Falling for Britain’s waterfalls


Rivers and streams are pretty diverse. At one end of the scale, there are those meandering quietly through flat countryside, and at the other end there are those taking the aquatic version of a ‘white knuckle ride’ by boiling into white foam over rocky rapids. Some rivers are even more extreme; one minute they are securely supported by a solid riverbed, the next they are in freefall, before crashing onto rocks or into a deep plunge pool realeasing clouds of spray and mist.

While gravity pulls the millions of litres of water inescapably downwards; waterfalls have a similar pull on human visitors. Is it because water and falling are two dream scenarios with deep meaning? I’ll let you ponder that.

Britain doesn’t have the tallest or widest waterfalls in the world. Nevertheless, it has a diverse selection of waterfalls to stir the emotions. Here are five waterfalls that I have either had the pleasure of discovering or that I would like very much to experience first hand. March is a good time to visit waterfalls as they empty the accumulated water from winter snows and rains to the levels below.

Kilt Rock

Kilt Rock waterfall

Kilt Rock waterfall

This waterfall can be found on the Trotternish Penninsula on Scotland’s Isle of Skye. Remarkable for its stunning setting and the fact that the water plunges fifty three metres into the ocean. The name comes from the columns of igneous rock that give the cliffs the appearance of a pleated kilt. They were formed when molten rock was forced between layers of sandstone and formed horizontal layers known as ‘sills’. The molten rock then cooled slowly forming the distinctive dolerite pillars similar to those found on Staffa. But enough of the geology lesson, this waterfall can be viewed from a viewing platform right next to a car park making it the easiest to view of this selection.

Gaping Gill (Ghyll)

Gaping Gill waterfall

Gaping Gill waterfall by stephenarcher cc.

Gaping Gill, the waters of Fell Beck disappear into the largest cavern of the Ingleborough Cave System in Yorkshire and in Britain. You might think that there is nothing for an ordinary visitor to see. You’d be wrong. Twice a year, if weather conditions are suitable, it is possible to make the descent into the cavern on a winch operated by Bradford Caving Club or Craven Caving Club. In doing so, you get to view the enormous cavern in the system under floodlights, and to take in the water dropping one hundred metres from daylight to the cave floor. The access arrangements make this the most difficult waterfall to view, but perhaps that increases its appeal?

Pistyll Rhaedr

Pistyll Rhaedr waterfall

Pistyll Rhaedr waterfall

Here, water collected by the impressive Berwyn Range in North Wales tumbles into the void after reaching a cliff above the small village of Llanrhaedr ym Mochnant. The village and surrounding area was used as a filming location for ‘The Englishman who went up a Hill and came down a Mountain”. The falls are one of the Seven Wonders of Wales and are reached via a narrow road with stopping places. The natural arch through which the water pours is particularly pleasing.

Steal Falls

Steal Falls waterfall

Steal Falls waterfall

The walk to the Steal Falls is as dramatic as the waterfall itself. Most visitors to this area are headed for the summit of Ben Nevis; Britains Tallest Mountain. However, continuing up Glen Nevis brings visitors to this very scenic walk starting at the Braveheart Car Park. It does require stout footwear as the path traverses solid rock as it climbs. Following heavy rain or melting snow, swollen streams emerge from woods and discharge into the narrow valley below. The air is filled with the thunderous roar of the River Nevis as it unsuccessfully attempts to take short cuts over the huge boulders in gorge. Occasional glimpses of Steal Falls can be made as the path climbs, but then the path exits the woods onto a broad flat valley bottom. It follows the green pastures and lead to a rope bridge. This presents a challenge as it is basically a tightrope with two taught cables to hold onto strung at shoulder height. If you don’t feel like attempting the crossing (remember you have to return the same way), you can view the falls from where you are.

Sgwd yr Eira

Sgwd yr Eira

Sgwd yr Eira by bluebirdinwales cc

Sgwd yr Eira (Fall of snow) is one of those magical waterfalls that it is possible to walk behind. How cool is that? Actually this is one of four waterfalls on a trail produced by the Forestry Commission. The area is at the edge of the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Porth yr Ogof, the entrance to another renowned cave system is also accessible from the walk.

There are plenty of other magnificent waterfalls to discover in the United Kingdom. Do you have any favourites?

John Williams can often be found undertaking sustainable travel or snowboarding; usually while toting a compact camera. You can follow him at @Eurapart and find out more at about.me/JohnWilliamsSee more articles by John on the VisitBritain Super Blog. (All of the images except those credited otherwise, were taken by John Williams using the compact camera mentioned earlier.)

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One Response to “Falling for Britain’s waterfalls”

  1. Zoe Dawes
    March 25, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    What a lovely reminder that we have some beautiful waterfall in Britain :-)

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