24 ramblers went by coach to the lovely Elan Valley, deepest mid Wales and untouched by tourists and development. After a quick look around the visitors centre, we walked the short distance to Elan Valley Lodge, a converted school, and were greeted by the multi-tasking Steve, our host, centre manager, minibus driver, logistics solver and walking guide all rolled into one.
It was a lovely afternoon and most of us strolled, at various height levels, to the dam above the visitors’ centre where we admired the force of water gushing through a hole. The dam, one of four, was finished in 1904, and built to supply Birmingham with drinking water. It includes a hydroelectric station. This part of the country has 1.7 meters of rain a year! Having bought the land, the county was told they couldn’t have ALL the water, and if Afon Elan dries up, some water has to be released downstream. Yes, we had coincided with a drought and it was to our benefit as we had lovely weather for the full holiday.
On Tuesday, we split into two even sized groups. One group went with Tudor for a long walk. Tudor is a local shepherd who has lived all his life in Elan and has hardly travelled any distance from home. He knew the area thoroughly and kept us entertained with stories of sheep, shearing competitions and local mishaps. We walked past the Elan dam,
then through ancient woodland, replete with bird-life, including pied flycatchers feeding their young.
We stopped at the demolished dam, a small one built to supply the dam construction workers. No longer needed, it was use to practice and refine the method used in the Dam Buster's raid, in World War II.
We stopped at an old Longhouse, now holiday homes but once divided into living accommodation and the livestock part, both sharing a common hallway.
Our packed lunch was eaten at picnic tables by a pond, where we spied the minibus. Meanwhile those that didn’t wish to walk as far had set off later with Steve at a more leisurely pace and were going to get driven back. We spotted them as they approached the Longhouse. Some of the group did their own walk around the village.
We walked through mixed woodland to the Caban Coch bridge and visited a local church, which was built to replace the church that was flooded when the reservoir was created.
After crossing the bridge we divided in half again, into those who walked straight back along the disused railway and those who went steeply uphill to a pass behind Y Foel (pronounced foyle, meaning bald). There was still time to eat our cake before evening meal! After a casserole for dinner, John provided a ‘musical lyrics’ quiz and Ruth provided a ‘Welsh words on the map’ quiz, both of which were far too difficult!
On Wednesday, eight ramblers set out to climb to the trig point at Crugyn, to the North of Elan. It was a steady uphill route with excellent views as far as Cader Idris (with imagination!), before descending through a wood to a bridge at above the Penygarreg dam.
There we met some of the easy-go ramblers, who were led by Steve’s wife. who imparted the bad news that one of the ramblers had fallen and had been taken to hospital with a broken wrist. Steve set off to recover the minibus, and the two parties returned by self-navigation, either along the disused railway, or through the tracks in the woods to the West of the reservoir.
At the bridge, we met Steve with the minibus and some of
us took a lift back the remaining two miles. More cake, this time Rocky Road
fridge cake. Tonight’s quiz was a number
Thursday started with slight mist but the sun broke through at 11.30 and the rest of the day was sunny again. Tudor took the longer walk up to the trig point of Y Gamriw to the South, across moor land and sheep tracks and then along a ridge walk.
We could see Hay Buff from the top (again, with imagination) and trace the outlines of the peaks we had bagged on previous days. We also identified a fairly rare plant, caliotrope. Meanwhile, others were taken by Steve to the Penygarreg Dam (pen = head, or top) for a walk up-stream to a bridge, then by minibus to the Clearwen Dam, the tallest, that holds back the water in the largest reservoir. Some of us took the minibus back and went into Rhayader town to sample their tea shops and pubs;
the tough four ramblers continued with Tudor over another hill and back by foot. This was followed by dinner and a £ s d quiz and some dingbats. We also had the good news that the wrist did not need an operation and that our casualty had been taken home.
We gave hearty thanks to our chef. He worked in a Michelin restaurant in London and had given it up for an easier time in the countryside. He seemed to prepare our evening meals single handed, and all dishes were tasty and plentiful. He catered extremely well for our vegans, vegetarians, gluten and lactose intolerances and any other foibles we presented and he seems determined that we shouldn’t go hungry.
The homeward coach, leaving on Friday at 11am, gave us time for a final wander along the footpaths behind the lodge. Many of us spent the time watching pied flycatchers making trips to a bird box with a mouthful of (presumably) flies. We squeezed in an informal talk at the visitors centre over the 3D map in the hallway, whose hills, valleys and dams now meant so much more to us five days on.