The year has tipped over, and this year to mark the beginning of 2014 we headed out to Wales. To pontneddfechan South of the Brecon Beacons. It is here in 2001 I first walked with a bunch of guys as a social way of getting some exercise. A few of us originals remain, still hitting the hills and taking time to get out and about, others have gone, others have joined us at different times and we have enjoyed every visit from all those people. Someone always brings something new to the mix, conversation, outlook, some knowledge or vision to broaden our perspectives. All of you I have walked with, thanks, it’s been fun.
The Waterfall Walk is a 9 mile circular ramble following the course of two rivers, The Fechan and The Mellte. This was always going to be a wet weather day, with rain forecast, and the prospect of walking behind the final waterfall. We didn’t get disappointed on either count. Both rivers were full to bursting and the noise along with the drag of the damp air in the valleys was stunning to the senses.
There is a certain pleasure in walking with friends in weather that keeps most tucked up in front of a warm TV, we ambled along the riverbank enjoying the numerous smaller waterfalls emptying in the river. When there is so much water, the falls are thunderous, spray and the pressure of sound takes your breath away, it was a chastening time to see nature pressing her advantage, clearing the riverbed of debris and obstacles.
After the winds there was a few hitches to the route, added interest in the grey light filtering through to us from the above. Quiet conversations as we traded places on the track, moving forward or back as we looked around at the passing sights. Not much more possible with hoods up and woolly hats pulled down. I tried to get as many pictures as I could, my camera is not waterproof however and struggled with the wet conditions. An interesting challenge to try to capture the spirit of the rivers.
The transit from the Fechan to the Mellte is across an old road. Interesting since I’m reading about these track and ways at the moment in The book by Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways. A deep lane, the remains of walls and old hedgerow trees sheltering the walker. We are lucky here with this network of paths, allowing passage into some old spaces, places to remember how to go slower than usual, even in the rain.
Some of the paths had become small streams, some large streams, testing boots for water-proofing, the rain and constant dripping trees tested water-proof outers, and everyone smiled, wondering where we could stop to have lunch, without getting soggy sandwiches. So it was with a happy smile we sat in the shelter of the visitor centre at Cwm Porth, our turnaround point, when we head south again towards the Sgwd yr Eira waterfall, the final obstacle on this route. First a steady tramp through the woods above the Mellte, the sound of the river muffled but rising and falling through the trees as we rose and fell with the land.
As you drop into the final crossing of the river, you meet a group of people standing watching the falls. The volume draws your eyes, not allowing them to settle onto anything, they claw for some purchase and it’s only when you look to the edges do you get some bearings. With the rise of the water the track to the falls is inundated, we clung to the rocks as we edged along, under a foot of water, to the level patch of rock at the nears side of the falls. Waiting for others coming through you are blasted by spray, water falling from all directions. Any hope of staying dry is lost at this point. Then, in you plunge to the noise, the water, walking with careful purpose behind the wall of water two feet to your left. If you stop you can reach out to it, I didn’t bother, not this time. I was happy to come through and look back into this watery cave undercut into the back of the falls. I think farmers still take sheep through to grazing on the other side of the river.
Wet, exhilarated, we did the sensible thing and stopped for coffee. The last stretch is a trundle away from the river and back into the woods, heading for the cars and some dry clothes. The end of a great walk, as good as I remember from 13 years ago, and this time The Angel Inn was open, a quick warm-up with a pint to lubricate. A fine start to another years exploring ahead. I hope I’ve wetted your appetite to find the time to join me over 2014. Walking, writing and taking pictures.
Wherever you end up, whatever road you find yourself on, walk out, walk tall, and attack the year with gusto. Have a walk and enjoy the view. Make the year a good one, don’t wait.