lIt had been a rough month for several reasons and I needed a break. I initially thought that a holiday abroad would be the only antidote. But as it turned out, a wild swim weekend in South Wales’s Brecon Beacons was all the medicine I needed.
My excitement about the upcoming trip quickly turned to panic when we looked at the weather forecast: lots of gray clouds and large raindrops.
After settling into our cozy room in Brecon, we put on our waterproof trousers and hiking boots and braved the elements. A short drive took us to the start of the Dragons Back trail in the Black Mountains, whose highs and lows are reminiscent of the scales of a sleeping dragon. The constant rain became cooling as we walked up the steep, grassy bank, at first to avoid the sheep dung, then forget all about it. In fact, the weather made the scenery seem cinematic, the gaps between the low clouds revealing the next rolling hill like a curtain opening in front of the big screen. The air was so fresh, I felt it cleansed us of all the London grit and grime.
The only building in sight was the Dinas Castle Inn, the tallest pub in the Brecon Beacons National Park, so we treated ourselves to a pint of Bale lager, ate garlic bread by the fire and wondered if the waterfall we’d be swimming in was the day after would be as cold as our beers.
On the day of the wild swim the air was a cool 10C. I ran back to the hotel and tossed a few packets of hot chocolate into a thermos of hot water—a decision I would later gloat over. We went to the Four Waterfalls walk and took in Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn, Sgwd y Pannwr and Sgwd yr Eira. This region has the highest concentration of waterfalls in the UK and we visited them all, walking damp forest paths lined with bright red mushrooms.
Sergeant year Eira was a thunder blanket of white. We walked on the tight ledge behind the falls where we could hear and feel her power. Maybe not the one to swim in, we decided. The surrounding forest felt alive and calming. When we finally arrived at Sgwd y Pannwr, or “fall of the fuller”, we saw a curtain of water fall over a wide staircase into an inviting pool. I had previously labeled myself as “someone who doesn’t go into British seas” because they are too cold. So when I stood at the foot of a waterfall in Wales in a swimsuit and wool cap in October, I wasn’t sure if I’d go through with it. But I entered slowly. After about three minutes my skin felt like it was burning. I got out feeling so euphoric that I went back two minutes later. As I dried off on a rock while sipping hot chocolate, I couldn’t stop smiling.
Sunday’s walks took us to Nant Sere waterfall, hidden in a valley near South Wales’ highest peak, Pen y Fan. Following instructions and photos we found online, we crawled through low-hanging trees to a green forest area evenly covered with a soft mossy carpet. With no one else around, we dove in, our cries of excitement echoing through the canyon.
Our reward for this display of courage was one of the best Sunday roasts of our lives in the Felin Fach Griffin pub, with its wooden beams, open fire and stone floors.
But we saved the best for last. The crown jewel of Wales’ waterfall country is Henrhyd Falls, which was used as the entrance to the Bat Cave in The Dark Knight Rises and is the highest in South Wales. A five-minute walk from the parking lot will take you to a rainforest-like den with hanging ferns. The waterfall was in full force after days of heavy rain, making swimming unwise, but behind it was a spacious cave – not big enough for Batman to live in, but perfect for watching the sunset and the giant water foaming down below for us.
“When we have guests here it’s great – their faces look completely different at the end of the weekend because they’re relaxed and their muscles are doing something different,” our B&B owner Kayt Cooper told me. She and her husband, Hugh, run the beautiful Coach House in the historic center of Brecon. It is the perfect place to access all parts of the national park and to take a hot bath and rest between walks.
I felt more refreshed after two nights in the Brecon Beacons than after many of my holidays abroad. Immersed in the stunning nature and plunged into cold water, we couldn’t help but be completely in the moment. I took the natural beauty of South Wales back over the M4 to London, and the chaos of the past month felt like something I could deal with. After all, I was now the kind of person who goes swimming in the rain in the wild.
Accommodation was provided by the Coach House, Brecon, and is available from £92 per night, with a minimum stay of two nights