Clydach Gorge


The weather on Saturday morning began rather bleakly. It was just before 8 am and I was sat in a Greggs at Brynmawr eating a Bacon roll with brown sauce staring outside at gloomy thick clouds that were unleashing a load of rain. It could have been worse I thought. I was determined to to make make the best of things and contemplated where I could go to do some photography. 

We are now almost at the height of Autumn. Our Welsh countryside its looking absolutely incredible. The trees have turned marvellous shades of orange, red, yellow, brown and green colours. Everywhere you look there are trees that look stunning. It truly is one of the best times of year to be out with a camera.

If anything when it rains and is a bit overcast it seems to enrich the vibrancy of the colours and darkness the blacks and softens things a little. So I held that thought for a few more moments as it was giving me some inspiration and took a few more bites of my bacon  roll.

Lots of rain meant there was going to be some very full and fast flowing rivers in the local area. The town of Brynmawr sits at the top of a place called the Clydach Gorge. The A465 Heads of the Valley Road runs through this steep sided gorge that is bordered by the Darren Mountain and the Hafod on one side and the hillsides of Gilwern and Llanelli Hill.

The gorge makes up part of the World Heritage Site as it was the home of the beginning of the Industrial revolution and had one of the first iron forges and the whole landscape has been shaped by old limestone and ironstone quarries from that era. The gorge and surrounding areas are steeped in history much of which resulted in shaping the modern world through the Industrial Revolution.

The River Clydach flows quickly through the gorge that it has carved out over many thousands of years and it can look pretty spectacular when it has been raining. Clydach Gorge is also home to some of the best Beech Wood in Gwent which means lots of great autumn colours.

I finished my roll, picked up my car keys and made the decision, Clydach Gorge was going to be my destination for the day for some photography work.

The drive down the A465 after negotiating what can only be described as the valleys equivalent of spaghetti junction was nothing short of spectacular. The hills above the steep sides of the gorge were a riot of vibrant autumn shades. The Gorge itself had a thick carpet of deciduous tree growth that looked amazing as I headed down the road. I turned off at bottom and headed into Clydach.

My first stop was at the car park provided for visitors to the Clydach Ironworks which forms part of the World Heritage Site. The rain continued to linger but was not quite as heavy any more and I had a feeling that it was going to stop eventually and brighten up.

I headed from the carpark to the river. I could hear it long before I saw it. The rain waters were causing it to rush down the gorge in a torrent of white and orangey brown colours. The rocks bordering a nice viewing point where there are some small waterfalls and a tributary joining the main river were very slippery and treacherous to walk upon.

Carefully I set up my tripod and camera ( a Nikon Z6), focussed my lens - attached my ND filter and it was showtime.

I crawled into position to get the view I wanted and then let the camera do the work. On this visit I was experimenting with some long exposures 25 seconds plus, to slow the water down to make it looks milky and misty. The aim is to try and show movement in the photographs rather than just a high shutter speed freeze of the action.

The noise of the water hurtling by was quite deafening. The overhanging trees helped to shelter me from the worst of the rain but it was a constant battle keeping my camera kit dry and free of water droplets on the lens.

The long shutter speeds helped gather just enough light to get some descent exposures that highlighted the torrent of fast flowing river , created some nice shadows and retained the richness of autumn colour.
In post processing I was able give the overall look a little boost with vibrancy and add a vignette to focus the viewer on the main scene.

I followed the small tributary and found that it led to a small water flow and that it flowed from beneath a small old stone bridge. This small stream compared to main river was flooding its way beneath the stone arches and was a real struggle to get a good angle on. I had to clamber down a steep bank that was thick with years of leaf litter before reaching water level.

It was really dark and wet but the scene before me was really magical. From my vantage point it I had a view that made me feel like I was kneeling in the middle of the cold waters. My clothing was dripping wet and I was constantly wiping the camera keeping my fingers crossed that the Nikon tank like build quality would keep out the wet.

At this time I was starting to lose the battle and had to retreat back  up the steep bank and returned to my car. It was now pouring down, I would have to wait it out for a while. I decided to explore further up the gorge and headed towards Dan-Y-Coed which is a little closer to the Ironworks.

After about twenty minutes the rain eased off and I chose to brave it and visit my next spot. The old iron bridge known as Smarts Bridge  that was built in 1824 , spans the river Clydach at the Ironworks site.

I walked down the the steep path through a grove of Beach, Birch, Oak and Sycamore Trees. There was a lot of golden orange and yellow colours with the contrasting dark blacks of the wet tree trunks and branches.

The Iron Bridge built over the river looked amazing with the rushing waters of the Clydach beneath it. Water was splashing up into the air and was often quite unpredictable.

With some trepidation I carefully creeped across the wet rocks to a nice position. I have a low tolerance of risk these days - especially when it comes to raging flows of water, so safety was always my first thing in mind. I settled down in a good position and prepared the camera kit again. Just as I was about to start taking some pictures I got caught in another heavy rain shower. I had no where to go on this occasion so just grinned and bared it. You have to roll with whatever nature throws at you and I must admit I was enjoying myself being out in the elements.

After spending an hour down at the Ironworks I started to ponder where to go next. I headed further up to a nice viewing point near the Llanelli quarries and the cycle path. The road leading to this location is steep and along it are some wonderful Beech Tree dominated woodlands.

I had a great view up and down the gorge from the viewing point and after a short while of standing at this vantage point the rain started to stop. A big patch of blue sky started to open up in the skies and the sunshine broke through. I now had a window of opportunity to fly my drone.

The trees looked absolutely spectacular from above. I was so pleased to be able to get some big panoramic pictures. When you look down above it reveal this hidden world where the rivers runs through a valley thats is full of trees that are pretty much inaccessible to anyone on foot.

I had a wonderful time in this beautiful part of Wales, it really is a magical place.


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