Forces of nature: six of Britain’s most breathtaking waterfalls

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Worth the fee … Thornton Force in full flow.
Photograph: Garry Ridsdale/Getty Images/Robert Harding World Imagery
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Great picnic spot … Pistyll Rhyd-y-meinciau.
Photograph: Alamy
© David Waters / Alamy Stock Photo
A waterfall in a different league … Mealt Falls.
Photograph: Alamy
© Prisma Bildagentur AG / Alamy Stock Photo
Veil of water … Sgwd yr Eira.
Photograph: Richard Collins/Getty Images
Richard Collins
Worth the wait … Gaping Gill.
Photograph: Alamy
© Electric Egg / Alamy Stock Photo

For sale: Hardraw Force, the waterfall at the back of a Yorkshire pub

FALLING FOSS, NEAR SLEIGHTS, NORTH YORKSHIRE

Context colours the overall impression of a waterfall, and Falling Foss is a good example. An idyllic woodland walk alongside May Beck brings you to the 10-metre-high falls, which stutters beautifully down a hunk of black rock into a swimmable pool. Nearby is the Hermitage, a hollowed-out boulder where it is said a hermit once lived. In summer, there is a good tea garden, too.

I don’t approve of paying to see waterfalls – not unless the ticket office is a 13th-century pub, as in the case of Hardraw Force. You wouldn’t pay to see a mountain, would you? “There, that’s Ben Nevis. That’ll be £1.50, please.” However, this 4.5-mile trail is worth the whopping £6 entry fee. A lovely circuit, beautifully kept and managed, it takes you around nine falls – including Thornton Force, one of England’s finest – on two rivers, the Twiss and the Doe.THORNTON FORCE, INGLETON, NORTH YORKSHIRE

PISTYLL RHYD-Y-MEINCIAU (RHIWARGOR WATERFALLS), LAKE VYRNWY, POWYS

From the Isle of Skye to the Brecon Beacons, the UK is home to a stunning selection of falls. Some make great picnic spots, others are perfect for abseiling – and all of them are worth visiting

This is not as well known as its neighbour Pistyll Rhaeadr, but it has the edge in grandeur and atmosphere. From a car park at the northern extremity of Lake Vyrnwy, take the trail for about a mile up to a spectacular series of cascades on the River Eiddew. It makes a great picnic spot, plus there are a few deeper pools for summer dips. Down below, Lake Vyrnwy is a lovely nine-mile circuit on bicycle; bikes can be hired at the village by the dam at the other end of the lake.

MEALT FALLS, SKYE

Waterfalls that leap off cliffs into the sea have a special place in my heart. There are two I like in North Yorkshire (near Bogle Hole and Hayburn Wyke) that never amount to much, but I still love them. Mealt Falls on Skye, however, is in a different league. This is Milford Sound standard: a great, galloping gush of water chucking itself 55 metres off a precipice into the Minch. You need to abseil or kayak to get the best panorama, but the viewing platform, close to the A855, makes things simple.

SGWD YR EIRA, BRECON BEACONS

In terms of quantity and quality, the Four Falls Trail in the Brecon Beacons takes some beating. A 5.5-mile walk takes you through a series of falls, culminating in the best of the lot, Sgwd yr Eira. This veil of water allows walkers to get behind it for a Last of the Mohicans moment. Expect to get very wet.

GAPING GILL, NEAR CLAPHAM, NORTH YORKSHIRE

This is one to save up for summer: an underground fall that requires a gut-churning descent on a wire into a cavern large enough to contain York Minster. There, you get a perfect view of Fell Beck dropping 100 metres through a narrow hole into a huge space below. Local cavers set up a winch during summer. There are long queues, but it is worth the wait.

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