“A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.” PAUL DUDLEY WHITE
My first morning waking up in Mid Wales and ready for a day exploring Elan Valley preying the rain would stay away! But first how cute was my accommodation?! I found them on their Instagram page Mid Wales Views they are a wonderful family run business so please if you are Instagram go show them some love! If you missed the blog post where I did a write up about them you can catch it here.
I wasn’t sure about the area before I booked my stay, I had to do a bit of research to see what was in around and like magic I discovered Elan Valley I headed over to the visitor centre where I was greeted by the most lovely of women who was so helpful, together we mapped out a two-day plan! Starting with Caban Coch Dam which is the lowest of the four dams built in the valley of the Elan River It is the simplest and most functional in the appearance of all the dams, resembling a natural waterfall when the reservoir is full of water pouring over the dam wall. The stone buildings on either side of the river just below the dam wall which house electricity-generating turbines. It had literally rained all night which meant the water coming over the dam was coming with force like I have never seen before!
Here is a bit of history of Elan Valley, in 1893 the City of Birmingham launched an ambitious scheme to supply fresh drinking water for its growing population. Local water supplies at the time were inadequate and often unclean, resulting in regular outbreaks of cholera and typhus.
The plan entailed the creation of a reservoir system 75 miles away in the Elan Valley of northern Wales, just west of Rhayader. The Elan and Claerwen valleys had a plentiful supply of clean water, perfect for supplying the growing city. In the late Victorian period, the main obstacle was not government bureaucracy but dealing with the lord of the manor, Robert Lewis Lloyd of Nantgwyllt. The City of Birmingham purchased 71 square miles of land.
By a curious twist of history, the tract of land very closely resembled the area granted by Rhys ap Gruffydd (Lord Rhys) to the Cistercian monastery at Strata Florida in 1184. One minor fly in the ointment as far as the engineers were concerned was that the valleys were not uninhabited. There were some 18 dwellings, scattered farms and schoolhouse at Nantgwyllt. No matter; the residents would simply have to leave.
As I walked away from Caban Coch Dam the next dam I discovered was the Garreg Ddu dam in the lower Elan Valley is a low, completely submerged dam which maintains a constant supply of water to Birmingham by holding water back on the upstream side so that water can be extracted at the Foel Tower to allow gravity feed to Birmingham. It also supports masonry pillars carrying the access roadway to the neighbouring valley of the River Claerwen. The original road leading to this valley was to be lost, along with many original buildings when Caban Coch dam was completed and the Claerwen and Elan valleys were flooded.
The old church, along with the manor house and nearby cottages, were enveloped by the waters and lost forever when Caban Coch dam was built. Among the lost houses was Cwm Elan, once the home of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s uncle. Shelley visited on several occasions and fell in love with the area. In 1812 he tried to buy Nantgwyllt House, as a home to settle into with his wife Harriet.
The old church at Nantgwyllt may have been lost, but in 1898 a new church was begun on high ground overlooking the Garreg-ddu viaduct. The architect was Stephen W Williams, who also built Elan Village to house workmen labouring to build the dams. The new church was erected at the southern end of the viaduct.
Little midway selfie!
The final dam of my walk, Pen-y-garreg the ‘middle dam’ of the Elan Valley dams, it does not resemble the other dams because the dam part of the structure is not visible above the surface in normal conditions. This dam is unusual in that it has an access tunnel to the central tower which is lit by apertures in the downstream side of the dam.
I continued my walk back across fields and through the woods the whole day I think I saw a total of 4 people, I imagine in the summer the area is packed due to a mix of easy and hard walks. But to be honest I think I will take a little risk of rain over crowds!! Plus with rain comes full-flowing dams!