Our favourite weatherproof waterfall walks
When you’re hiking in the UK, you have to be ready for anything from clear blue skies to sideways rain, often in the same hour. That’s why we love a waterfall walk – they’re basically weatherproof. If it rains then the cascades surge spectacularly, if it’s hot then you can whip off the boots and leap in to clear, refreshing pools. Here are five of our favourite scenic trails that end in roaring falls and cooling dips.
Tongue Pot, Upper Eskdale, Lake District
Tongue Pot feels like a naturally occurring spa, with huge flat rocks, perfect for sunbathing, artfully arranged around a large central pool. The walk begins from an old red phone box at the bottom of Hardknott Pass near the village of Boot, before climbing up in the crook of a narrow valley. All along the route, the river breaks into low cascades and fizzing pools where you can slide into the water for a refreshing rest stop before pushing on. The climb isn’t too strenuous but you seem to leave the world behind, rounding a bend in the valley before arriving at the confluence of two rivers. There are some lower pools as well as the large, turquoise Tongue Pot itself, which means that even if a few other people are around it won’t feel crowded. With a depth of five metres, Tongue Pot is great for dramatic jumps, but take care to pick your spot and remember to stop for a while and enjoy the peace of paddling in a green bowl hidden deep in the Lake District.
Pont Melin Fach, Brecon Beacons
The area of the Brecon Beacons in the triangle formed by Hirwaun, Ystradfellte, and Pontneddfechan is known, for good reason, as Waterfall Country. Pont Melin Fach is a wide, low fall by a picturesque stone bridge and the starting point for exploration of the Cwm Nedd Fechan valley or a blissful walk down the Elidir Trail. Follow the gentle path downstream and you pass four separate waterfalls as you wind through woods that, local legend has it, conceal the entrance to a fairy kingdom. The trail is clearly marked and within 5-10 minutes of setting off from Pont Melin Fach you’ll reach the first great swimming spot, Sgwd Ddwli, where a high narrow fall feeds into a wider cascade. Whether you decide to settle here for a while or push on towards Sgwd Gwladus, keep an eye out for the Dipper Bird. The small, white-breasted songbird is happy in and under the water, and even nests behind the waterfalls, darting out to dive for food in the rivers. More information on this route can be found here.
St Nectan’s Glen, Cornwall
St Nectan’s Glen is a striking place where the river surges out of a narrow split in the rockface before running down through a natural stone ring into a shallow, reflective pool. It’s long been a sacred spot, said to be watched over by spirits of its past guardians. Many visitors leave offerings in the trees and on the rocks, giving the place a shrine-like sense of calm and gravity. The trail up to the glen takes you past three waterfalls, and while you can’t really swim in them, there are wellies to borrow at St Nectan’s Kieve, so you can splash around for a bit before you finish the hike. The start point is in Trethevy, near enough to Tintagel to make a great addition to a day exploring Cornwall’s myths and legends. From the car park it meanders through the woods over mossy rocks damp from the spray. You’re instantly enclosed in the thick forest, emerging into the light when the broad pools clear the canopy.
Falling Foss, Ruswarp, North York Moors
Although there’s a car park much nearer the falls, you really should treat yourself to the walk up to Falling Foss from May Beck. The track, still only a four-mile loop from the further starting point, heads into quiet woods from the Forestry Commission car park. Just before you reach the waterfall itself, a square stone cottage appears among the trees. This is Falling Foss Tea Garden – an enchanting, leafy spot where you can linger over cake and play pooh sticks on the bridge. The fall itself is 10 metres high and you’ll find it either a whispering, misty stream or a roaring river depending on recent weather. If you’re lucky enough to have sunshine or brave enough to take a dip anyway, you can complete the loop once you’ve towelled off. The path takes you down the other side of the river, passing through Little Beck Wood nature reserve, carpeted in bluebells in spring and known for its wealth of wildlife.
Steall Falls, Glen Nevis, near Fort William
The route from Nevis Gorge to Steall Falls has been described as one of Scotland’s most beautiful walks. The water crashes down 105 metres from the Mamores mountains and the trail approaches the cascade along the valley floor, the scale of the falls becoming more and more impressive as you get closer. The route is simple but the terrain can be challenging – this is definitely more a hike than a ramble. A river crossing on a three-wire bridge gets the adrenaline going, but the gorge itself is a tranquil place, with wildflower meadows grazed by highland cattle. The trail is a couple of hours from the Upper Glen Nevis car park to the falls, but you can add a few miles of scenic hiking by starting from the Ionad Nibheis Centre. The bracing water is coming down through mountains that are thick with snow through much of winter, so this is definitely one for only the hardiest of swimmers and even they should be sure to have some pretty warm clothing to hand.
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