Woodland, Waterfalls and Witches

Cwm Pwll-y-Wrach (Valley of the Witches Pool) in Powys is the ideal location for an atmospheric walk amongst ancient woodland. Situated inside Pwll-y-Wrach Nature Reserve, a wonderful waterfall hides a superstitious past…but is it true?

The walk begins at the car park in Talgarth. This small town is within the vicinity of the Black Mountains, approximately nine miles from Brecon. For a short visit, there is a direct route to the Pwll-y-Wrach Nature Reserve which is less than a mile from Talgarth. For an extended walk, there are plenty of footpaths crisscrossing the landscape.

This particular route passes St. Gwendoline’s Church. Built during the medieval period, it is believed to be the burial site of St. Gwendoline, the eleventh daughter of Brychan who ruled over the area during the time of King Arthur.

From here, the footpaths gently climb through farms, fields and herds of cows into the tranquil countryside where there are splendid views of the Black Mountains and the peaks of the Brecon Beacons. This is particularly impressive in the autumn when the trees display their full golden glory.

 

The view of the Black Mountains

It is possible to continue upwards to the high peaks but this route follows the foothills before descending into the wooded valley.

On a dry, crisp day the leaves crackle and the twigs crunch underfoot. It is eerie in the tranquil silence which is broken only by the sound of the River Ennig concealed below. When the route reaches the bottom of the valley, a wood carving in a tree adds to the supernatural sense of being watched!

Can you see the face in the tree?

At this point, there is a choice between following the signposted riverside footpath or the road. The path can be close to the edge in places and was overgrown on this particular day. The road runs alongside and it is easy to see where it joins with the footpath to descend to the waterfall.

Due to the nature of rivers, waterfall paths are often wet and slippery. There is a handrail in some places but not all the way along the path so care is advised. During the steep descent, the rushing water becomes louder until eventually Pwll-y-Wrach Falls is revealed.

Pwll-y-Wrach Falls

The Witches Pool is at the foot of the waterfall. As the name implies, the plunge pool is believed to be enchanted. It is claimed that in olden days, the women accused of witchcraft were brought to this spot to prove their guilt or innocence. Whether there is any truth in this, the ancient woodland surroundings create the sense of being a world away from the present-day.

The waterfall is the highlight of a walk full of mystery and superstition. To finish, the road leads back to Talgarth Mill. The working watermill and bakery are run by the community and the café is the perfect place to visit for an end of walk treat.

A version of this article first appeared in ‘Bwrdd’ – The Newsletter for Mensa Cymru, December 2018.