Wales’ Four Waterfalls Walk

In the Vale of Neath, to the southern part of the Brecon Beacons National Park, lies the Four Waterfalls Walk.  This is short walk of only five miles or so which takes in, as the name implies, four waterfalls.

This is an area rich in geology, where sandstone meets mudstone and where rivers have eroded the landscape over many years.  As well as waterfalls there are large cave systems running deep underground.  We passed numerous entrances where rivers seemed to disappear, or where holes in rocks simply fell away into an abyss of nothingness.

The first waterfall on the walk is Sgwd Clun-gwyn, meaning “the fall of the white meadow”.  There are two tiers to it.

The flat rock ledge about a third of the way down allows you to get up close and personal.

At its bottom it roars into a narrow plunge pool.  You can walk right to its edge.

Walk on from Sgwd Clun-gwyn heading south, through the forest adjoining the Afon (River) Mellte, to where it is joined by the Afon Hepste.  A short way up the Hepste is another waterfall, the Sgwd-Yr-Eira, meaning “falls of snow”.

If you thought you could get up close and personal at Sgwd Clun-gwyn, well, you can get very intimate indeed with Sgwd-Yr-Eira.

Sgwd-Yr-Eira is an overhang waterfall, meaning you can get behind the curtain of water into the space behind…

…and then look at the waterfall from another viewpoint altogether.

Head back up the Mellte and you will soon reach Sgwd y Pannwr, meaning “fall of the fuller”.

The lip of the waterfall is so shallow that you can walk on it without really getting your feet wet, and the plunge pool below is deep enough to, well, plunge into.

There were several groups canyoning when we visited.  It looked like fun…

…but we weren’t really dressed for the occasion.  Don’t do it, Poppy!

Just to the north of Sgwd y Pannwr is the final of the four waterfalls, Sgwd Isaf Clun-gwyn, meaning “lower fall of the white meadow”.  This is another one you can clamber behind, but this time you need a little more than just waterproofs.

Four amazing waterfalls, all in a short walk.  Well worth a visit.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Sgwd Clun-gwyn:  N 51° 47.200 W 003° 33.625
  • Sgwd-Yr-Eira:  N 51° 46.690 W 003° 33.260
  • Sgwd y Pannwr:  N 51° 46.880 W 003° 33.770
  • Sgwd Isaf Clun-gwyn:  N 51° 47.025 W 003° 33.710

Walk Statistics:

 

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84b – Western Portland to Chesil Beach

The thing I remember most about the west coast of Portland is an arch.  It was fashioned from blocks the size of people, as if giants had been playing with Lego bricks.  Although most were placed in exact positions, there were a few stones that appeared to have been dropped in almost haphazardly.  This gave the impression that the arch was safe to walk through, but that something might just dislodge and flatten you in the process.

Just beyond this arch is the Tout Quarry Sculpture Park and Nature Reserve, an old abandoned quarry which is being reclaimed both by nature and local artists.  There were many sculptures to see, including some very ornately carved pieces.  The one I was particularly drawn to was not one of those that had carved an entire rock into something new.  Rather, it was a large rock that kept its natural form, but into which the artist had carved something that its size and shape had clearly suggested to them:

Having made a small detour through the quarry we got back to the coast.  And then, all of a sudden, the ground began to fall away from us and we were starting our descent back to Chesil Beach, its long and beckoning arm stretching away into the distance.

 I am going to repeat my introduction to Chesil Beach which I gave a few posts ago:

Chesil Beach is a natural tombolo, the exact origin of which is disputed to this day.  It is 18 miles long, running from Portland in the south to West Bay in the north.  It is a pebble beach; its pebbles are fist-sized at Portland and gradually get smaller and smaller, ending up pea-sized at West Bay.  It is said that if a local fisherman landed on Chesil Beach in thick fog then he could tell you exactly where he was just by looking at the size of the pebbles!

As the pebbles were at their largest at this end of Chesil Beach, they made for easy walking.

The further north you go, however, the smaller the pebbles become and the tougher the walking becomes.  Even walking to the car park a mile and a half in we noticed that the walking became slightly more difficult.

Although I would like to walk the entire stretch of Chesil Beach one day, it was the wrong time of year for us today.  Parts of it are both firing range and nature reserve (a strange combination when you think about it) and the entirety of the beach is only accessible at certain times of the year.  We were at the end of our walk today, and by the time we would be back we wouldn’t be able to walk the entire length.  The inland route, which runs broadly parallel, would be our only option at the start of our next walk.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Arch: N 50° 32.855 W 002° 27.002
  • Tout Quarry Sculpture Park:  N 50° 33.175 W 002° 26.770
  • Chesil Beach Car Park and Walk’s End:  N 50° 34.700 W 002° 28.150

Walk #84 Statistics (of which this post forms the final part):

 

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84a – Western Portland Part II

As we continued our way north along the western coast of Portland we reached Blacknor Observation Post.  Build in 1940-41 it has expansive views over Lyme Bay, a large tract of water stretching almost 50 miles from Portland to Devon.

I say the observation post has expansive views, but unfortunately part of its roof collapsed in 2014, meaning the views are rather less expansive today than originally intended.

Next to the observation post are two gun emplacements.  These actually predate the observation post, having been constructed in 1914 to protect a torpedo factory and Admiralty oil tanks which belonged to the Portland Naval Base.  Each was designed to hold a 15-pounder gun.  During World War II these were upgraded Lewis Anti Aircraft guns, and it is said that one of these shot down a Dornier DO 17 bomber on Chesil Beach.  The guns were eventually removed in 1954.

Sat above the observation post is Blacknor Fort itself, constructed in 1902.  On the night of 27 April 1944 the fort witnessed the Slapton Sands tragedy (click here for more information on this tragedy), when nine German E-Boats attacked US troops during a night exercise in Lyme Bay.  The fort’s gunners were ordered not to attack the E-Boats for fear of inflicting enemy casualties.  The E-Boats were therefore able to attack unopposed, resulting in the death of more than 700 US troops.

Blacknor Fort is today privately owned.  We only caught a glimpse of its outer walls as we passed by.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Blacknor Observation Post: N 50° 32.548 W 002° 27.302

Walk #84 Statistics (of which this post forms the first part):

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83b – Western Portland Part I

The western side of Portland is the less favourable for walkers when compared to the eastern side.  There are no cliff paths down to the shoreline; no wild goats; no hidden coves or ruined churches.  The western side is a clifftop walk passing some bleak looking concrete buildings and, for the most part, not much else.

Whilst the western coastline of the island does not have the interest of the eastern side, it was here that we were lucky enough to see something that I had never seen before – a pair of hunting kestrels.  When I spotted them they were some distance away.  I fixed my zoom lens on my camera and took a number of pictures, but even the best was fuzzy and disappointing.

I felt sure that they would fly off before we got to them, but whilst they separated and started hunting from different spots both continued to move along the coastline in search of prey, allowing us to get close and observe.

They hovered on the air currents, allowing these to take them slowly down the coastline.  After a while they would fly back up the coast to their starting point and start the process again, ever alert for movement below which would signal prey.

Then, all of a sudden, one of them dived – almost too quickly for me to react.

It shot down to the scrub below, where it suddenly fanned its feathers out and hovered a few feet off the ground, clearly searching for whatever had made the sudden movement that had attracted it.

It suddenly veered towards a clump of plants which obviously offered more protection than the open grass.  It hovered again and then pounced into the thick of it.

Again, it was all so quick I hardly had time to react.  Had it caught anything?  I was unsure; it was shielded from view by the greenery.  It stayed there for a few moments and then flew out again, returning to the higher ground to begin its patrol once more.

Walk #83 Statistics (of which this post forms the final part):

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83a – Portland Bill Part II

At the tip of the promontory of Portland Bill is a famous lump of rock called Pulpit Rock.  It is not a natural feature, but was left in the 1870’s after a natural arch was cut away by quarrymen working here (can you imagine if they tried to do that today?  There’d be uproar!)

When the arch was cut away, Pulpit Rock was left intentionally as a quarrying relic, designed with religious connotations.  The large slab of rock at the front, leaning on the main stack, represents an open bible leaning on a pulpit.

It is a popular tourist attraction, and hand- and foot-holds have been cut into the bible to facilitate the short climb to the top.

The top is relatively flat and offers expansive views.

It’s quite a fun climb to do (clearly I was quite excited!) although in bad weather it is not advisable!

Pulpit Rock is also a popular spot for fishing – in 1998 a Ballan Wrasse weighing a UK-record-breaking 9 lb 1 oz was caught here.  Almost 20 years later the record still stands. And it was here that we also set a personal record, for it was at Pulpit Rock that we hit the 700-mile mark on our walk around the Coast of Britain.

We said goodbye to Portland Bill, leaving the tourists to head off towards the quiet western side of the island and back to Chesil Beach and to continue our journey.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Pulpit Rock: N 50° 30.855 W 002° 27.570

Walk #83 Statistics (of which this post forms the first part):

 

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The Coastal Path in Scotland – The Falls of Shin

When you arrive, the mosaic gives it away.

Mosaic at the Falls of ShinThe Falls of Shin, in the middle of the Scottish Highlands, are a fantastic place to watch salmon trying to pass up river during the summer months.

About five miles north of the falls is Loch Shin, a large body of water some 16 miles long and covering an area of over 30 square miles.  The entirety of this loch discharges at a single point, at its southernmost extreme, into the River Shin.  In terms of water dispensed, it is said that the River Shin is the largest in Sutherland.  It drops some 300 feet during its short 7-mile journey to the Kyle of Sutherland estuary before it flows out to sea at the Dornoch Firth.

Most of the river’s descent is in the last mile or so.  At the Falls of Shin the river narrows to a few metres in width.  It is here where wild Atlantic salmon can be seen leaping out of the water as they try to fight their way upstream to the safety of the Loch and feeder rivers to spawn.

I wasn’t sure what we would see when we arrived here, so all I told my wife and children was that we were here to see a waterfall.  However, within seconds of our arrival there were the salmon, leaping to the very extent of their ability against a torrent of water which looked to slam them back down to their starting place.

img_3447The salmon in the picture above, I am sure, didn’t make it – it’s angle of attack seemed wrong.  However, within seconds another one leaped from the churning, seething waters to make its bid.  We watched as every few seconds salmon threw themselves upward, out of the resistance of the river into a split second of free air before diving back into the force of the waters.

Falls of Shin

It seemed impossible that any of the fish actually made the leap up the falls, but clearly they do.

The Falls of Shin

Points in this post (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • The Falls of Shin: N 57° 57.640 W 004° 24.430
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The Coastal Path in Scotland – The Sutherland Monument

About 35 miles north of Inverness the Sutherland Monument stands on the summit of Beinn a’ Bhragaidh, a small hill of 1,302 feet overlooking the village of Golspie.  It sticks out of the hill like a needle and can be seen from many miles away.

Sutherland MonumentThe Sutherland Monument was erected in the 1830’s, following the death of the first Duke of Sutherland.  He was given the title about six months before he died.  It is a controversial memorial, for the Duke of Sutherland and his wife are largely reviled for their part in the Highland Clearances.

At the time of the clearances, he was a Marquis, former MP and ambassador.  By the time he married the wealthy Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland, he was already a millionaire in his own right, said to be earning some £300,000 per annum from his estates in Staffordshire.  The Sutherland estate was one of the largest estates in Europe, if not the largest, although it was viewed as uneconomic when considered in its own right.

For this reason, during the years 1811-21 the Countess and her husband evicted their farming tenants and residents, demolishing their homes and clearing the land.  The land was then let more profitably to Lowland sheep farmers.  Many of those evicted resettled in new villages along the coast.  Many emigrated overseas to the “New World”.  However, the fact was that families who had lived on this land for many generations were simply turfed out at short notice.

According to some, the duke was horrified by the appalling living conditions the people endured on the inland part of the estate, and believed the land could simply not sustain them.  They argue he moved them to what he considered to be better conditions and a better life.  According to others, the clearances were simply driven by greed.  There was more profit to be had from sheep farming.  As for the existing families, they simply had to be moved.

The Highland Clearances were not confined to the Sutherland estate; they occurred all across the Scottish Highlands.  However, the Sutherland clearances are considered to be the most dramatic and harsh.  Large volumes of people were resettled in a relatively short period of time, and without compassion.  In some cases crops had to be left in the ground and the families had to carry what they could, leaving everything else behind.  Estate records show that the eviction of 2,000 families a day was not uncommon.

1814 was a notorious year, known as the Year of the Burning.  Once families had been evicted, their houses were burnt down, sometimes with their belongings still in them.  On one occasion a witness reported seeing 250 crofts on fire from a single vantage point.  Today the stone outlines of demolished ruins can still be seen.

The Countess and her husband themselves were resident in London, and so employed a “factor” (from the Latin “who acts”) to represent them.  This factor was Patrick Sellar, himself a sheep farmer.  He oversaw many of the evictions.  One of these was in Strathnaver, on the north coast, and concerned the home of William Chisholm who lived with his wife and mother-in-law, Margaret MacKay.  Margaret MacKay was over 90 years old and refused to leave during the eviction.  The roof was therefore set on fire with her inside the building, reportedly on the basis that this would probably persuade her to leave.  Margaret MacKay was rescued by her daughter and taken to a nearby shed which itself was only just avoided being torched.  Margaret MacKay died five days later.

Sellar was put on trial for arson and culpable homicide.  The jury were said to be local landowners.  The witnesses for the prosecution only spoke Gaelic which had to be translated for the jury to understand the evidence.  Sellar was acquitted and was later given large tracts of land by the Countess and her husband, in thanks for his work for them.

When the Duke of Sutherland died in 1833 a subscription was started to raise funds for a monument in his memory.  According to Discover Sutherland, “Subscriptions came in from far and wide, which is surprising given his reputation today“.  The monument was erected in 1837 and stands at 100 feet tall.  It was carried up Beinn a’ Bhragaidh by horse and cart.

Sutherland Monument

Its inscription reads, “Of loved, revered and cherished memory.  Erected by his tenantry and friends“.

Sutherland Monument InscriptionKnown locally as The Mannie, opinion on it seems to be divided into two camps.  Some want the monument to stay, as a reminder of what happened here.  One local resident has said, “If you take away history nobody will ask questions.  If he stays there people will ask what it is and then hear what happened here during the Highland Clearances“.

Others, however, want the monument pulled down, calling it a “monument to a monster“.  There have been petitions to the Scottish Parliament to have it removed.  There have been hate messages sprayed across its base.  In 1994 there was even an attempt to dynamite it.  There are regular reports of damage and vandalism to the monument, as people attempt to topple it.

When we reached it the base had been protected by a metal cage, and there was a small amount of rubble lying around the base.  Was this evidence of someone chiseling away at the base?

Damage to the Sutherland MonumentAs it is, the Duke of Sutherland currently remains in situ, surveying Golspie and the coastline beyond.

Sutherland MonumentIt is a wonderful stretch of coastline.  We’ll be walking through one day.

View from the Sutherland Monument

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • The Sutherland Monument:  N 57° 58.900 W 004° 00.395

Walk Statistics:

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