January 2019 - stepping up at Henrhyd Falls

Jess Whitehead, a ranger with the Brecon Beacons National Trust, repairing a culvert as part of some footpath maintenance

We manage our land for the benefit of both people and wildlife from maintaining footpaths to bridges and other countryside infrastructure. Conservation Ranger Jess looks in more details at some essential maintenance tasks she's carried out at one of our popular sites...

It's important we manage our land to enable people to enjoy the beauty of our natural landscape. One of our popular sites is a magical wooded gorge on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park which is full of mosses and lichen and home to Henrhyd Falls, the highest waterfall in South Wales that plunges an impressive 90ft (27m).

No. 6 go welly wandering
Henrhyd Falls after a heavy downpour, the highest waterfall in South Wales, near Colebren in the Brecon Beacons
No. 6 go welly wandering

As our sites get steadily busier maintenance of the footpaths become more demanding and time consuming and recently we focused on updating some of the infrastructure at Henrhyd Falls.

Stepping up

Access to the falls is along a steep walk down into the gorge before crossing a bridge to the other side of the river. Once across the bridge there are some steps that take you up to the other side of the valley and on to a path leading to the waterfall. With the help of Uplands Ranger Huw and Amy, one of our Full Time Volunteers, we were able to replace these steps. This was a classic example of a simple task that turned out to be more time consuming than anticipated, and a test of Huw’s maths skills, but we eventually completed the job.

A helping hand to repair some steps
A ranger repairing the steps along the access route to Henrhyd Falls, the highest waterfall in South Wales, near Coelbren in the Brecon Beacons
A helping hand to repair some steps

Digging down

Culverts are stone lined drainage channels that direct water off the paths to help prevent erosion. Due to the rise in people visiting our site the stone culverts originally put in approximately twenty years ago by Lead Ranger Robert Reith were in need of repair due to the footpath being worn down by the footfall of visitors. Stone pitching is an ancient technique that pre dates the romans and involves placing stone into the ground to create a hard wearing surface. This is the technique we use to build culverts and create a hard wearing surface either side of them. Here are some before and after photos of the work carried out on the path just before the falls.

A culvert in need of repair due to erosion
A stone lined drainage channel, or culvert, in need of repair at Henrhyd Falls, near Coelbren in the Brecon Beacons
A culvert in need of repair due to erosion
A fine job and a repaired culvert after erosion caused by thousands of feet
A repaired stone lined drainage channel, or culvert, following wear to the footpath at Henrhyd Falls, near Coelbren in the Brecon Beacons
A fine job and a repaired culvert after erosion caused by thousands of feet

Laying flat

Another way to create a hard wearing surface is to lay scalpings on the path. Scalpings are a mixture of small stones and dust that compact into a hard layer. With the help of two working holidays with 12 hard working individuals in each group, last year we manually moved 16 tonnes of scalpings down the path into the gorge using rubble sacks. Thanks to their efforts we managed to cover the whole path leading from one side of the gorge and also spread another 16 tonnes of scalpings to resurface the car park too!

We wouldnl't be able to look after our land without your support and the Brecon Beacons appeal is helping us to acheive our goals.  Come back for our next blog as Lead Ranger Robert Reith gives an update on his footpath repair work and takes a look at the maintenance carried out since the relaunch of the appeal in February 2018.