IIt had been a rough month for a number of reasons and I needed a break. At first I thought a vacation abroad would be the only antidote. But as it turned out, a wild weekend of swimming in the Brecon Beacons of South Wales was all the medicine I needed.
My anticipation for the upcoming trip quickly turned to panic when we looked at the weather forecast: lots of gray clouds and big raindrops.
After settling into our cozy room in Brecon, we pulled on our waterproof pants and hiking boots and braved the elements. A short drive brought us to the start of the Dragons Back route in the Black Mountains, whose ups and downs resemble the scales of a sleeping dragon. The constant downpour turned chilly as we hiked up the steep grassy bank, first trying to avoid the sheep pile and then forgetting all about it. Indeed the weather made the landscape look cinematic, the gaps between the low clouds revealing the next rolling hill like a curtain parting in front of the big screen. The air was so fresh it felt like it was cleaning us from all the dust and dirt of London.
The only building in sight was the Dinas Castle Inn, the highest pub in the Brecon Beacons National Park, so we indulged in a pint of bale lager, ate garlic bread by the fire and wondered about the waterfall we were going to swim in the day after would be as cold as our beers.
On the day of the wild swim, the air was a chilly 10C. I ran back to the hotel and threw a few sachets of hot chocolate into a thermos of hot water—a decision I’d appreciate later. We made our way to the Four Falls and picked up Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd y Pannwr and Sgwd yr Eira. This region has the highest concentration of waterfalls in Britain and we’ve visited them all by walking damp forest trails lined with bright scarlet mushrooms.
Sgwd yr Eira was a thundering blanket of white. We went onto the narrow ledge behind the falls where we could hear and feel their power. Maybe not the ones for swimming, we decided. The surrounding forest felt alive and soothing. When we finally arrived at Sgwd y Pannwr, ‘The Filler’s Fall’, we saw a curtain of water fall down a wide flight of steps into an inviting pool. I had previously described myself as ‘someone who doesn’t sail British seas’ because it’s too cold there. When I found myself at the base of a Welsh waterfall in a bathing suit and wool hat in October, I wasn’t sure I was going to pull it off. But I slowly pushed myself into it. After about three minutes, my skin felt like it was on fire. I got out and was so euphoric that I went back in two minutes later. As I dried myself on a rock while sipping hot chocolate, I couldn’t stop smiling.
Sunday walks took us to (and swam in) Nant Sere waterfall, tucked away in a valley near South Wales’ highest peak, Pen y Fan. Following directions and photos we found online, we crawled through low-hanging trees into a verdant wooded area evenly covered with a soft, mossy carpet. With no one else around, we dove in, our excited screams echoing through the canyon.
Our reward for bravery was one of the best Sunday roasts of our lives in the Felin Fach Griffin pub, with its wooden beams, open fire and stone floors.
But we saved the best for last. The crown jewel of Welsh waterfall country are Henrhyd Falls, which served as the entrance to Bat Cave in The Dark Knight Rises and are the highest in South Wales. A five-minute walk from the parking lot takes you into a rainforest-like cave with hanging ferns. The waterfall was in full force from days of heavy rain, making swimming inadvisable, but beyond it was a spacious cave – not quite big enough for Batman to live in, but perfect for watching the sunset and the gigantic expanse of water , which foamed down in front of us.
“When we have guests here it’s amazing – their faces look very different at the end of the weekend because they’ve relaxed and their muscles are doing something different,” our B&B owner Kayt Cooper told me. She and her husband Hugh run the beautiful Coach House in the historic center of Brecon. It is the perfect place to access all areas of the national park and to take a hot bath and rest in between hikes.
I felt more refreshed after two nights in the Brecon Beacons than after many of my vacations abroad. Immersed in breathtaking nature and immersed in cold water, we couldn’t help but be totally in the moment. I took the natural beauty of South Wales up the M4 to London and the chaos of the past month felt like I could handle it. After all, I was now the kind of person to swim wild Welsh in the rain.
Accommodation has been provided by Coach House, Brecon and is available from £92 per night for a minimum stay of two nights