Brecon Beacons, Autumn 2018

 
 
 
 

The Brecon Beacons may be more well known for its majestic peaks, rolling moorland, and idyllic towns and villages, but what I did not expect was the scale and number of waterfalls in the park.

Towards the southern and southwestern part of the Brecon Beacons is a large area known, appropriately, as Waterfall Country or Coed y Rhaeadr in Welsh (“Wood of the Water”). The combination of a belt of carboniferous limestone and ancient red sandstone—plus millennia of glacial overdeepening—has created a landscape of deep, steep gorges with massive waterfalls rushing over various faults and lips.

The waterfall in this photo is called Sgwd y Pannwr, which roughly translates to “fall of the fuller/woollen washer”. Lisabet and I clambered down the steep gorge to get right next to these falls, and the sound was just immense.

Sigma dp0 Quattro, 6-stop Hoya Pro ND filter, ISO100, f/8.0, 10secs. Edited in Sigma Photo Pro, Aurora HDR 2019, Luminar 2018, Photoshop CC.

 
 
 
 
 

If you’re in or around the Brecon Beacons National Park it’s hard to miss the centrepiece of the landscape: the Pen y Fan range, with Pen y Fan itself (886m/2,907ft) the highest peak in South Wales and Southern UK.

But there are other beautiful peaks to check out. In the northwestern area of the Brecon Beacons National Park—isolated and hard to get to—is the Black Mountain region containing the Carmarthen Fans (Bannau Sir Gaer). These are an escarpment of northeastern-facing cliffs topped by Fan Brycheiniog (802.5m/2,633ft), containing a couple of glacial tarns. The smallest of the two—Llyn y Fan Fach (“lake of the small hill”)—has a dedicated, if trying, path.

The site of the sheer cliff faces, sculpted and carved by millennia of ice ages, rising directly above the tarn was magnificent to behold.

Sigma dp0 Quattro, Hoya slim polariser and Pro ND 6-stop filter, LEE 2-stop medium ND grad filter, ISO100, f/22, 15secs. Edited in Sigma Photo Pro, Aurora HDR 2019, Luminar 2018, and Photoshop CC.

 
 
 
 
 

The Brecon Beacons has a few towns and villages dotted about the national park, a favourite of ours being Crickhowell (Crug Hywel, named after the nearby flat-topped hill of the same name).

We visited on a proper Indian Summer’s day: clear blue skies, warm sun, and lush greens everywhere. Absolutely glorious. During our wander around the town we popped into the 14th century St. Edmund’s church, named after Edmund the Martyr, Kind of East Anglia in the 9th century AD.

For a 700-year old building the interior was immaculately kept. I took this composition shooting right into the light that was streaming through the stained glass window, providing a wonderfully soft glow.

Sigma dp0 Quattro, Hoy slim polariser, ISO100, f/7.1, multiple exposures. Edited in Sigma Photo Pro, Aurora HDR 2019, Luminar 2018, and Photoshop CC.

 
 
 
 
 

One of the main hiking trails you can take around Waterfall Country in the Brecon Beacons is called the Four Falls walk. Starting from the north this comprises of Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd Isaf Clun-gwyn, Sgwd y Pannwr (first photo), and Sgwd yr Eira.

This composition shows the sheer size of the first of these falls, Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, which roughly translates to “fall of the white meadow”. You can hear it long before you see it.

We hiked the Four Falls walk on our first full day in the Brecon Beacons, with the previous day written off due to a deluge of rain. This meant that by the time we did the hike, all the waterfalls were roaring. Not only that, autumn was truly taking effect with striking colours present in all the foliage in the gorge.

To give you an idea of scale, immediately to the left of the falls below the top lip you can make out two people. That's how big these falls are.

Sigma dp0 Quattro, Hoya slim polariser and Pro ND 6-stop filter, ISO100, f/13, 15secs. Edited in Sigma Photo Pro, Aurora HDR 2019, Luminar 2018, and Photoshop CC.

 
 
 
 
 

Near the top of the trail that leads to the epic Llyn y Fan Fach and the sheer peaks of the Carmarthen Fans that surround it, you pass this little cascade flowing into a small pool.

Thankfully the pool was still enough that, with the aid of a longer exposure, I was able to secure a composition involving the reflection of the ridge in the pool. In particular, the peak of Picws Du (749m/2,457ft) is prominent.

The summit of Picws Du contains a Bronze Age round barrow. Though unexcavated, it’s similar to other burial cairns on the peaks of Pen y Fan and Fan Foel, which could age it to around 2,000 BC.

Taking this shot actually proved quite tricky, especially in terms of controlling the light. By this time of the day the sun was directly over the peaks and silhouetting them. It was also doing a good job of breaking through the cloud cover. Combine this with the stack of filters I had in front my lens means lens flare central.

Sigma dp0 Quattro, Hoya slim polariser and Pro ND 6-stop filter, LEE 2-stop medium ND grad filter, ISO100, f/22, 6 secs. Edited in Sigma Photo Pro, Aurora HDR 2019, Luminar 2018, DxO Nik Silver Efex Pro, and Photoshop CC.

 
 
 
 
 

Away from the Four Falls walk, there are still plenty of other waterfalls to find in the Brecon Beacons. Starting at the tiny village of Pontneddfechan you can take the Elidir trail north then head west at the confluence of the Afon Pyrddin and the Nedd Fechan. Eventually, the gorge opens out into a wonderful natural amphitheatre with soft light filtering through the canopy above.

And in front of you, elegantly dropping 20ft over a lip, is Sgwd Gwladus, the “Lady’s Falls”, the lady in question being a mythical princess called Gwladus.

For this composition I opted for a longer exposure. I could see a trail of bubbles and foam leading from the crashing waterfall and I wanted to see if a longer exposure could render these flowing bubbles and foam as streaks. After the 20-second exposure, I was delighted to see the curved streak that the foam left behind.

Sigma dp0 Quattro, Hoya slim polariser and Pro ND 6-stop filter, ISO100, f/8.0, 20secs. Edited in Sigma Photo Pro, Aurora HDR 2019, Luminar 2018, and Photoshop CC.

 
 
 
 
 

What’s the longest stone bridge in Wales? Apparently, it’s Crickhowell Bridge.

There’s been a bridge here—crossing the River Usk—since medieval times but was first documented in 1538. Over the centuries it’s seen various renovations and natural catastrophes, a result of which means the bridge now has a different number of arches upstream compared to downstream (twelve upstream, 13 downstream).

When I took this composition I could see that some clouds were moving into the frame, on what was otherwise and cloudless blue sky. I shot a longer exposure to allow the movement of the clouds to streak and acting as pointers towards the bridge. Just to the left of the white building, in the distance, you can make out Tabletop Mountain or Crug Hywel.

Sigma dp0 Quattro, Hoya slim polariser and Pro ND 6-stop filter, LEE 2-stop medium ND grad filter, ISO100, f/18, 20secs. Edited with Sigma Photo Pro, Aurora HDR 2019, Luminar 2018, and Photoshop CC.

 
 
 
 
 

Though totally natural in formation, Llyn y Fan Fach is also a reservoir. Next to the damn is a little bothy that hikers can use for shelter on long multi-day walks.

There’s actually well-known folklore featuring Llyn y Fan Fach. The story goes that Rhiwallon, the farmer of Blaensawdde, met a beautiful water fairy beside the waters of Llyn y Fan Fach. She promised to become his wife on the condition that she would return to the water if he struck three causeless blows. They married and raised three sons before Rhiwallon broke his pledge. Thereafter the lady of the lake vanished back to the water. The story does not end there, however. Many years later her sons succeeded in finding her and she reappeared to teach them herbal cures, enabling them to become the first in the long line of physicians from Myddfai, a tradition that lasted until the 18th century.

The two peaks you can see in this composition are Picws Du on the right (749m/2,457ft) and Fan Foel on the left (802.5m/2,633ft). In between the two there is actually another tarn, called Llyn y Fan Fawr, meaning “lake of the big peak”.

Sigma dp0 Quattro, Hoya slim polariser and Pro ND 6-stop filter, LEE 2-stop medium ND grad filter, ISO100, f/22, 13secs. Edited with Sigma Photo Pro, Aurora HDR 2019, Luminar 2018, and Photoshop CC.

 
 
 
 
 

Sgŵd y Pannwr is an unusual waterfall.

Before rushing over the wide lip, as seen in the first photo of this series, the Afon Mellte first drops down this long and narrow fissure in the limestone, which widens out and pushes right against the sheer gorge side. In time—a long time—I can see this waterfall becoming more of a long and wide horseshoe shape as it eats away at the limestone.

The name Sgŵd y Pannwr means “fall of the fuller” or “fall of the woollen washer” (“fulling” occurs in woollen clothmaking, where one washes the wool to eliminate oils, dirt, and other impurities, and to make it thicker.) This would indicate that in times gone by people would clamber down the steep gorge, probably carrying sacks of heavy wool, to wash it all in the powerful flow of the waterfall.

This shot involved some careful stepping across the wet limestone so that I could straddle the fissure for this composition. There’s something exhilarating about being so close to powerful rushing water.

Sigma dp0 Quattro, Hoya slim polariser and Pro ND 6-stop filter, ISO100, f/9.0, 30secs. Edited with Sigma Photo Pro, Aurora HDR 2019, Luminar 2018, and Photoshop CC.

 
 
 
 
 

There’s more to see than the beautiful Sgŵd Gwladus when you're hiking the Elidir trail near Pontneddfechan.

At the confluence of the Afon Pyrddin and the Nedd Fechan, you can take the northeastern path that follows the Nedd Fechan. Soon enough you come across the first of the Nedd Fechan falls: Sgwd y Bedol, the “horseshoe falls”. They are, in fact, a quick succession of cascades that navigate the bend of the Nedd Fechan.

Lisabet clambered down to these falls first, being the little wood elf that she is. By the time I arrived at the water’s edge, she informed me that her glasses had taken a tumble into the falls from her head, never to be seen again.

Sigma dp0 Quattro, Hoya slim polariser and Pro ND 6-stop filter, ISO100, f/11, 15secs. Edited with Sigma Photo Pro, Aurora HDR 2019, Luminar 2018, and Photoshop CC.

 
 
 
 
 

A small unnamed cascade reflecting the gorge light and fall foliage, shot on the Elidir trail at Pontneddfechan near Sgŵd Gwladus.

Sigma dp0 Quattro, Hoya slim polariser and Pro ND 6-stop filter, ISO100, f/8.0, 10secs. Edited with Sigma Photo Pro, Aurora HDR 2019, Luminar 2018, and Photoshop CC.

Next body of work will be, as soon as I can, the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park…