The Elan Valley, Rhayadar, Powys, Wales
The Elan Valley was constructed over 100 years ago to supply clean water to Birmingham; the remarkable thing was that there were no pumps involved – the supply is entirely gravity fed, which is quite some feat of engineering. Doesn’t sound very exciting, you might be thinking, why would we want to go there? Well, in short because it’s absolutely spectacular; the sight of the five reservoirs and dams and the aqueduct that stretches on for 73 miles is incredible, and don’t forget, it’s part of the Cambrian Mountain range so the setting in itself is plenty to write home about. Those dams are something else – four of them span the River Elan, and one is built on the Claerwen; we’re talking impressive Victorian architecture – arches and baroque style towers, and the lowest dam, in times of flood, creates the most beautiful cascade, with the waters falling 120ft right the way across.
If you like being outdoors, The Elan Valley makes for a fantastic day out; there are surfaced trails around the lakes, making these amazing views accessible to those with pushchairs and wheelchairs. You can hire bikes from the Visitor Centre and pick up one of the cycle trails, or you can put on your walking boots and set off to explore almost all of the 73 square mile estate. Anglers can buy day tickets and fish for trout, providing they have a Rod Licence, and if you book ahead you can enjoy the luxury of a bespoke Ranger Tour. Nature lovers can look out for wildlife – the mix of woodland, bog and rufty tufty moorland provides a habitat for several species of land birds, over 20 types of mammal, and amphibians. The sight of lizards basking in the sun on a rock is not unusual here.
At the Visitor Centre you can find out how The Elan Valley was built, how it all works, and the fascinating history of the ‘lost valleys’ – the two river valleys that were flooded to create the reservoir system. Beneath those waters are two manor houses, a chapel, a school, farms and cottages – villages where people lived and worked. One of the country houses, rather romantically, has connections to the poet Percy Bysse Shelley, who came to stay there when his uncle owned the estate.
There’s a gift shop at the Visitor Centre, as well as a riverside café, a play area and picnic benches. If you’re still here after dark on a clear night words might fail you; The Elan Valley holds an International Dark Sky award. Bring your telescope.
Open every day except Christmas day
T: 01597 810880 All information correct at the time of writing