Aber falls (Rhaeadr Fawr) is a spectacular waterfall in Gwynedd, North Wales, near the village of Abergwyngregyn, by the coast. It lies between Bangor and Conwy. The waterfall is one of two, and part of a wider system of the Coedydd Aber National Nature Reserve (NNR). Rhaeadr Fawr drains the high Carneddau mountain plateau as the river Afon Goch and plunges dramatically about 120 ft over a tabular intrusion, or sill, of igneous rock. The river catchment is one of the steepest in England and Wales.

The river starts off as the Afon Goch (red river) in the Caneddau plateau, then becomes the waterfall Rhaeadr Fawr (big waterfall river), and finally ends up as the Afon Aber (river mouth), so the system goes by three names. The smaller falls to the West, is known as Rhaeadr Fach. The waters of both falls fuse in the Afon Rhaeadr Fawr.

A combination of climate, geology and historic land-use has made the valley a unique place. More than half of the 170 hectare reserve is upland native woodland of oak, ash and alder. The trees make many contorted shapes and flag trees, almost prostrate on the more exposed hillsides, abound. Through the valley, there are many clean air lichens, including Evernia prunastri (Oakmoss lichen) which is plentiful at Aber Falls owing to the pure moist air. Its essential oils are used in the perfumery industry. Amongst the many multi-coloured lichens in the valley, the lead grey Degelia plumbea (from the Latin name for lead, plumbum), and the starkly green (and almost lustrous when wet) Lobaria pulmonaria, or aptly named Lungwort, are notable examples.

The abundance of lichen and tree species makes good habitat for African insectivorous bird visitors such as redstart, pied flycatcher and the greenish-yellow wood warbler.

The visitor experience to Aber Falls is second to none. The Wales Coastal Path (Llwybr Arfordir Cymru) bisects the NNR, which is a trans-Welsh circular route, funded in part by the Coastal Communities Fund. There is sufficient parking at Bont Newydd (remember to bring 50 pence pieces for the meter), and the tourist info gives very clear walking route instructions, and safety information, as well as essential historic and nature conservation pointers for new visitors to the valley. Toilets and picnic tables are provided. OS Map grid references are given on information-rich signage. Graded paths and options are offered according to waking ability. The well-surfaced paths have been made navigable and safe, and where they are slightly steeper and narrower, this is made clear and handrails/steps are provided to optimise public access.

There are several small Bronze Age settlements, including an excavated roundhouse and smithy fenced off with an information plaque adorning it, several standing stones and cairns are also present, most of these sites can be found on the right side of the pathway. There is also a met office weather recording station. It is possible to bathe in the plunge pool of the falls, although the water is cold even at the height of summer and care must be taken on the often slippery rocks. For those with a taste for "fire water", Aber Falls Whisky Distillery is located within a stone's throw of Rhaeadr Fawr, whose whisky is distilled, bottled and matured in their distillery, using the local pure water. Extending the circular valley walk slightly and taking the Westernmost path back to Abergwyngregyn yields incredible views of the Menai Straights and Puffin Island just off Anglesey, which I strongly recommend.

If you are interested in conservation, outdoor activities and ecotourism, then ADL offers courses for you to fully appreciate the natural world around you and craft a career in the outdoors sector.




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