Craig y Ddinas to Sgŵd yr Eira
Water power, gunpowder and rock.
The Brecon Beacons National Park isn’t just about big skies and mountains. The south-western corner of the Park, a fractured, complicated limestone landscape of deep, dark wooded gorges and rushing rivers, has a character all of its own. It’s called ‘Waterfall Country’, and this walk leads to the most celebrated fall of them all – Sgŵd yr Eira, the ‘Fall of Snow’.
Need to know
Length: 4 miles (6.4km) there and back
Time: Around 3–4 hours
Start and finish: Craig-y-Ddinas, Pontneddfechan
OS map ref: SO 911078
OS map: Explorer OL12 (1:25 000 series)
Facilities: Car park at Craig-y-Ddinas, refreshments, toilets and Waterfalls Centre at Pontneddfechan
Along the way
Craig y Ddinas and Bwa Maen
Writers of geology text books love the territory around Pontneddfechan. Classic features abound. These two dramatic outcrops are a manifestation of a fault line – a line of great weakness in the Earth’s crust – that runs east-north-eastwards from the village. Craig y Ddinas thrusts itself out of the ground to a height of around 45m, its exposed limestone face lined with tilting strata. Bwa Maen, geologically speaking, is even more interesting. Its English name, ‘Bow of Stone’, reflects the way in which the rock has been squeezed from a horizontal to near vertical position, a process clearly visible in its arch-like folds. Craig y Ddinas hillfort was an Iron Age stronghold. Long and thin, it’s a naturally defensible position capping a steep-sided promontory. It lays claim, along with many other places, to Arthurian connections based on the legend of a hidden cave housing mythical subterranean sleeping warriors.
The river Sychryd tumbles down a narrow, mossy, rock-strewn gorge in a series of cascades before meeting the river Mellte near Craig-y-Ddinas
The exceedingly hard rock here is 98% pure silica – otherwise known as quartz. Heat resistant and tough, it was made into bricks and used to line the blast furnaces of the Industrial Revolution. ‘Dinas bricks’ made from the silica mined here were exported around the world.
Old Gunpowder Works
During the late 19th century, explosives used in the mining industry were manufactured here at the only gunpowder works in South Wales. Water power came from the Mellte, while the local woods provided charcoal, one of gunpowder’s main ingredients.
Sgŵd yr Eira
Possibly the most famous of the area’s many waterfalls, Sgŵd yr Eira is on the river Hepste, which joins the Mellte about 500m downstream. It’s top of the ‘waterfall wish-list’ not just because of its natural beauty but also for allowing the experience – and novelty value – of walking behind the 18m curtain of water to view the falls from inside out (don’t worry: a pronounced overhang prevents you from getting too wet!).
Way to go
Clearly waymarked for the entire route, with interpretive points along the way. Two audio trails are available as free MP3 downloads (one for adults, the other for children). Download them here.