“ A river valley situated to the west of Rhayader, in Powys, Wales. „
The Elan Valley sits in an area of outstanding natural beauty in Mid Wales near the town of Rhayader. The valley was dammed by a series of dams over a hundred years ago to provide water for the thirsty conurbation of Birmingham. Since the flooding, the valley consists of a network of four dams and four reservoirs.
Despite their functional nature, the dams, built by the Victorians are architectural works of art. Constructed of Welsh slate, they are an object lesson in making something practical but at the same beautiful.
During World War II, the dams were a major target for German bombers. Cutting the supply of water to Birmingham's munitions factories would have seriously damaged the British war effort, so major efforts were made to divert the Germans from this strategic target.
Bizarrely, the dams were also a training ground for the 'Dambuster squad'; the British effort to destroy German dams in the Ruhr valley. A redundant dam was used by 617 squadron for target practice. In July 1942, the Nant-y-Gro dam in the Elan Valley was destroyed using the 'bouncing bomb'. The ruins of the dam still stand in the valley and can be seen by visitors to the area.
Today, the Elan Valley is a hot spot for tourists to Mid Wales. The stunning landscape, marvellous dams and gorgeous lakes act as a magnet to visitors during the summer. The area is owned by Welsh Water and covers seventy square miles of mountain, moorland, and lakes; an area which is a haven for wildlife.
Welsh Water operates a visitor centre at the Elan Valley near the Caban Coch reservoir and is a great base from which to explore the area.
The visitor centre sits on the banks of the stunningly beautiful River Wye; plenty of picnic tables sit above the river, making what must be one of the most scenic picnic spots in the country.
The centre itself has a exhibition describing the building of the dams and detailing the natural history of the area. Entrance to the visitor centre is free, but there's a £1 charge for parking (covers a whole day's stay). The centre has a nice little shop and a decent café. Toilets and a secure, fenced children's play area are here, too.
The area is fantastic for wildlife. The unpolluted waters are home to otters, and polecats patrol the area too. The Elan Valley is in the centre of 'Red Kite Country' and these magnificent birds of prey can often be seen circling above the visitor centre and reservoirs.
The woodlands surrounding the valley contain high numbers of special Welsh birds including wood warbler, lesser spotted woodpecker, and pied and spotted flycatchers. These can all be seen, and heard, during a walk in spring where the woodlands will be filled with birdsong.
The area around the visitor centre can be busy in summer, but roads and paths lead towards the other reservoirs meaning that the visitor looking for solitude does not need to travel for long before seemingly having these beautiful Welsh valleys to him or herself.
Trout inhabit all of the reservoirs and day tickets to fish for them are available. Mountain biking is popular on the many trails that wreathe around the valleys.
Any visitor to Mid Wales should add the Elan Valley to their itinerary. The combination of stunning scenery, fascinating history, miles of paths, excellent visitor centre, and plenty of outdoor activities means that there is something for the whole family to do.
For people wanting to know more, there's lots of information on the Welsh Water website at: