- Location: The Hafod Estate
- Distance: 5.5 miles
- Description of this walk: A circular walk around the Hafod Estate in the Ystwyth Valley passing through woodland, gorges and waterfalls.
- Map: O/S Explorer Map 213
- Download a map of this walk to print off and follow in Derek's footsteps. (PDF 1.5MB) Having trouble with the map? Download the latest version of Adobe Reader.
This walk was done using a GPS device and GPS marker points are included, should you wish to follow them on this walk.
The Hafod Estate
The Hafod Estate, lies in the Ystwyth Valley near Devil's Bridge and is recognised as one of the most important and influential Picturesque landscapes of the late eighteenth century in Europe
Its owner, Thomas Johnes (1748-1816), built a new mansion house here and laid out the grounds using the Picturesque style - displaying the estates natural beauty with a series of walks and an ever changing sequence of stunning views. Hafod was a "must see" destination for the early tourist visiting Wales.
Today the estate occupies roughly 200 hectares, most of which is owned by the Forestry Commission which, in partnership with the Hafod Trust, is managing and restoring the landscape and re-creating walking trails for public access, of which there are currently around nine miles.
The estate is open throughout the year, free of charge. Descriptions of all the walks and a large-scale plan can be found on the Hafod guide leaflet available at the car park or through the website.
The walk described here combines elements of several different way-marked routes, and visits some of the most dramatic features at Hafod.
It is relatively strenuous, so suitable for experienced walkers with strong footwear. Dogs are permitted, but please keep them under control, especially in grazed areas.
The guides for this walk were David Newnham from the Hafod Estate and hiking and mountaineering expert, Des Marshall.
1. Start of the walk: Hafod car park
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We began the walk in the car park just off the B4574 near Hafod Church. The first section of the walk followed the original Lady's Walk, marked as a blue route on the Hafod Estate map.
Walk down a well marked trail through the woods down to the back gate of the churchyard on your left.
The old wall here is covered with moss and ferns, and gives you a good idea of what lies ahead, in this watery landscape of gorges and waterfalls.
2. Hafod Church
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Built by Thomas Johnes in 1801 but ravaged by fire in 1932, most of its contents were destroyed or damaged, including a beautifully carved, commemorative marble statue to Johnes's daughter Mariamne, sculpted by Sir Francis Chantrey.
Take a few moments to look inside and wander around the gravestones in this lovely old churchyard.
Make your way down a winding trail through open pine forests following the blue walking route.
At the bottom of the track you'll connect up with an old estate road. Cross over the road and continue down the blue route towards the spectacular Peiran Falls.
3. Peiran Falls
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The waterfall here was once spanned by a stone and timber bridge, Pont Newydd, which carried Johnes' carriage driveway over the gorge. It no longer exists but you can still see the stone abutments on each side which you'll walk past later.
The ground here drops steeply in two main stages, creating a smaller upper fall and a larger lower one.
There's a surprising volume of water flowing down through this steep, narrow gorge but it is best viewed after a decent downpour. In very wet weather the lower fall forms a double cascade either side of a pointed rock.
Having enjoyed the view of the cascade from beside the pool at its foot, follow the path down the right bank. In a few metres you come to some old stonework on either side of the path.
The Peiran valley is steep-sided, with rocky lower slopes covered in moss, ferns, scattered stunted oaks and rhododendrons.
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These old stone walls are all that remains of a summerhouse or covered seat that once stood here. Johnes built it across the path, to obscure the view of the Peiran Falls as visitors approached up the path.
On entering the building, the view was suddenly revealed adding a wow factor to this picturesque scene.
To your left, Nant Peiran tumbles down a rocky channel in numerous small cascades, rapids and pools.
Shortly beyond the point where your path crosses a track, the stream makes another pretty cascade and then joins the Ystwyth river.
The walk curves right to follow the river bank, through a mixture of coniferous and deciduous woodland, where you can enjoy the open sections of the river with its large pebbles and boulders.
To help you feel secure, there are a few handrails along this stretch of path. One is made entirely from old tree branches and it is these quirky elements which make this walk so enjoyable.
4. Mrs Johnes' Garden
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Just after a bend in the river a small path branches right and crosses a forestry road to arrive at Mrs Johnes' flower garden which is currently being restored after many years of dereliction.
The garden is a roughly a triangular shaped acre of land, surrounded by a large dry-stone wall with two stone arches on the east and west sides of the garden.
The garden was created in about 1786 and was influenced by William Mason's vision of paradise in his poem The English Garden.
The Hafod Trust aims to replant the garden with species of trees and shrubs that were available at that time, including recently introduced 'exotic' American plants.
On leaving the garden, retrace your steps to the blue trail (Lady's Walk) and follow the river until you arrive at a modern bridge and forestry road.
Walk straight past the bridge, (heading south) keeping the river on your left and you'll arrive at a wide bend in the river. There's a tranquil picnic spot here and plenty of perfectly formed pebbles to practice your skimming with.
5. Following the river Ystwyth
The landscape opens up nicely along this next section with wild flowers and heather lining the river banks with a grazed field to your right.
In Johnes' time this was an important open space at the heart of the estate. To restore his vision of a varied landscape, it has been returned to grassland by the Forestry Commission after several decades under conifers.
You'll find a few Highland Cattle have been introduced here to manage the habitat naturally.
After approximately 500 metres, at the end of the field: N 52.34155, W -3.81664, veer right and head up a steep track through fir trees until you arrive at one of the estate drives.
6. View point over the river
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Turn left, and follow the drive for a few metres and stop at a view point and seating area overlooking the River Ystwyth as it snakes its way in and out of the trees and valley you've just walked through.
From here continue along the drive for a few metres, crossing a cattle grid, then turn right through a large rock cutting, towards the remains of Thomas Johnes' mansion and the Hafod Estate offices (old stables).
7. The Hafod mansion
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During Johnes' time the mansion consisted of a two-storey building with Gothic styling - which later formed the south-east wing of the later, much larger house and included stables, offices, an octagonal library and 160 ft long conservatory.
The house experienced its fair share of fires, demolition and additions as it changed hands over the years but it gradually became neglected.
The house was demolished in 1958, but the Victorian stable block was retained, along with some surrounding walls. A fountain has been reinstated in one of these walls.
Re-trace your steps back to the road again and turn right after the rock cutting, and then left down a grassy track.
8. Alpine Bridge
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Around 100 metres to the south lies the wooden alpine bridge taking you across the river.
Before crossing over, follow the road round until a red arrow points you left. Just before the bridge a trail leads to what looks like an old wall. As you draw nearer, you'll notice an iron gate and a building hidden inside.
If you have a torch handy, peer down and you'll be greeted with an impressive sight.
This cylindrical building drops down around 20 feet into the ground and was originally used as an ice store for the mansion house.
Walk back to the bridge and cross over, turning left and following the red way marker signs along a broad path that climbs uphill. You are now on the Gentleman's Walk.
After around 15 feet, see if you can spot the whistling tree on the hillside above you, to your right.
The tree bares an uncanny resemblance to a tree 'Ent' from Lord of the Rings - complete with whistling mouth, nose and eyes!
After zigzagging through a dark wood, the path emerges at a 'crossroads'. Go straight ahead, following the red posts down a narrow path, with a stream below you to the left.
9. Rustic Bridge
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Soon, you'll arrive at a fairytale wooden bridge known as the rustic bridge which lies in the rock strewn Bwlchgwallter Valley, full of small cascading waterfalls and green mosses carpeting the ground and trees. Here we met mountaineering expert, Des Marshall
Upstream from the bridge is a fine waterfall, and above it an arched bridge, which you'll walk over later as you head up the hill on a forestry road.
Carefully cross the wooden bridge and head up some steep wooden steps and into the woods beyond.
You'll ascend quite quickly now and occasionally be rewarded with glimpses of the river bed, far below.
The habitat changes dramatically up here with the warm, damp air and feels completely different to anything you've experienced on the walk so far.
You'll eventually exit the woods and turn right onto the forestry road, briefly leaving the Gentleman's Walk. You cross the bridge you saw earlier (from the rustic bridge).
Continue up the hill, past conifer forests towards a view point. The trail is marked with a red way marker indicating a viewpoint.
10. View point
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Follow a short track to your right, up a small hill to a spot with sweeping views to the west over the river valley, and to your right over the mansion fields.
Retrace your footsteps back down the road and then branch right, following the red marker signs, along a mossy path into a tall, dark forest of firs.
11. Mossy Seat Falls
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Soon you'll arrive back at the steep, picturesque Bwlchgwallter valley where the stream descends in a series of falls, torrents and pools.
Be aware that the next section of path, including the bridge and steps, can be slippery, especially after rainfall. The whole area here is very damp and as the name suggests, mossy!
Standing on the narrow wooden bridge, you'll be rewarded with great views of the waterfalls gushing down the gorge.
There was once a seat here on a mossy island between two branches of the stream, but a few stone slabs are all that remain of it.
Take care on the next stretch of path, which runs along a rock-cut shelf. The route then turns away from the stream, crosses an old extraction track, and follows the red markers towards the Allt Dihanog tunnel.
12. Allt Dihanog tunnel
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The tunnel is another exciting feature on this walk and leads the path through an otherwise impassable bluff of rock.
Head through the tunnel until you reach daylight on the other side. The next section of walk requires concentration - there are steps, uneven ground and steep drops.
But there are also viewpoints from which you can enjoy fine views over the treetops to the far side of the Ystwyth Valley.
Then the conifer woods close in and there is a long section of path with little to see, until you reach the estate's ancient beech woods.
The Hafod beeches are arranged in several clumps. Some specimens are huge and believed to be more than 200 years old.
Eventually you emerge on to a track at Pant Melyn, with a beech-covered hill in front of you. There are two way-marked routes over and round the summit, but we turned right and followed the main track.
Ignoring any turnings to right or left, keep straight on until you reach a steep descent towards a stream. This is the Nant Gau valley. Do not cross the stream by the footbridge, but keep right on a narrow ascending path.
You are now on a public right-of-way, and unusually it is a dead end. It is also the Gentleman's Walk so continue to follow the red markers to the Cavern Cascade.
You'll pass plenty of waterfalls as you make your way up this steep narrow valley.
On one of the bends, next to the path, you'll pass what is probably an early exploratory mining level on your right. Do not go in it. A more exciting cave is just a short distance ahead.
13. Cavern Cascade
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The path approaches a rocky bluff, behind which the stream runs into a deep, narrow, rock-cut channel.
To the right you'll find a sizeable tunnel cut into the rock, reached by clambering up a rocky slope. Take particular care on the flat rocks in front of the tunnel, and when climbing up to it.
The rock-cut tunnel runs straight and then turns slightly to the left, towards the end.
You'll hear the waterfall before you see it but nothing prepares you for what comes next. Rounding the bend, you'll be greeted by a torrent of water pouring down over the end of the tunnel and into a deep pool below.
Having come out of the tunnel - again, take care, retrace you steps towards the beech trees at Pant Melyn.
Take a path to the right that passes through a gap in a stone wall and follow the red waymarkers alongside Nant Gau, where there are more cascades and rock features to enjoy.
At the bottom of the wood a stile leads you into an open field. Follow the track down through the eastern edge of the field towards another stile at the end.
Turn right down the track and walk towards Dologau Bridge. It was here that we said goodbye to our mountaineering guide, Des Marshall.
14. Dologau Bridge
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This lovely stone arched bridge across the Ystwyth was built by Thomas Johnes in about 1790. Do not cross it, but turn right at a waymarker for the green route (Ystwyth Gorge walk), through a small gate and on to a wooden bridge footbridge.
It's now a pleasant hike up through the woods above the river and dramatic gorges below.
The river runs east to west, dropping down a deeply cut, narrow gorge with shear rock sides.
Eventually you come to two stone pillars beside the path.
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There was once an ornamental view point here with four columns and three Gothic arches spanning a seating area underneath.
It's a great spot to stop and admire the view though with an unusual footbridge spanning a photogenic gorge below.
15. Chain bridge
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A short walk brings you to the wonderfully wobbly, 'chain bridge', placed here in 1805.
It was originally supported by chains, later replaced by cables. By the middle of the 20th century only the cast iron pillars remained but it was restored in 2003.
Take in the scenery, curious rock formations and gorges here - caused by the unrelenting flow of water. Upstream the rocky sides recede and the woods give way to farmland.
Once across, you're on the homeward leg of the walk, climbing steeply up into the woods and following the green trail high above the river opposite.
16. Old bridge above Peiran Falls
A wide track, formerly the Cwmystwyth drive built by Johnes in 1813-14, leads through a quiet, conifer woodland. Arriving at the Peiran Valley you will see the remains of Pont Newydd that once spanned the Peiran Falls.
Your route crosses the Peiran by means of a narrow wooden footbridge, a short way upstream. This is the site of an ancient flour mill, but no building survives.
17. End of the walk: Back up to the car park
Rejoin the old carriage drive and follow it to the right. Soon the green route is joined by the blue route, ascending from the foot of the Peiran Falls.
Follow the blue markers up to the main drive, which you cross. The path then takes you back up to your start point, passing Hafod Church and arriving back at the car park.
Follow in Derek's footsteps as he walks through stunning locations in Wales.
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