Characterised by rolling green hills, rugged terrain and a 73-mile long aqueduct featuring a series of Victorian dams, reservoirs and bridges, the Elan Valley is an awe-inspiringly beautiful part of Wales.
I was lucky enough to visit for myself recently along with fellow blogger, Explore With Ed. During our trip, we stayed at Ty Morgan’s in nearby Rhayader, mid Wales – often said to be the gateway to the Elan Valley – conveniently located just a five-minute drive away.
Exploring the Elan Valley
The Elan Valley Visitor Centre marks the start of the Elan Valley trail and the location of the first dam, Caban Coch. Entrance is free and the £2 car parking charge gives you access to all of the estate’s car parks for the whole day.
Set in 43,000 acres of greenland in the Cambrian Mountains, the Elan and Claerwen Valleys are home to six dams. The water levels were quite low during our visit, but you can imagine how impressive they’d look after heavy rainfall, with water spurting over the top! You can explore the Elan Valley trail on foot or by bike, but the weather was a little unpredictable on the day of our visit, so the owner of Ty Morgans, Andrew Lewis kindly treated us to a guided tour by car.
The dams and resevoirs were actually built by the Birmingham Corporation in the 1890s when they purchased the Elan Valley as a future water supply, transforming the landscape of mid Wales in doing so. Although there are a number of landmarked pumphouses along the route, it was interesting to discover that there is actually no pump in the system anywhere from here to Birmingham; the entire system is gravity-fed!
Located a little further up the valley on the River Claerwen, the Claerwen Dam is the biggest and most remote of all, with the surrounding area forming part of the vast greenland commonly referred to as the Green Desert of Wales.
The Elan Valley benefits from extremely low light pollution levels, earning it International Dark Sky Park Status and making it a popular destination for star-gazing. By day, it’s also a great place to spot red kites circling above.
Rhayader: the gateway to the Elan Valley
Despite being so close to the remoteness of the Elan Valley, the charming market town of Rhayader is anything but quiet. The streets are lined with independent shops and businesses, and the community is thriving. In fact, Rhayader once had more pubs per member of the population than any other UK town, with 12 pubs for 2075 residents – that’s one pub for every 173 residents. Apparently, the pubs were once very popular with the thousands of workers who were building the dams, who lived in the nearby Elan Village.
Although some of Rhayader’s pubs have closed over the years, several still remain, including The Crown Inn and The Lamb and Flag, also owned by the Ty Morgan’s group (in addition to Evan’s Diner).
Ty Morgan’s: a home away from home
A charming 17th century inn housing a bar, bistro, coffee shop and boutique accommodation, Ty Morgan’s has been passed down through the same family for 60 years and is today owned by Andrew Lewis.
Once a coffee shop known as The Strand owned by Andrew’s grandfather, the building has been lovingly restored and still bears many of its original features to this day, from the solid wooden ceiling beams etched with Roman numerals, to the exposed brickwork, and the original slate walls held together by mud, horse hair and straw.
A cosy, welcoming space on the second floor boasting its own mezzanine living area complete with leather sofa and TV, my room, Gloc y Dref (Welsh for the ‘town clock’, which can be seen through the window) was more like a small apartment than your typical hotel room.
Eqipped with a soft-as-a-cloud kingsize bed, an en-suite bathroom with both a jacuzzi bath and shower cubicle, a large desk, wardrobe, hairdryer, tea and coffee-making facilities, another TV on the ground floor, and a large wardrobe, it had everything you’d need to stay overnight or even for a few days.
The nine double en-suite rooms at Ty Morgan’s start from £60 per night. Self-catering apartments are also available.
Dining at Ty Morgan’s
With the bistro and coffee shop both located on the ground floor of the building, there’s no need to even step outside the building in search of good food when you stay at Ty Morgan’s. Whether you’re here for an overnight stay or just passing through, Ty Morgan’s offers a tasty bite to eat regardless of the time of day.
Although breakfast at Ty Morgan’s isn’t included in room rates, the coffee shop serves a variety of hot and cold dishes, fruit juices and hot drinks, all of which can be ordered from the counter.
Keen to fuel up before heading out to explore the Elan Valley, I opted for the full cooked breakfast (£8.45), complete with two locally sourced pork sausages, two rashers of bacon, two fried eggs, baked beans, mushrooms, fresh tomato and a chice of fried bread or toast, served with either a mug of coffee, tea or fruit juice. Guests are also welcome to help themselves to a selection of fresh fruit and cereals laid out on the bar in the bistro.
Feeling peckish after our visit to the Elan Valley, I munched on a sesame-seeded wholegrain bacon and brie baguette served with an aromatic, creamy latte, all for just £5.30.
The quintessentially British bistro menu comprises of classics like duck liver pate, ribeye steak and sticky toffee pudding, with a reasonable selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes, and number of gluten-free and/or dairy-free choices available.
I can’t remember the last time I ate chicken livers, let alone saw them on a restaurant menu, which made choosing my starter very easy. Sauteed in a rich, creamy sherry-infused sauce, the velvety chicken livers (£7.95) sat on golden toasted brioche which tasted heavenly dunked into the excess sauce. I truly mean it when I say I’d go back on the basis of this dish alone!
When in Wales, it makes sense to indulge in Welsh lamb. A herb-crusted rack of perfectly pink, medium-rare lamb was served on a mound of baby ratatouille, finished with a red wine jus (£17.95), teamed with a choice of chunky chips or crispy sauteed potatoes.
With just enough room left for dessert, the chocolate lava pudding (£5.95) was calling my name, and it would’ve been rude to ignore its lure. A soft, firm chocolate sponge was oozing with a gooey, sweet dark chocolate sauce, surrounded by a trickle of coffee creme liqueur.
Jamie and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Ty Morgan’s in Rhayader and I’d love to explore the Elan Valley more in future, when water levels are a little higher. As Ty Morgan’s is perfectly positioned for visiting this natural beauty spot and one of the most reasonably priced places to stay in Rhayader, I’d definitely consider staying here again. If you’re visiting the area but staying elsewhere, be sure to pop in to the bistro or the coffee shop for a bite to eat.
Crossed by the A470 (North/South) and A44 (East) roads, Rhayder is easily reachable by car. While there is no train station in Rhayader (the nearest being Llandrindod Wells), the area is serviced by the local bus network, although stops at the Elan Valley are only made upon request or by pre-booking. Visit Traveline Cymru for more information.
I’d love to hear about your favourite natural beauty spot! Leave me a message in the comment box below.