Britain's Best Waterfall Walks

In sweltering summer weather, not everyone fancies a long sweaty slog uphill to a shade-less summit. With cooling spray in the air, shade aplenty and even the possibility of a dip (provided you find a safe spot) a leisurely walk to a waterfall may be far more appealing. Here are ten crackers from across the UK.

Scale Force, Lake District

Scale Force, 236 kb
Scale Force
© mr rob, Jun 2013

Generally quoted as the highest single-drop waterfall in the Lake District - about 50m for the main event, plus a couple of subsidiary falls - Scale Force is tucked away in a deep wooded gorge at the foot of Red Pike. The main fall can be reached via a bit of slippery boulder hopping beneath the moss-cloaked walls of the gorge, a worthwhile trip for its jungle-esque atmosphere. Though access is quick from Buttermere village, you could make a longer day of it in combination with the path along the west shore of Crummock Water and perhaps an ascent of the small-but-steep neighbouring fell of Mellbreak.

Sgwd yr Eira, Brecon Beacons

Sgwd yr Eira, 192 kb
Sgwd yr Eira
© Alick Cotterill / Alamy Stock Photo

Sgwd yr Eira - a waterfall you can easily walk behind, 220 kb
Sgwd yr Eira - a waterfall you can easily walk behind
© Tom Hutton

The Brecon Beacons National Park has more than its fair share of waterfalls, but none match Sgwd yr Eira (Falls of Snow), for drama – you can actually walk right behind this one. From the small car park at Cwm Porth, cross the road and follow the well-signed path alongside the Afon Mellte. At the first of the falls, Sgwd Clun-gwyn, break left to climb into the woods and now follow waymarked trails across the watershed and eventually down steeply to the Afon Hepste. You'll hear the cascade before you see it, but don't stop when you reach the riverbank. Simply follow it upstream and carefully make your way behind the wall of water on the rocky shelf. Waterproofs recommended. Tom Hutton

Steall falls, Glen Nevis

Glen Nevis and Steall Gorge, 181 kb
Glen Nevis and Steall Gorge
© Kevin Woods, Jun 2011

Follow the winding path up through the wooded gorge of the Water of Nevis and it's like entering another world. The river gurgles and foams through piles of giant boulders; crags rise overhead; and the greenery is thick. But the big reveal is yet to come, when the gorge opens out onto the marshy meadow at Steall, a peaceful haven hidden away beneath Scotland's highest peaks. Wobble across the famous wire brige over the water to reach the foot of the Steall falls, one of the biggest and most spectacular in the country. Since it's possible to safely reach the slabby base of the falls you can get yourself thoroughly soaked by spray - very welcome in the occasional highland heatwave.

  • If you do find you're taken with the urge for something more energetic then the glen is also the jumping off point for some superb hill rounds, including the Ring of Steall and the Grey Corries

Gordale Scar, Yorkshire Dales

Gordale Scar Upper Waterfall
© Mr. K, Oct 2009

The famous gorge of Gordale Scar is one of the more imposing spots in northern England, a narrow canyon cutting through huge limestone cliffs. It's thought to have been a cavern that collapsed on itself, and with its deep shadows and improbable overhangs looming far above there's a definite sense of subterrannean menace. Start with the pretty woodland waterfall of Janet's Foss, then follow the beck upstream into the scar itself. Scramble up beside a waterfall - often wet and slippery - then pass below a second waterfall that issues mysteriously from a cave high on the gorge wall. Once the gorge opens out, head up over the moor to Malham Tarn. From here the Pennine Way leads back down via the amphitheatre of Malham Cove, to complete a short but genuinely spectacular circuit.

Aber Falls, Snowdonia

Aber Falls, Conwy
© Joss, Jan 2014

A lovely wander in the northern Carneddau, and one of the most popular waterfall walks in Wales, as well as one of the most spectacular. A good path leads upstream from Abergwyngregyn, slipping easily out of delightful broadleaved woodland and climbing easily across sheep pasture. For variety, a left fork leads up through a conifer plantation and back down to the falls. It's a worthwhile diversion as it offers a better perspective on the falls and the Carneddau plateau above, though most folk still take the direct approach. The falls themselves are a majestic sight – the Afon Goch (Red River) plunges nearly 40m in total, crashing into a deep pool that looks inviting in summer, but scarily turbulent most of the year. Tom Hutton

Falls of Bruar, Perthshire

Falls of Bruar, 208 kb
Falls of Bruar
© Lorraine Yates / Alamy Stock Photo

Parking at the posh and decidedly out-of-town shopping complex of the House of Bruar, this walk has a bit of an incongruous start; but the tweed tat and coach parties are soon left behind as you head into the woods following a sign for the Falls of Bruar. An easy stroll on clear paths, the route takes you upstream along the Bruar Water, passing a series of clear rockpools and cascades. With bridges, viewing platforms, picnic benches and plenty of day trippers, this may not be a remotely wild spot, but the woodland setting is gorgeous.

High Force and Cauldron Snout, North Pennines

High Force in Flood
© Matt Neale, Jan 2004

Two of the big water-based highlights of the Pennine Way, this Teesdale duo also make one of the most rewarding riverside walks in the country. From the idyllic picnic spot at Wynch Bridge follow the Pennine Way upstream along the Tees, first passing Low Force to reach High Force. Roaring 20m over the cliffs of the Whin Sill into a wooded gorge, this is a real spectacle, especially in spate when a secondary fall can appear. Moorland takes over now as you follow the winding course of the river, on and off, several kilometres further upstream, passing under the crags of Cronkley Scar and Falcon Clints to reach the evocatively-named Cauldron Snout, where the river is forced between the rocks. At about 200m long this is more a cataract than a free-falling waterfall, but the power and sheer scale are certainly impressive.

Pistyll y Llyn, Cambrian Mountains

Pistyll y Llyn, squirrelled away in the hills near Machynlleth, 223 kb
Pistyll y Llyn, squirrelled away in the hills near Machynlleth
© Tom Hutton

Hidden deep in the Cambrian Mountains south of Machynlleth, Pistyll y Llyn (Falls of the Lake), is barely-known, and rarely visited. From Cwmyrhaiadr, south of Glaspwll, a path is signed through a farmyard and out onto open hillside, where it climbs first to some fascinating mine ruins on the Nant y Gog, and then more steeply up to the foot of the main attraction. The falls, which measure over 160m in total, are pretty full-on up close, but they are definitely best viewed from a distance, when their full scale can be appreciated. A path leads up the east bank onto the plateau above, offering circular walk possibilities if you want to extend things. Tom Hutton

Fairy Pools, Skye

The Fairy Pools, Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye, 189 kb
The Fairy Pools, Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye
Dan-gerMouse, May 2015
© Dan Matthewman

A bit of a cheat, this, as it's not one big waterfall so much as a series of small cascades and pools. Still, in hot weather on Skye - and yes it does happen - there is nowhere better to be. Made famous by innumerable 'wild swimming' guides and newspaper travel supplements, this short stretch of the River Brittle in the mouth of Coire na Creiche looks like it comes straight out of a fantasy film, and proves pretty much perfect for family picnics and general sploshing about. The walk-in is one kilometre at most, and the jagged backdrop is classic Cuillin.

River Esk, Lake District

Upper Eskdale from Border End in the autumn, 112 kb
Upper Eskdale from Border End in the autumn
© Gordon Stainforth, Nov 1984

Running from the Scafells to the sea, the River Esk is idyllic for most of its 25km course, but for waterfalls head for its early stages. From the Eskdale road follow the river upstream for several kilometres - there's a path on either side, though options for crossing can be a bit limited if it's in spate. With a succession of falls and pools all the way it's a great walk for a hot day, with plenty of opportunities to cool off. Beyond a deep rocky gorge is the soggy expanse of Great Moss at the wild head of Eskdale. Overlooked by the crags of the Scafell range, this is probably one of the more remote spots in the Lake District and certainly among the most dramatic. Cross the River Esk to follow its other bank back downstream.

A young river Esk
© johnhenderson, Apr 2012

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