Going Down The River

In which The Author explores the upper stretch of the Vale of Neath

A good number of years ago, my brother and I talked our pal Jason W. into coming on an expedition around Pontneddfechan, a beautiful rural village at the head of the Neath Valley. Four decent-sized rivers rise in the southern hills of the Brecon Beacons national park, and converge in or around the village, forming the River Neath. The area’s probably best known for the massive outcrop of Craig y Ddinas, and its spectacular waterfalls.
One of these waterfalls is called Sgwd-yr-Eira, and you can walk behind it.

Sgwd-yr-Eira June 1 2006 5

There’s an old picture (which I’ve seen reproduced in a book – I think the original is in the National Museum of Wales) showing a shepherd leading a flock of sheep behind the waterfall. We’d talked about the waterfall in the pub one night, and Jason decided he’d like to see it for himself.
We set off from Penderyn, headed up on a track from the Lamb Inn, and followed a signposted path across some moorland before descending sharply into the gorge of the River Hepste. We could hear the water crashing from the upper level even before we saw it. I took this photo of Jason and Phil while we were there.

Behind Scwd-yr-Eira

Then we decided to climb up out of the valley and head for another fall, Sgwd y Pannwr, some distance from the confluence of the Hepste and the Mellte. Unfortunately, we got rather lost.
Wondering which way to go next
Wondering which way to go next
We crossed a river at one point, wading through fairly shallow but fast-running water. After quickly sketching the area from memory, Phil suggested following the river downstream. We knew that at some point we’d get to Pontneddfechan. We just weren’t sure exactly where!
We managed to surprise a chap who was fishing some distance from where we’d crossed.
‘Where did you come from?’ he asked, as we hove into view from upstream of where he was sitting. We told him we weren’t sure, and carried on going.
Lost in contemplation (amongst other things)
Lost in contemplation (amongst other things)
We eventually emerged at Craig y Ddinas, and realized that we must have crossed onto the opposite bank of the Mellte. We walked the rest of the way into Pontneddfechan and caught a taxi to Hirwaun, from where we were able to get a bus back to Aberdare. The whole journey had taken us most of the day. Jason had nearly collapsed on one uphill climb (none of us led especially healthy lifestyles in those days) – and he’d managed to drown his cigarettes when he put his beer in the river to chill – but we all agreed that it was a fun way to spend an afternoon.