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Icons Of The Landscape: Elan Valley Dams

Icons Of The Landscape: Elan Valley Dams

Have You Heard of Elan Valley?

Mid Wales has no shortage of sites of interest. To name an example, my wife and I paid a recent visit to Elan Valley, which is sometimes called the Welsh Lake District. This is because it is home to five man-made lakes built by the Birmingham Corporation Water Department for the purpose of providing drinking water to Birmingham over in England.

Of course, that is a rather prosaic description for the much more interesting reality. After all, the people behind the project had an eye for beauty. This can be seen in how Elan Valley is home to Elan Village, which is meant to house the workers responsible for maintaining the dams as well as the filtration systems. Such model villages aren’t particularly uncommon in either Wales or the rest of Great Britain. However, Elan Village is something of a stand-out because of its style.

For those who are curious, it is an excellent example of the Arts and Crafts movement that originated in Great Britain before spreading to Europe as well as North America. In huge part, it was a reaction to the perceived lowering of standards brought about by the mass production of the Industrial Revolution, thus explaining why it put such a huge emphasis on traditional craftsmanship as well as the particular looks of earlier periods. Speaking personally, I don’t think the Arts and Crafts movement is well-suited for everything out there. However, it was an inspired choice for the natural beauty of Elan Valley.

What Are the Elan Valley Dams Like?

On that note, it should be mentioned that one of the main reasons that people visit the place would be the aforementioned dams. Certainly, it played a part in my own plans, seeing as they make for some truly spectacular views of the surroundings.

For starters, there is Craig Goch. It is the most upstream of the dams. However, Craig Goch’s bigger claim to fame is that it is the most pleasing of the dams as well. In part, this is because of its Birmingham Baroque style. However, it should also be noted that Craig Goch is consistently available for viewing.

Icons Of The Landscape: Elan Valley DamsCraig Goch is the highest upstream of the series of dams in the Elan Valley.

Something that can’t be said for some of its counterparts.

Garreg Ddu is a low, completely submerged dam which plays a vital role in maintaining a constant supply of water to Birmingham. It also supports masonry pillars carrying the access roadway to the neighbouring valley of the River Claerwen. Garreg Ddu holds water back on the upstream side so that water can always be extracted at the Foel Tower.

Icons Of The Landscape: Elan Valley DamsGarreg Ddu Dam in the lower Elan Valley serves a dual role

Icons Of The Landscape: Elan Valley DamsGarreg Ddu Dam's tower

Situated just over the Garreg Ddu dam 50 yards up a small entrance walkway is this very pretty parish church. What is excellent is just the willingness to leave open a place for peaceful contemplation in a historic church over 200 years old.

Icons Of The Landscape: Elan Valley DamsNantgwyllt Church

Pen y Garreg is the third dam up the Elan Valley. The viaduct at Garreg Ddu further downstream does not resemble the other dams since the dam part of the structure is not visible above the water surface in normal conditions.

Icons Of The Landscape: Elan Valley DamsPen y Garreg is the third dam up the Elan Valley

The lowest of the dams in the sequence of four built in the valley of the Elan River is Caban Coch Dam. It is the simplest and most functional in appearance of all the dams, resembling a natural waterfall when the reservoir is full and the dam is in full spate with water pouring over the dam wall.

Icons Of The Landscape: Elan Valley DamsCaban Coch Dam
Icons Of The Landscape: Elan Valley DamsThe footbridge just below the dam wall connects two identical stone buildings on either side of the river which house electricity generating turbines and valves and sluices to adjust the amount of compensation water released downstream
Icons Of The Landscape: Elan Valley DamsCentenary statue Statue commemorating the centenary of the Elan Dams

As for Claerwen Dam, it is interesting to note that its increased size, which was necessary because the initial project was no longer capable of meeting the demand for water. However, considerable effort was made to ensure that it would fit in with its three predecessors, thus enabling the preservation of Elan Valley’s overall look. Something that I was grateful for during my visit.

Icons Of The Landscape: Elan Valley DamsClaerwen Dam was designed to be in keeping with the appearance of the much older structures nearby.
Icons Of The Landscape: Elan Valley DamsView from Claerwen Dam

How to get there

The easiest way by car is to head to Rhayader, at the crossroads of the A44 from the east or the A470 from North or South Wales. Follow the B4518 to the west then look out for signposts towards the Elan Valley Visitor Centre.

Where to stay

There are loads of lovely places to stay near Rhayader – from cosy self-catering cottages to gorgeous 4 star B&Bs.

I would recommend Elan Valley Hotel which is half mile from the first of the Elan Reservoirs, and two and a half miles from the friendly market town of Rhayader.

Another superb location is Penbont House Tearooms & Bed & Breakfast right in the heart of the Elan Valley.

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