Monday, 10 November 2014

Llyn Eigiau, Conwy Valley

We got nearly all the way to Llyn Eigiau today by car, driving up from the valley village of Tal y Bont up a road that has recently been resurfaced and provided with a lot of passing places. It's an easy drive and an easy walk from the small car park at the top. The lake is about five miles up the Conwy Valley from the coast.

We were aiming to go and see the infamous dam that still stretches across the shallow valley up in the mountains. My husband had been before but despite living here for almost thirty years I never have. The Dolgarrog Dam Disaster is as resonant locally as the Aberfan Disaster is to Wales as a whole. You learn about these terrible events in school and they stay with you forever. The Dolgarrog event was much smaller than the Aberfan colliery tip collapse, but it was a shattering one. On the night of the 2nd November 1925, just a little over 89 years ago, 16 people from the relatively small community of Dolgarrog were killed by flood waters rushing down side of the valley when not just one but two dams failed - first the larger one at Eigiau (built in 1911), and second the smaller earth embankment at Coedty reservoir (built in 1924). Eigiau held 4,500 x 10³ m³ of water. Coedty held 320 x 10³ m³ (source).  It was only because so many residents were at a film screening that evening that so few were killed, but in a population that even now numbers just over 400, 16 is quite enough.

If you drive through the village of Dolgarrog today you can see the huge boulders deposited by the flood, which have been left as a memorial. The aluminium factory that the dam supplied, which also provided most of the local employment, continued working for many years, but finally shut in 2007, and now a surf centre is being built on the site. After this and another disaster of the same year - 5 people were killed in April in Skelmorlie, Scotland - parliament passed a new act on the safety of dams, so perhaps the deaths of those sixteen people have spared others the same fate.

Here is a selection of photographs from our visit to the dam and the lake behind, some edited, some left well alone.

On the road up to the lake, I took something of a small panorama, three shots, looking towards Llyn Eigiau and right towards the north.

This massive wall of rock is very impressive. On the other side lies Llyn Dulyn, my 'local' lake that I intend to walk to one day.

No cars or motor vehicles, except for access. A common sign up here. Sometimes they come with bullet holes in them, but they're not as striking as the footpath signs with the bullet holes through the walker's head.

Sheep's wool on the fence, another common sight.

Something we found on the ground in the small car park, a nice little connection to our past education. The gate to the road beyond is locked.

We also found a little floral tribute on the ground, but no sign as to why or for whom.
The first real sight of the dam, showing the huge breach that was made deliberately to prevent a re-occurrence of the flooding. (Source.)

This smaller breach in the wall is the original, the one that did all the damage. Imagine those torrents of water surging out through this hole on a dark November night, racing down the valley until it met Coedty reservoir, breaching that dam too, and surging down the incredibly steep slope into the village sheltered in the side of the valley.

We hadn't realised there was a fishing club up here. In fact, the 'populatedness' of this isolated place was surprising. We were passed by three cars while we were up here, and we were amazed to find a house by the dam, with smoking chimney.

The husband has been edited crudely out of this for privacy reasons. The dog has stayed for scale. This is a huge wall and walking up to it you feel as if you're approaching some kind of fairy tale divide between lands. The break in the wall really has a sinister feel. You are in the presence of carnage wreaked by forces far greater than human beings.
I'm not sure what the purpose of the stone embankment here is. There is a channel running through this gap, apparently carved out by the flood water.

The make-up of the wall looks terribly crude and fragile, over a hundred years after it was first built. Apparently it was the foundations that gave, but the whole looks terribly weak.

A side on view of the wall, showing how straight it is. From this angle it could be a monolith.

Along the wall, on the lake side. If it were before 1925 we'd be under water.

Looking back through the break and down the side valley that leads to the Conwy Valley. You can see the other side of the Conwy Valley in the distance.

Most of the land on this side of the wall was very boggy, before it rose up a little towards the fishing club. Lots of beautiful moss.

Looking along the lake, you can see a van by the fishing club (which seems to be a small hut.)

The dog's greatest joy is getting into water, no matter how cold, possibly lying down in it, but never going deep enough to swim.

Another view up the lake towards the mountains beyond. All these rocks must have been covered in water at one point. This looks like a typical lake floor, exposed.
On the far side of the lake is a beautiful single stream of water cascading down the rocks. It's a wonder to think that there is constantly that much water pouring off the mountain.

Looking back towards the breach, from the current lakeside. The little rise in the land and the stones make it look like the current water level is somewhat lower than is natural.

What a beautiful house this is. We don't know if it's a residence or owned for some other purpose, but it's the most wonderful isolated spot to live.

A lakeside rock with - what? Some little stone walls built either side.

Another house a little further up the valley, this one apparently abandoned and boarded up. There are so many of these abandoned houses up in the hills, most smaller and much more ruined than this. Often you can tell where houses have been by small stands of trees.

Really rather a wet dog.

Too many photos of that wall, but it's just so stark and impressive. It's rather lower here - or at least the ground is rather higher, and rather drier too.

Where the wall runs into the land.

Light strikes over the mountain. You can see something of a quarry just above the wall on the left, which I assume is Cwm Eigiau Slate Quarry, which originally had a narrow gauge railway up to it. It's amazing to think of the amount of industry going on in these hills. (Cwm describes the kind of valley you see in the photograph, a kind of shallow bowl in the mountainside, analogous to the English combe.)

The wall really is very shallow here, and you can see the deliberately made breach in the distance.

I really don't like the look of that wall. It's easy to say that in retrospect, and after a hundred years of weather, and besides, it was the foundations that failed, but it looks so friable. The Wikipedia source says that the original contractor pulled out due to corner cutting.

It is impressive it's stood in wind and rain and frost for all this time, or worrying that the cracks are so big?

The deliberate breach in the wall, the edges very neatly finished off.

That gap, and the little river running out.

A beautiful brick half pipe where the river runs out through the gap, surrounded by rubble.

Looking across the gap.

Looking back from the gap up into the cwm (imagine trying to say 'combe' but shortening the vowel sound a lot.)

A bit more wall and rubble, and this other wall in front. I don't know if the second wall is original or built later.

I think it's interesting that they so carefully finished off the edge of this deliberate breach, but left the accidental one ragged and dangerous looking.

On the way back, and you can see the path of the original river down this shallow valley towards the steep side of the Conwy Valley. Beyond is the other side of the Conwy Valley, looking towards the Denbigh Moors.

This is the channel cut out by the flood water in 1925. Imagine the force that would have taken. Some trees are taking advantage of the shelter here.

On the way back down to the valley floor, you can see the ranks and ranks of wind turbines out in the sea, and a little glimpse of the Afon Conwy. Time for home, and tea, after a rather sobering and awe inspiring walk.

No comments:

Post a Comment