Elan Valley 2010
A cycle ride around the reservoirs of Mid Wales.
This was a bike ride along the Elan Valley Trail. Given the immaculate weather, the bike ride quickly turned into a photography trip. The valley is a popular tourist destination - a wild and virtually uninhabited part of Mid Wales. It is erroneously known as "Welsh Lake District", due to the large expanses of water that cover virtually the entire main valley. However, they are all reservoirs. There are no significant natural lakes at all in the valley, or its branches. While it is a shame that such a beautiful and wild valley has been modified to such an extent, the reservoirs do present their own beauty and sense of impressive industry.
The first 6 reservoirs were created as a massive project lasting for 10 years around 1900. The first of them was destroyed in 1942, and a much larger one was then added around 1950. 5 of the reservoirs serve Birmingham (118 km away) through an impressive gravity-fed aquaduct, and are also used as a source of hydro-electricity. The others will be described later. Being virtually uninhabited at the time of construction, there was very little local opposition to the project - one of the flooded wooden buildings was actually floated to a dry location so it could continue to serve the community. The area became an immediate attraction, with the moorland becoming a very early example of open access land, dating back to 1892.
- Caban Coch, the first reservoir, at the mouth of the valley. The only mountains in the Elan Valley area are on the left side of this valley, while everywhere else around the valleys is a plateau lying at a little over 500 metres altitude. In the distance is the Afon Claerwen branch of the valley, while the main Afon Elan branch heads to the right at the tree-covered hillside.
- The craggy mouth of the valley, where the Afon Elan joins the River Wye at Rhayader.
- Gorllwyn (613 metres), the smaller of the two mountains, seen over the Nant y Gro valley. This little valley was the site of the Nant y Gro reservoir, which was successfully used by Barnes Wallis to test the most effective way to blow up a dam in 1942, in preparation for the famous bouncing bomb project used by the Dam Busters. The remains of the dam wall and holding tank can be seen near the bottom of the valley, through a gap in the pine trees.
- The dam that separates the Garreg Ddu and Caban Coch reservoirs, looking towards Craig Fawr (519 metres). If the water level drops too far, the dam is exposed, with the water level maintained in the upper reservoir of Garreg Ddu. This is done to ensure the water level is high enough to feed the aquaduct.
- The lower end of the Garreg Ddu reservoir, with the Glannau buttress on the left bank, and the Creigiau Dolfolau crags on the right.
- Creigiau Dolfolau.
- Tynllidiart (tight gate), a narrow part of the valley, and site of one of the very few houses.
- Looking back to Coed y Foel and Glannau.
- Graig Dolfaenog, near the upstream end of the reservoir.
- Heading up the old railway's incline, towards the next reservoir.
- Graig Dolfaenog.
- Penygarreg reservoir. Like all main dams in this valley, it is just over 35 metres high, and a little over 150 metres wide.
- A Dam Buster's view.
- Nant Hesgog, a side valley. Despite the steep sides, there are very few significant waterfalls in the Elan Valley.
- The upper end and island in the Pengarreg Reservoir. The island looks good, but is absolutely filled to overflowing with dense rhododendron bushes.
- Golden-ringed Dragonfly hanging perilously close to a spider's web on a gorse bush.
- Craig Goch Reservoir, the top-most of the Elan Valley reservoirs. Above here, the valley meanders before dropping into the Ystwyth Valley.
- Looking back down the meandering Pengarreg Reservoir.
- Male chaffinch.
- Pengarreg Reservoir and the Craig yr Allt-goch crags.
- The gully of Nant Gris, which looks like it might contain something good, and was making a lot of noise.
- Top of the gully. Not at all what it promised, and a broken branch ended up tipping me into a rotting sheep for my trouble. Thanks for that.
- A tiny spout, barely more than 2 metres tall.
- A few more tiny spouts end at the reservoir. Not worth it.
- Craig Goch reservoir, and light over the northern edge of the plateau.
- Heading into the Claerwen valley, there is a small reservoir whose dam was never completed. The resulting Dolymynach Reservoir is more like a lake, and looks relatively natural.
- Mouth of the Rhiwnant, one of the long side valleys that still retains a lot of its wilderness.
- Gorllwyn and the Craig Llannerch-y-cawr crags at the mouth of the Rhiwnant.
- Banc Gwyn, at the junction of the Claerwen and Arban rivers.
- Nant Garregfelen, which cascades gently down a series of very small unnamed waterfalls and long waterslides for just over 30 metres.
- Claerwen dam, the most recent and tallest in the Elan area at 56 metres, as well as the longest at 355 metres.
- Outlet bridges.
- The Claerwen Reservoir is also by far the largest reservoir in Elan, about as big as all the other reservoirs put together in terms of volume and surface area.
- A view of the banks 3 km distant is in fact less than half way down the reservoir.