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Bikeathon at Lake Vyrnwy (Wales)

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Money raising event for Leukemia Research Fund.

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      06.05.2002 03:17
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      Sunday 12th May was the first date I recorded in this year’s diary. An absolute must as far a I’m concerned, a red letter day – the date of the National Bikeathon - recreational cycle rides, held throughout the country, where the emphasis is on family fun whilst helping raise money for the Leukaemia Research Fund. Cyclists of all ages and abilities can enjoy great rides along fully marshalled routes, with checkpoints and refreshments stops along the way. With events all round the country, no one is far away from a bikeathon, and the opportunity to help continue the fight against Leukaemia. My own personal choice is the one held at Lake Vyrnwy in Powis, one of the many man-made lakes in Wales, and the one, which boasts the most dramatic location. I first went a couple of years ago with a some friends from the school where my wife works and had a brilliant day out, so much so that we started a sort of impromptu cycling club which gets together 2 or 3 times a year to take advantage of some of the beautiful cycling paths in Wales and the borders. Last year the Bikeathon was nearly a washout because of the Foot and Mouth outbreak, but we took over an industrial site for the day in Wrexham and managed to raise a fair amount of money for the LRF. Not quite as picturesque as usual but very satisfying nevertheless. This year I’m itching to get out into the country and I’ve already given my bike its annual clean and service, so that I can actually see what colour it is. Lake Vyrnwy is such a beautiful location, the mountains embrace a lake containing some twelve billion gallons of water resulting in scenery reminiscent of the Alps. The lake which is 5 miles long and half a mile wide looks incredibly natural and you can hardly believe that it was created by in the late 19th century by Liverpool Corporation, to provide a storage reservoir of safe water for the rapidly growing city of
      Liverpool some seventy-five miles from here. At that time, many cities in Britain were becoming crowded with workers for the new factories and mills of the Industrial Revolution. Terrible slums grew around these factories, and clean water was desperately needed to reduce the dangers of disease. The factories too needed large quantities of water for their steam-driven machines and the deep valleys of Wales were the obvious solution. The amazing thing is, this has been done so well, that it is such a fantastic stretch of water teeming with wildlife. The huge dam across the river valley was completed in 1889, and was the first large stone-built dam in Britain. Earlier dams had just been created by making earth embankments. As you take a relatively easy 12 mile bike ride around the lake there is so much to see. Firstly the lake lies in an incredibly secluded spot west of the village of Llanfyllin. It is surrounded by remote mountains and thick forests and its dramatic personality is enhanced by inky black waters and a fairytale neo-Gothic water tower. The new lake meant that the farms and houses of the people of the valley would be lost underwater. In order to create the large lake the valley of the River Vyrnwy had to be closed off by the huge stone dam and the whole valley behind the dam which contained the old village of Llanwddyn was flooded. Work on the dam building project began in 1881, and for the next eight years the dam wall at the bottom of the valley was steadily getting higher while the people living in the village went about their everyday lives. A new settlement was built lower down the valley by the Liverpool Corporation before the flooding, for the people who lost their homes. The buildings of the old village were knocked down after the people moved out, and even the remains of the dead were removed from the churchyard and reburied next to the new church. In particularly dry summers, the
      level of the water falls, and you can see the remains of the village. The dam itself is pretty impressive, 26m high from the bed of the lake to the sill for the overflow, but almost twice that if measured from the buried foundations to the top of the final structure. The dam is 357m long and the base is 36.5m thick. The stepped openings at the bottom of the contain tunnels which can be controlled to allow enough water to carry on down the river so that it continues to flow normally. The machinery for operating the valves is located inside the two stone towers on the top of the dam wall above the two tunnels. There is a very unusual pointed tower which rises out of the waters of Lake Vyrnwy some distance from the dam. It looks like part of a fairytale castle, and it is linked to the shore by an arched bridge. This is the 'straining tower', which is where the water leaves the lake at the start of a journey along an aqueduct and pipeline to Liverpool, around 70 miles away. It is called a straining tower because the water first passes through a fine metal mesh to filter or strain out material in the water. The tower stands in over 15m deep water and is over 48m high, so much of the structure is hidden underwater. The whole area of the lake is an RSPB reserve. Heather moorland, woodland, meadows, rocky streams and the reservoir itself attract a wide variety of wildlife and dippers and kingfishers nest by the lake and rocky streams, while ravens and buzzards can be found on the moorland. Birds that breed in and around the lake include goosanders, common sandpipers, great crested grebes and mallards. In the winter months, small numbers of teals, pochards and tufted ducks can be seen, and non-breeding cormorants are present all year. Last time I went I was fortunate enough to see a Peregrine Falcon, the fastest of the falcons, that can reach speeds of up to 120 mph in a stoop after prey. Three pairs nest on t
      he reserve, and in recent years one pair has attempted to breed on the masonry dam in a purpose built nestbox. There is also the award winning Lake Vyrnwy Sculpture Trail with superb works of art dotted around the shores of the lake. The sculpture trail will help the 120,000 people who visit the lake each year to discover artwork by invited international artists alongside the work of local sculptors and temporary pieces by visitors. It began with the ideas of two men - Andy Hancock, a local sculptor, and Andy Hall , now the head of forest research for the forestry commission. After Forest Enterprise had commissioned the first piece - the unique "Pole lathe fence" -Severn Trent Water came on board and commissioned Andy to create the first pieces that would establish the trail for the future. The trail will, subject to funding, eventually become the largest open sculpture trail in Wales. Add to this a range of facilities including visitor centre and RSPB centre, parking, toilets, a classroom, nature trails, some absolutely stunning picnic areas, a shop, bird hides and a nature reserve. The visitor centre has recently been extended to include a 3D cinema, where a 15 minute free introduction provides a good start for visits. For those who haven’t got bikes, visitors can drive around the reservoir by car – except on Bikeathon day. It really is a wonderful day out and all for an exceptionally good cause. **** 12th May 2002 at 10.00am**** Starting and Finshing at Llanddwyn school Entry fees - Adult £3, under 16 £2, family (2 adults and 3 children) £8, with a T shirt and ‘gong’ for everyone who completes the course. If you can’t get to this one, look out for one in your own locality. It will keep you fit, get you out into the country and raise money for a very deserving cause.

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