earlier.
Drop back down to the footbridge and continue along the river bank to Porth yr Ogof.
Riverside paths and forest tracks, some rough sections and steps
Wooded valleys, fast-flowing rivers, waterfalls
Rivers too powerful for fetching sticks and care needed near steep drops
AA Walker's Map 18 West & Central Brecon Beacons
Park car park at Porth yr Ogof, near Ystradfellte
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
The largest unitary authority in Wales, Powys covers an area of approximately 2,000 square miles. Much of that is mountainous because it actually has the lowest population density of all the Welsh counties.
This much wild, empty space is perhaps best typified by the International Dark Sky Reserve in the Brecon Beacons National Park, one of only eleven in the world. The absence of light pollution creates an exceptional spot for star gazing. You won’t find any cities in Powys, just villages and smaller-sized towns, but that’s the way its inhabitants like it.
Newtown, the largest settlement, is perhaps most famous for being the birthplace of Robert Owen, the founder of the Co-operative movement. Brecon is a market town set on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, while the pretty Victorian spa town of Llandrindod Wells boasts the National Cycle Collection. Elsewhere, Hay-on-Wye hosts a major literary festival every year.
Powys is liberally scattered with castles, burial mounds, hill forts, and other historic markers; Powis Castle, near Welshpool is probably one of the most impressive. And for walking enthusiasts, it’s not just the Brecon Beacons on offer – the Elan Valley describes itself as the ‘Welsh Lake District’.