Elan Valley – Beautiful Lakes & Dramatic Dams

Visiting Elan Valley is one of our top recommendations if you’re happy to travel a little further from The Cottages. It is about 90 minutes away, but the drive itself is a very enjoyable part of the day. Elan Valley boasts 72 square miles of unspoilt nature and reservoirs. But it is the dams that make this such a unique place to spend a day.

Visitor Centre

When you arrive, head to the visitor centre where you can get a guide with maps of the estate. There is a gift shop, cafe and loos there and they often host exhibitions. You can pay for parking (£3.00) here, then you can park in any of the car parks around the Estate. You can also hire a mountain or E-bike from the visitor centre. Either book in advance through the website or on the day.

Which Way First?

There are several routes you can take to explore the estate. You will see Caban Coch Dam first as it is close to the Visitor Centre. Caban Coch was the first dam worked on and was designed to look like a waterfall when it overflows. The stone in the quarry nearby was used inside the dams. The facing stone was a sandstone brought up from the Vale of Glamorgan. 

Caban Coch Dam - Visiting Elan Valley

Claerwen Dam

We like to visit Claerwen Dam next. There is a large car park at the bottom of the dam (with toilets and picnic benches). There is also a smaller parking space at the top of the dam. It’s worth doing both – the dam is so dramatic from the bottom, but you get great views from the top.

The construction of the Claerwen Dam, the last of the dams in the district, took six years, using a workforce of 470. It was ceremonially declared open by the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II in October 1952, in one of the first official engagements of her reign. There are walks that you can do here: More info on Claerwen

Garreg Ddu Dam

The submerged dam can only be seen at low reservoir levels. Garreg Ddu has two purposes: to hold back water to enter the Foel Tower, and to provide access to the Claerwen valley. The Foel Tower is where drinking water is extracted to start its three day journey to Birmingham. Drive across the bridge and there is a car park on the other side. Park here and there is a nice walk by the river and through woodland to the next dam – Pen y Garreg.

Visiting Elan Valley - Garreg Ddu

Pen y Garreg

Pen y Garreg is the smallest dam and reservoir. When full, it holds just over two weeks’ worth of water. The tower was built in the Birmingham Baroque style. This dam is unusual in that it houses an access tunnel to the central tower which is lit by apertures in the downstream side of the dam. This enables Pen y Garreg to be opened to the public on certain days of the year. The walk to Pen y Garreg from the car park at Garreg Ddu is steep in places, so do wear walking shoes or boots. You can drive to the top of the dam and view it from there if you don’t want to do the walk.

Pen y Garreg - Visiting Elan Valley Dams

Craig Goch

Craig Goch is the highest upstream of the series of dams in the Elan Valley and is often referred to as the ‘top dam.’ It is seen by many as the most attractive of the dams, with an elegantly curved retaining wall and a series of arches carrying a narrow roadway across the top of the dam. It has a domed valve tower and the structure is typical of the ‘Birmingham Baroque’ style of much of the waterworks scheme.

Craig Goch - Visiting Elan Valley, Mid Wales

Find Out More

The landscape is of national importance for the diversity of lower plants (mosses, liverworts and lichens) and the Estate is the most important area for land birds in Wales. It is covered by 12 separate Sites of Special Scientific Interest. 

The Estate has been awarded an International Dark Sky Park Award and it is filled with a wealth of nocturnal Wildlife which thrives under the very dark skies.

Elan Valley is good to visit all year round as the landscape changes with the seasons. Autumn is a particularly splendid time to go for the colours.

Find out more about visiting Elan Valley : Elan Valley Trust and Elan Valley Welsh Water.

Make sure your route back to the cottages takes you along the Mountain Road from Elan Valley to Devil’s Bridge – it is awesome.