Walk 200 [9.1 miles] - Elan Valley (dams (6) & reservoirs (5))

OS200 OS147 garmin

Monday 26th March 2007 - Walk 1

Monday 10th August 2015 - Walk 200
just 4 of the original walkers remaining

Thirteen members of the group drove in convoy from Bucknell to the Elan Valley to celebrate our 200th walk. Before leaving we posed for the obligatory photograph at the lych gate.

The weather was somewhat indifferent as we got closer to our destination. In fact it was raining (as forecast), but we were optimistic that things would improve as the day went on.

The initial problem was convincing our 6 car drivers that we had to go the the end of the walk first to park 3 cars; bundle ourselves into the other 3 cars and drive to the start point. Additionally, to leave their travelling shoes in the cars at the end of the walk. Eventually we got ourselves sorted and drove to the car park at the Craig Goch dam (1) which guards the Craig Goch Reservoir (1). We then availed ourselves of the facilities before starting the walk.

Pen-y-Garreg Reservoir

Saying farewell to Ian (and Masie of course) we headed south and gently downhill alongside the Pen-y-Garreg Reservoir (2) following the trackbed of the small Elan Valley Railway that was built to haul loads of stone, timber and other building material around the enormous building site between 1893 and 1906. There was a quiet peacefulness about this first section of the walk - apart from our chattering within the group, the reservoir lay quietly below us, the surface ruffled by the gentle and welcome breeze.

'Devils Gulch'

After about a mile we turned east passing through a short cutting in the rock. The building of this section of the railway track was held up for months because the route was blocked by solid rock. The navvies working on the line called this 'Devil's Gulch', as it looked very similar to the narrow passes through the rocks which were used for ambushes in many Wild West stories! After emerging, we could now see the top of the Pen-y-Garreg dam (2) ahead of us.

Approaching the Pen-y-Garreg dam

The Pen-y-Garreg dam

As we arrived we saw Ian driving his car on the other side of the dam. Of course we all waved at him, but he later reported that he hadn't seen us. Anyway, we were now looking for a suitable place for coffee as we'd walked a couple of miles and of course we'd driven nearly an hour by the time we parked up to start the walk. We came to what seemed like a suitable place which also boasted a couple of seats. We settled down for our coffee, but within minutes were attacked by hoards of midges. We spent a while flapping our arms like a load of demented ducks; gulped down our coffee and set off again in short order - Di would have approved of this short break!

Flapping arms like a load of demented ducks

Our descent continued but now alongside the Garreg-ddu Reservoir (3). We crossed the road and onto the made-up path alongside the reservoir, with the road to our left and above us. The embankment along quite a distance of this section of the original railway had been shored up with huge stones - a work of art in itself. We also passed several sculptures and interesting seats and benches.

Wall detail

A giant seat

Interesting screw sculpture above this seat

We came to the short bridge across the reservoir which is built on top of the Garreg-ddu (submerged) dam (3). Garreg-ddu plays an important part in providing a constant supply of water to Birmingham. The water is drawn off at the adjacent Foel valve tower to begin its journey via the pipeline 73 miles long down which the water travels at less than two miles per hour, taking one and a half days to reach the Frankley reservoir south of Birmingham.

Foel valver tower

What lies ahead - a view of the climb up
Nant-y-Gro after lunch

The next part of the track was alongside the Caban Coch Reservoir (4) and we were starting to contemplate lunch. I pointed out to the group that after lunch we would be making a bit of an ascent which we could see quite clearly across the reservoir. When we arrived at the Caban Coch dam (4) - an hour earlier that arranged with Ian - we decided to go to the other side of the dam and take our lunch there. Having called Ian and left a message, we made our descent and crossed the Afon Elan below the dam. There, Margaret had second thoughts about abandoning Ian and we called him again, fortunately connecting this time and so we met up by the Caban Coch North generating building.

Caban Coch dam

Lunch in the sun below Caban Coch dam

After lunch we set off to climb the many steps up the south side of the dam to the top and headed towards our next dam and a mini-adventure!

A view towards the Visitor Centre from Caban Coch

The top of Caban Coch dam

I had promised a climb, and we arrived at the foot of it and the Nant-y-Gro dam (5) which was originally constructed to supply Elan Village, built to house the workforce engaged on the construction of the reservoir scheme.

In 1942, Barnes Wallace was carrying out secret experimental work to the test the theory that the dams of the Ruhr Valley, such as the Mohne and Eder dams, could be breached using explosives. The Nant-y-Gro dam was no longer needed as the Caban Coch dam had filled by 1942, and by chance, this dam happened to a ⅕th scale version of the Mohne dam. The remote location was also a huge draw for Barnes Wallace and his team, enabling them to carry out testing whilst keeping the lid firmly on what they were doing.

In July 1942, 279lbs of a prototype explosive were placed at a depth of 10 feet on the central portion of the dam and detonated against the wall of the dam blasting a hole 60 feet wide and 25 feet deep in the dam wall. The dam today is as it was left in 1942.

The moment when the dam was destroyed 1942

The remains of Nant-y-Gro dam

That long climb!

We continued the long climb almost to the top where, taking pity on Margaret and Geri who were struggling a little, I pointed out a short cut that they could take and arranging what I thought was a rendezvous - BIG MISTAKE!! When the remainder of the group completed a path higher up, passing a delightful ford across the Nant-y-Gro and eventually gaining the forestry track there was no sign of Margaret or Geri. It was like the earth had swallowed them up.

The pretty ford..

..distained by the girls who found a bridge

After a quick look around we split up, taking (and blowing) our whistles and trying to find them - alas, all in vain. After about 15 minutes or so we concluded that we would have to continue to the end of the walk and hope that they had gone on ahead (for reasons best know only to themselves). We made a long gentle descent in the woodland when our final dam came into sight. This was the Dol-y-Mynach (6) spanning the River Claerwen below the small Dol-y-Mynach Reservoir (5).

Looking back up towards Caban Coch Reservoir

Dol-y-Mynach dam

View from the other side of the river

The original Victorian plan for the Birmingham waterworks was to build four dams in the valley of the River Elan, and three in the valley of the River Claerwen. The Elan Valley dams were to be built under the project which started in 1893, and the other dams on the Claerwen later on when more water would be needed as Birmingham continued to grow.

The lowest of the three dams planned for the Claerwen Valley was Dol-y-Mynach, and was to have been almost 101 feet high and 938 feet long, was never finished, and the other two dams above it were not even started. A much bigger dam higher up in the valley, the Claerwen Dam, was completed in 1952.

It was a little after spotting the dam that we rounded a corner and discovered Margaret and Geri ahead of us on the path - what a relief!

We completed our walk a little later than we had hoped, but Ian (and Masie) were waiting as agreed with the other 3 cars. Margaret produced a delicious fruit cake to celebrate our 200th walk, and the completion of 1500 miles by the group. Thank you very much indeed Margaret. I'm sure I can speak for everyone when I say it was totally delicious.

The walk ended, appropriately enough, in bright sunshine. Hopefully we can repeat this walk in the spring/late winter when the reservoirs are full?

Time for cake!


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