Swim-hikes South Wales

Swim hikes in South Wales

Nia Lloyd Knott shares a small selection of her favourite swim hikes in Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) and Gower from her new book Wild Swimming Walks South Wales

South Wales is a land of ever-changing scenery, of glacier-carved mountains, ancient forested gorges, lush pastoral valleys, towering cliffs, windswept sand dunes and tidal sands.

The water is as varied as the land, with glittering mountain streams, winding rivers, glinting lakes and fairy-tale waterfall pools in wooded gorges, not forgetting the ever-changing waters of the South Wales coastline, gently lapping in sheltered coves or bursting with energy in exposed tidal bays.

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I was born in South Wales and have lived here for most of my life. Despite trying to leave several times, an often intangible sense of home, or cynefin as we say in Welsh, has always drawn me back. A term that cannot be directly translated to English, Welsh artist Kyffin Williams described cynefin as, “that relationship: the place of your birth and of your upbringing, the environment in which you live and to which you are naturally acclimatised.”

Researching and writing this book has deepened my sense of cynefin with this wonderful part of the world which I am lucky enough to call home.

Rhossili and Blue Pool circular walk, Gower

Walk through sand dunes to play in the waves at one of Wales’ best-loved beaches; visit
a hidden cove and climb onto rugged cliff tops for panoramic views, before descending to perfect blue swimming pool. Wildflowers and marram grass adorn the clifftops and sand dunes.

A path leads down towards the sea, very steep and sandy, with a rocky scramble required at the bottom to reach the beach. Much care is needed, and it is also worth timing your visit with an outgoing tide to give you plenty of time to climb back up afterwards.

As you descend, you’ll catch a glimpse of the Blue Pool: a legendary swimming hole, perfectly round, with bright turquoise water captured in a ring of rock carved out of the cliffs by the sea.

The depth of the pool changes with the seasons and the state of the sea. The beach itself is a lovely place to spend some time, with a huge archway at the far end. When the tide is far enough out, you can walk all the way along to Broughton Bay along the sand.

DISTANCE: 4 miles
TIME: 4 hours including swims
START POINT: Broughton car park, Burrows Lane (SS 416 926, SA3 1JP)
END POINT: Broughton car park.

Cwm Clydach circular walk

This route travels through what is a solitary, tranquil part of South Wales, despite being sandwiched between the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) and Gower Peninsula, and near the busy towns of Clydach and Pontardawe.

The moorland, farmland and lush river gorge here rival any part of the National Park for views, quiet nature and history.

The walk starts near Baran Chapel on Mynydd Carnllechart, high above the Swansea Valley. The route descends through the fields into the Nant Moelgorge, a feast of greens in the oak canopy above and the soft carpet beneath your feet.

A deep pool where the Nant Llwydyn joins the Clydach offers a gorgeous swimming spot, and one that has been used by generations of local children, who refer to the pool as ‘Ty Llwydyn’s’ after the nearby farm Ty Llwydyn. The pool has a sloping entry and a cascade under the bridge. The water is fresh and a deep green-blue fading to copper at the edges, before it tumbles away downstream.

A warming walk up the hill on a narrow country lane awaits, the solid tarmac welcome after tackling the mud, bog and bramble through on the riverside path.

DISTANCE: 5½ miles
TIME: 4 hours, including swims
START POINT: Off-road grassy parking near Baran Chapel/Capel Y Baran
(SN 690 078).
END POINT: Off-road grassy parking near Baran Chapel

Tawe River at Abercraf

A short walk through grassy meadows and peaceful woodland, along the River Tawe, on the southern boundary of the Bannau Brycheiniog (Brecon Beacons) National Park.

The walk begins opposite the former St David’s Church. The path leads past some cottages into a fenced path through lush meadows lined with selfheal and then, nearing the river, hazel trees laden with green nuts in late summer. A leafy lane passes next to a sleepy farm or two, and then a somewhat unloved and infrequently used footpath runs through woodland alongside hay meadows, lined with foxgloves and meadowsweet.

Emerging from the woodland, the footpath reaches the river bank just as the field opens out beyond. Here is a lovely section of the river as it bends, with a deep pool. There are slabby, though mossy and slippery, rocks for jumping in. The water is cold, clear, green and extremely inviting on a warm summer day.

Diving down to attempt to fathom the depth in the deepest pool underneath a large oak, the river bed is evasive, at least seven feet deep at its centre. Tilted rock beds allow a gentle entry and exit, allowing swimmers to become accustomed to the icy cold water before taking the plunge. Once you’re in, the clarity and freshness of the water make it a wrench to leave.

DISTANCE: 1½ miles
TIME: 2 hours including swims
START POINT: Ynyswen, small layby opposite former St David’s Church
(SN 831 128, SA9 1YG)
END POINT: Ynyswen, opposite former St David’s Church.

Llyn y Fan Fawr circular walk

A walk across vast moorland with an abundance of fresh mountain dipping pools, to a glacial lake at the foot of Fan Brycheiniog. Descend following a stream with further dipping pools and cascades.

As you set off from the layby next to the tiny lane that winds its way through this isolated mountain valley, the peaks of Mynydd Du loom high in the distance. The vast moorland stretches out ahead of you, promising a wild mountain swimming adventure.

The route begins by tracing the early course of the Tawe River, which has its source near here, babbling humbly through the boggy ground.

As you begin to climb, there are a series of attractive cascades tumbling into crystal clear pools, the bronze tint coming from the minerals present in the Old Red Sandstone which forms the bedrock here.

Most of the pools – irresistible for a swim even early on in the walk – are easily accessed from the grassy banks.

Llyn y Fan Fawr appears as if out of nowhere; hidden until you are right upon it, nestled below the ridge of Fan Brycheiniog, the highest peak in the Western Beacons.

A natural, glacial lake, there is a tranquility to this area that makes you want to spend hours here, resting on the shores of the lake.

DISTANCE: 3½ miles
TIME: 4 hours including swims
START POINT: Layby at BwlchCerrig
Duon (SN 853 218)
END POINT: Layby at BwlchCerrig Duon

Wild Swimming Walks South Wales by Nia Lloyd Knott is published by Wild Things Publishing. Readers can receive 20% discount and free P&P with code OSMag23 at wildthingspublishing.com

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