• Daniel Wretham

Photographing the Elan Valley, Wales

Updated: Jul 24, 2019


Well I finally seem to be getting the landscape photography mojo back and getting out a bit more ! And what better way to encourage this than a trip to mid Wales to the Elan Valley.

I have been thinking about photographing the Elan Valley for a good year but hadn't ever managed to get up there, many things have stopped me in the past, The Brecon Beacons being one of them which I had to go through in order to get to the Elan Valley and that alone was a huge obstacle as I couldn't help but stop there.

My chief adventure buddy, bestie and fellow landscape photography lover Eirwen lives in the Brecon Beacons area and had very kindly invited me up for a new mission, we had been debating where to go and the Elan Valley came up.

The seed was sown and I started to think about it more and more and do a bit of research to get to know the place better.

Eirwen in the meantime had done the dirty on me and taken a couple of cheeky visits up there without me, shameful !

That said she had taken some pictures of the place and it was even more beautiful than I had ever imagined, That was it, I was going.

A little bit of background about the Elan Valley first for those that don't know it. It consists of 5 reservoirs that were actually built around 100 years ago with the sole purpose of supplying Birmingham with its water.

The reservoirs are Claerwen, Caban-Coch, Garreg Ddu, Pen Y Garreg & Cronfa Ddwr Craig Goch.

There are also six dams on the complex, each one its own unique character and style, I wanted to see them all. (one of which is an unfinished dam and not that photogenic but nice too see all the same)

I was aware that at this time of year the dams wouldn't be flowing as it was in the middle of summer and a heatwave would take its toll on the reservoir water levels which were indeed exceptionally low, this didn't worry me as all the pictures I have seen were when the dams were flowing so I figured at least I would have something different from the normal photographs.

The area actually stretches over 72 square miles but for this feature we will be focusing purely on the dams & reservoirs only although I did take a drive through a lot of other parts of it and boy does it ever have potential.

The valley is also a very prolific home for wildlife and many stunning creatures were around too see including the mystical sight of red kites gliding on the thermals.

All in all the place was landscape photography heaven and is often referred to as the Welsh Lake District.

I had wanted to leave this trip till Autumn to shoot it but I decided it made sense to go up now to get to know the place better so I could plan a full assault on this beautiful landscape in the autumn months.

The countdown was approaching and I couldn't wait ! then disaster struck and Eirwen decided to throw herself around the house and damage her foot (so inconsiderate !) So the trip was postponed for a while to let her foot heal as we would be going up and down mountains which meant being in tip top condition.

Finally after what seemed an age the trip started coming around, and so did a national heatwave.

Now this was a dilemma as anyone who knows me knows that I despise photographing clear skies.

This is all it seemed the weather was going to do for several weeks and with my trip bang in the middle of it.

Never mind I thought, we will have a laugh anyway and check the place out ready for future trips so it seemed like we had a plan and I couldn't wait !

That coupled with the fact the weathermen had got it wrong constantly this year so there was a chance if they said it was going to be clear that it might actually be cloudy as hell !.

I was planning on spending three days in Wales and when Thursday finally came round I couldn't finish work fast enough, I threw the gear in the car, grabbed the dog and headed North up to Wales.

Not being the most patient of people I was getting irritated by the slow moving traffic and the 30 degree heat and the constant stop starting nature of the roads.

I finally rocked up three hours after I started in The Brecon Beacons and was greeted with a huge spread of gorgeous food by Eirwen, you cant say the Welsh cant do hospitality !

We talked about going down first thing Friday morning and the fact it was clear and maybe some night shots could be a possibility, it was all talk but suddenly this turned into a "lets go right now moment" and so we were compelled to do another hour & a half drive to the Elan Valley in the hope that we could shoot some stars and then be there for sunrise.

The weather forecast showed it being clear for most of the day on Friday but a small bit of cloud around sunrise and just after so in all fairness it seemed like a great idea.