Elan Valley Hydro – Victorian engineering at it’s finest

Last weekend I had a short break in the Radnor area of Wales – a part of the country that I’ve only ever passed through before. I was a bit skeptical about what there could be to do there but I was pleasantly surprised. It is beautiful countryside and in places has a real remote and unspoiled feel  to it. On the advice of the campsite manager we took a trip to the nearby Elan Valley, one of the main attractions in the area. There are 4 large reservoirs over two valley systems that were created to supply Birmingham with water. At first I think my family were a bit reluctant to “go and look at some dams”, but when we had had a good look around I think they were converted. The upper reaches are stunning and very peaceful (until a boy racer decides to rally over the mountain), the pictures below don’t really do it justice.

I was really struck by the craft that had gone into the construction – particularly the upper dam at Craig Coch. This was completed in 1952, and was opened by QEII as one of her first engagements as monarch. To quote the famous phrase “they don’t make ’em like they used to”. That probably makes me sound really old, but I think it’s true that you don’t get that kind of flair in building these days.

Upper dam at Craig Coch

One of the other highlights of the trip was to see some quality “chunky engineering”. One of the first things you see as you approach the visitor centre is a retired hydro turbine – a combination of a Pelton wheel and a Francis turbine. I’ve not see this before -perhaps the Pelton wheel is used to bring the RPMs up to a suitable speed for the Francis? Maybe someone can correct me on this? This turbine was rated at 247 BHP or roughly 185kW.

Retired Pelton/Francis turbine

The replacement turbine is rated at 800kW. Each of the dams has its own turbines and there is also a submersed turbine on the water outflow. The combined peak output of the scheme is 4.2MW. Not bad as a by-product of a water supply to a major city.

New turbine in the turbine house at Caban Coch – doesn’t have the smooth line of the original Gilkes machine

Craig Coch dam and reservoir


World’s largest bathtub

Craig Coch dam – the “plughole”

Wild countryside above Craig Coch

Unusual weather vane





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One Response to Elan Valley Hydro – Victorian engineering at it’s finest

  1. Katherine says:

    Those photographs are fantastic. I love the one where you can see the sky reflected in the water.

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