For many years hydrologists have tried to build physically realistic models which are still simple enough to be fitted to a range of observations made in the field. This is an ongoing process which will become even more difficult as the quality and variety of field and remotely sensed data improves. Hence models must be able to predict soil moisture patterns in time and in space as well as the outflow hydrograph. The model presented here (TOPMODEL) aims to predict the nature of variable source areas in a way that reflects their dynamics over space and time. All component processes are described and shown in operation. As TOPMODEL and similar models have a growing popularity, this paper can be seen as a demonstration of the model's predictive capabilities. The model is applied to the catchments of Plynlimon, mid-Wales for 1984, 1985 and 1986 data sets. The model has been thoroughly tested and cross-validated against independent data sets for different time periods, for a separate catchment, for internal gauges and for wet and dry periods. The resulting predicted soil moisture patterns show a small, semi-permanent variable source area that has the ability during large storms to expand dynamically over short time periods. Spatial predictions of evapotranspiration are also shown which reflect the influence of soil moisture patterns on this process. The weakest component of the model is the representation of root zone evaporation and how this pre-sets the antecedent condition of the catchment during long dry periods.