Wilderness Wales


Day 8 - Afon Mellte

Ystradfellte Falls, Brecon Beacons

Sgwd y Pannwr Panorama

Sgwd y Pannwr
The central section of a massive 360 degree panorama (14 vertical 24mm shots)

Click here for the full panorama at 2603 x 500 pixels (454 Kb)

The Met Office once more forecast overcast weather, hill fog and likelihood of rain, so another visit to the waterfalls.seemed appropriate. I chose to visit the Afon Mellte (Lightning River) and packed lots of camera gear for the task, no less than four cameras, plus lenses, filters, tripod etc. I also packed spare warm clothing and waterproofs, after the very chilly day on Garreg Lwyd previously.

Starting in the afternoon I strolled down to the clifftop viewpoint overlooking Sgwd Isaf Clun Gwyn. There was a party of red waterproof clad youngsters there. A brief hello was exchanged after which I saw no-one else for the rest of the day. After shooting a birds eye view of the fall (the second best in the whole area in my opinion), I descended the precipitous path down the cliff edge cautiously. This leads direct to the waterfall. I should stress that I don't recommend this route for general walkers. The consequences of a slip could be very nasty indeed.

I settled on a precarious spot facing the fall, a narrow ledge with slippery rocks, and spent perhaps 45 uncomfortable minutes there. As soon as I'd got the tripod set up the sun came out! Exactly what I didn't want, shining on all the wrong parts of the fall. Using my spot meter I determined that the contrast range inherent in the scene was 6 stops when overcast, but 8 stops with the sunny bits. Although my digital camera can cope with that, it pushes the shadows into the lower quality range and makes the lighting uneven. In particular one patch of sunlight hit the water and increased the brightness a full 2 stops higher than the rest of the water on the fall.

This meant a lot of time spent waiting for the sun to stop shining, exactly the reverse of what a photographer generally waits for. This was most frustrating, and very odd. It's funny how when you want shade the sun won't seem to stop shining! This caused quite a delay in my plans, with consequences later. When the sun finally stopped shining for a reasonable period I took my first "mega-panorama" of the day. By "mega-panorama" I mean a horizontal panorama comprised of vertical format shots, thus increasing the height of the panorama and the number of shots required. This not only gives as wide an angle of view as is required, but gives considerable height to the panorama too, resulting in an extremely large coverage area when used with a wide angle lens (24.5mm in this case).

After the long but pleasant delay at Sgwd Isaf Clun Gwyn I walked quickly upriver toward Sgwd Clun Gwyn. I stopped to take a few close ups of mushrooms, leaves etc. on the way. I didn't bother to stop at the fall since I was short of time. Crossing the bridge I doubled back to the viewpoint on the other side of the river, and took a few shots there. I was very pleased to see that the wooden barrier that previously graced the cliff edge for a number of years has now been removed. This means that I can risk falling off the cliff much more easily than I could before (I always used to climb over the barrier anyway).

A pleasant southward stroll (which had also been previously blocked off, but has now been re-opened) led to the excellent cliff edge path above Sgwd Isaf Clun Gwyn. Reaching the optimum viewpoint on the other bank, I proceed to bang off a series of quick pics, including some small panoramas. The sun was out again by this time and ruining part of the scene by shining in just the wrong place (not on the fall), but it clearly was in no hurry to disappear so I just took the shots anyway and will sort out the mess later in Photoshop.

Finally I reached Sgwd y Pannwr, my second main destination of the day. Of the ten major Ystradfellte waterfalls, I've always ranked this particular fall tenth. It is my least favourite fall and typically makes the least interesting photographs. However, it is in a very atmospheric location surrounded by rocks, boulders and fallen trees, and it was this that intrigued me the most. I wanted to take a mega panorama of the waterfall's surroundings, and this is what I did, a full 360 degree panorama comprised of 14 vertical 24mm shots, the largest area coverage that is physically possible with my camera. Luckily this location is so deep in the valley that no sunshine intruded into the photograph.

Paul Saunders at Sgwd Pannwr

A hasty self portrait at Sgwd y Pannwr

Unfortunately I ran a bit late taking the shots there, and so had to rush to get back. I made the mistake of taking a different path out of the valley. My logic was that although the path initially went in the wrong direction, it was less steep than the direct return route. However, I hadn't realised how far it went in the wrong direction and overlooked the fact that it ascended a lot higher than my original route, so I ended up adding at least 15 unnecessary minutes to my journey and a lot of extra ascent.

For a valley walk the Mellte involves a lot of ups and downs, due to cliffs and gorges, and I racked up 250m of ascent, greater than any of my hill walks so far. This proved to be quite exhausting with the heavy rucksack I was carrying. The waterproofs and warm clothing weren't needed, in fact I was too hot as it was, it was a surprisingly warm day. I'd have stopped to rest more but didn't have time, so the return walk was very tiring. This actually ranks as the hardest walk so far in terms of the effort rating, and I haven't yet reached the limit of what I consider to be an easy walk (10 effort points).

The reason I was in a rush to get back is because the sidelights on my car have stopped working, as well as one of my two headlights! So I had to get back before dark. I was a bit later than I'd have liked, with darkness descending before I reached home, so I wasn't at all happy about that. I must make sure this doesn't happen again. It might even be a good idea to get the lights fixed...

Distance: 5.3km - Ascent: 250m - Effort Rating: 7.8 - Duration: 3 hours 45 minutes