Thursday, October 29, 2015

South Wales Day 2 - An autumnal stroll along the River Mellte

Autumn colours on the Afon Mellte in the Brecon Beacons by Martyn Ferry Photography

Woke up to a morning slightly improved on the previous one, as in it wasn't bucketing it down, but it was as grey as an unwashed pair of pants, so a sunrise was, again, not on the cards. After a leisurely breakfast I took a drive back to the Brecon Beacons, and paid a visit to Aberdulais Falls. 

The falls are in the care of the National Trust, along with the copper mine that drew it's water from the power of the falls some 400 years ago. It's an interesting place, but I won't go into much detail here because when I got there it was closed, so it seems rather pointless. What I didn't check before I embarked was the opening times, and seeing as I was two hours early, I didn't hang around for it to open. Instead I carried on to Henrhyd Falls, or Sgwd Henrhyd to give it it's local name.

Beautiful autumn colour in the Brecon Beacons by Martyn Ferry Photography
On the way to the falls I couldn't help but stop to get a picture of this golden tree.

I parked up in the quiet car park and took the very steep path down to the river, and once I'd crossed the footbridge I was in sight of these impressive falls. At 90 ft it is the tallest waterfall in South Wales, and in fact the tallest in Southern Britain. Because it was still fairly early in the day, I had the place to myself, so I wasted no time in wading into the river. You may think that I was peculiar for doing that, considering my penchant for falling over, particularly near water, but my buffoonery tends to happen in the presence of others, just to make things particularly awkward for everyone, so I had some confidence I would live to see another day.

Henrhyd Falls in the Brecon Beacon South Wales by Martyn Ferry Photography
Looking at the falls and a small cascade of water.

I stood there getting a few shots, as the chilly water raced over my boots, before I continued to the far bank. From the side that the falls are approached, there is a lot of detritus in the water, parts of trees mainly, that have been flung down the falls by the powerful currents, but the far bank had a clear view, so there was method in my madness. The fall was looking quite splendid even if there wasn't much autumn colour to be seen down in the damp gorge.

Autumn leaves line the bank at Henrhyd Falls in Wales by Martyn Ferry Photography
Autumn leaves line the river banks, about the only colour there was.

The downside of all this attractive water was the deluge of spray that was continually being cast off. Positioned down at the base of the falls I would have no more than a few seconds to compose, focus and shoot each image before they became unusable, and I lost a lot of shots thanks to the unending torrent of moisture in the air. After a little while I gingerly made way back across the slippery river and to the other shore, where I climbed to slightly higher ground for a different view.

I took the path that wound towards the falls and continues on behind it, yes you can stand behind the waterfall, which is always a good thing to do, and should never be avoided. I tried getting some shots but the spray was unstoppable, so I gave up on that idea. Henrhyd falls was actually used as the entrance to the Bat Cave in the the film The Dark Knight Rises, so as I re-emerged from the soggy cavern I couldn't help but swear wrathful vengeance on evil in all it's forms.

Brecon Beacons Henrhyd Falls in full flow by Martyn Ferry Photography
The path on the right takes you behind the falls.

Once I had struggled back up the the path to the car park, I realised that I would have to be a tad fitter if I was going to fight crime, so I gave up on that idea as well.

Next I drove to Dinas Rock, an enormous hulk of limestone that juts high above the surrounding landscape, and is capped with trees, I didn't get any shots as it was crawling with rock climbers. It derives its name from the presence of Iron Age earthworks on its summit, dinas in Welsh signifying a defensive site or city. But the reason I was here wasn't for the rock, but to follow the path along the Afon Mellte, one of the tributaries of the River Neath.

The Afon Mellte in the Brecon Beacons with small arched bridge by Martyn Ferry Photography
A small arched bridge spans the Afon Mellte.

Mellte is the Welsh word for lightning, the river acquired this name from its tendency to rise and fall rapidly in response to heavy rainfall. Further upstream it is home to a selection of very picturesque waterfalls which I encountered on a previous visit to the area when I did the Four Falls WalkThis section of the river though was a bit more subdued, and I was here to immerse myself in the autumn colours that lined the course of the tributary.

Large boulders in the Afon Mellte in the Vale of Neath by Martyn Ferry Photography
I liked the swirl of leaves as they were harried by the current around these rocks.

The walk itself is not very long, just a few kilometres, but as I was stopping so often for the wonderful views, it took me a good few hours to complete it. Thankfully there was still quite a lot of cloud about, which created ideal conditions for photography, when the sun did come out it made the trees incredibly bright compared to the dark brown river, so I made the most of the shady conditions when I had them.

Golden autumn leaves on the Afon Mellte in South Wales by Martyn Ferry Photography
A bit of autumn colour reflects on the rivers surface.

A tree in full autumn glow reflects on the Afon Mellte by Martyn Ferry Photography
The calm river afforded some excellent reflections.

Autumn hues reflect in the Afon Mellte in the Brecon Beacons by Martyn Ferry Photography
A fallen tree amongst the full on autumn hues.

The Afon Mellte courses through woodland in the Vale of Neath by Martyn Ferry Photography
Coursing through woodland, the discarded leaves covered every rock in the river.

Golden autumn colours along the Afon Mellte in South Wales by Martyn Ferry Photography
Golden colours lined the river's banks.

The trail ended at a view over an abandoned gunpowder works, with the remains of two weirs from which leats took water to drive a series of waterwheels and turbines. All production on the site ceased in 1931. I was in the mood to carry on, so I took a path that headed upwards in the hope that it would curve back down to the river a bit further on. I followed it up, and up, and it soon became clear that it had no intention of returning to the river and the rest of the Mellte was off limits. 

A bend in the Afon Mellte surrounded by autumn colour in the Brecon Beacons by Martyn Ferry Photography
A view of the weirs surrounded by autumn colour.

I carried on up anyway, in the hope that I might get some expansive views looking over the colourful valley below. Near the top I took a small overgrown track off the main path to see what I could see, and it soon became clear why it was so seldom used. A very large tree had fallen across the track, it was too high for me to climb over, especially as the path had a very precipitous drop on one side, and to make the climb I would have to be literally hovering over a large chasm as I negotiated a tangle of branches and vines. 

Trees in full autumn bloom rise above the Afon Mellte in the Brecon Beacons by Martyn Ferry Photography
The colourful valley sides rise up from the river below.

I didn't fancy that with all my camera gear, well, to be completely honest I wouldn't have fancied it with a cornucopia of safety harnesses and a strategically placed trampoline. That just left the option of crawling under it, which would have included squirming through a sticky soup of thick grey mud, needless to say I decided against it. I made my way back through the undergrowth, struggling against a wealth of prickly vines that harassed my trousers at every turn, and left my hands looking like they'd gone 12 rounds with a deranged moggy.

Stumbling back out onto the main path I carried on up until I came to a signpost, and realising where I was it became clear that there was no reason to continue along that route, so I turned around and headed back down to the river. I retraced my steps and found myself back at Dinas Rock, the day was drawing in and I needed to get back to the coast before sunset and I didn't want to get caught in rush hour traffic.

The setting sun over Dunraven Bay in South Wales by Martyn Ferry Photography
The setting sun lights up the sky.

Thankfully I made it back in time and got to Dunraven Bay as the sun was sitting low in the sky. I made my way onto the rocky beach and out to the shoreline, where I got a few shots of the warm evening light as it struck the cliffs. The tide was on it's way out so the beach was still wet with surf and it reflected the vibrant coloured clouds like gemstones in a mirror. This was the loveliest sunset I'd had on any of my visits to Wales, the weather never tends to be that good, so I was scurrying about the beach like manic crab, trying to get as many shots as I could before the light dissipated.

Dunraven Bay sunset with reflected clouds in the foreground by Martyn Ferry Photography
Clouds reflect in the rock pools left from the retreating tide.

Clouds reflect in the ocean at Dunraven Bay in South Wales by Martyn Ferry Photography
The mirror like surface of the beach at Dunraven Bay.

Dunraven Bay cliffs in the warm evening sunlight in the South Wales coast by Martyn Ferry Photography
The warm evening sunlight bathes the cliffs.

Sunset over Dunraven Bay in South Wales by Martyn Ferry Photography
Another shot of this beautiful pool of water.

Clouds reflect around beach rocks at Dunraven Bay in South Wales at Sunset by Martyn Ferry Photography
The rocks on the beach seemed to float in the clouds.

Last of the sunset light at Dunraven Bay in South Wales by Martyn Ferry Photography
The last of the sunset light catches the remaining clouds.

Once the sunset was over I returned to the car and headed back to the cottage for a well earned shower and some dinner by jove.

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