We all have favourite family walks, don’t we? For my family Aber Falls has been an enduring favourite. It’s a very well-known and popular walk enjoyed by hikers of all ages and all abilities, but readers of Walestrails know that we’re all about about getting away from the crowds and finding alternative walks. With this in mind I’ve been seeking out alternative family waterfall walks.
A happily retired colleague recently told me about an amazing gorge walk he’d done near Blaenau Ffestiniog. It was while I studied the map to see where he’d been I came across Rhaeadr Cynfal Waterfalls which flows down the very same gorge.
This waterfall walk begins at Llan Ffestiniog, and there’s convenient parking by the church in the square.
Llan Ffestiniog is a beautiful location with expensive views towards Blaenau Ffestiniog up to Stwlan reservoir and down towards the coast – it’s a feast for the eyes on a clear day.
From the church we crossed the road and headed a little way downhill until we picked up the footpath sign which is the start of the walk. The path heads gently downhill before bearing left through a field and a very soggy area. At this point I wished we had wellies on!
Now, the path to Rhaeadr Cynfal is signposted and we should not have got lost, but somehow, we missed the massive Natural Resources Wales sign that leads to the waterfall and instead we continued uphill where we chose a path up through some trees. This is completely the wrong way but it wasn’t a disaster because it lead us onto the disused railway which I believe was the branch line that serviced the Trawsfynydd nuclear power station until its closure in the 90s.
It was very cool to walk along the railway with trees sprouting up between the sleepers it’s clearly abandoned but modern warning signs still trick you into imagining a train could appear at any time.
We walked some way before turning back. From researching the walk, I know that there is a spectacular viaduct that crosses Ceunant Cynfal and I didn’t want to walk over it with the kids – not before I’d had chance to do a thorough recce myself!
We had some fun on the tracks before we doubled backed, a quick look at the map showed me where I’d gone wrong. We all groaned when we saw the massive sign.
Once we were on the right path it was an easy walk and we soon found the impressive gorge and waterfalls. The power of the water is evident here and it does feel a bit precarious if you get too close to the edge especially with the children. Had I been alone I might have been braver and found a better spot to view and photographs the falls. There is an impressive pillar of rocks called Huw Llwyd’s Pulpit, a local character from the 17th Century he’s said to have preached and read poetry from this location in the middle of the gorge – I can’t imagine how on earth he got on to the pillar having seen it for myself.
Apparently, this walk was popular with the Victorians and true to form there is a viewing area that that is not dissimilar to the viewing point at the Swallow Falls in Betws-y-Coed, although this one is much smaller and is free.
We stopped a while at the viewing area listening to the water roaring by before continuing up to the bridge, also a legacy from the Victorians. I can see why it was such a popular walk but given the all the mud I do wonder how on earth the Victorian ladies coped in their lace up leather boots, long dresses and petticoats.
We cross the bridge over onto the other side of the river where we walked down the hill back towards Llan Ffestiniog. This section of the path is wooded, and the recent high winds had damaged the mighty oaks. We negotiated our way past the strewn boughs and branches and continued to follow the river on its journey down the valley.
Llan Ffestiniog was high up to our left and I was a little concerned about how the children would react to the inevitable uphill slog back to the church. We followed the path which led us through some very soggy places, my walking shoes got wet but it’s hardly surprising because at one-point half my leg disappeared deep into the muddy abyss – much to the kids’ delight.
The path led us back down to the river and across the bridge. Here the ascent back to the car began, the church looked to be far away but to my surprise and with minimal complaints we got back to Llan Ffestiniog quite quickly.
Back at the car we were treated to the beginnings of a spectacular sunset, I managed to persuade the children to come with me to the viewpoint behind the church so we could soak up the last of the day’s crimson rays before going to the pub for a much-needed drink and a packet of crisps.
So how did this waterfalls walk compair to the very popular Aber Falls? We really enjoyed our adventure to Rhaeadr Cynfal, exploring a new area, the peace and solitude. There is more effort required than at Aber Falls, the terrain is steeper but all in all I think it’s a good alternative if you want to get away from the crowds.