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Lake Vyrnwy (Llyn Efyrnwy in Welsh) is a beautiful man-made reservoir constructed in 1888 to provide the City of Liverpool with a reliable and plentiful source of fresh water. Just south of Snowdonia in the county of Powys in Mid Wales, the 1,122-acre (4.54 square kilometer) lake is today managed by Severn Trent Water and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The lake still provides sparkling clean water for the residents of Liverpool, along with many opportunities for recreation and exploration of the magnificent Welsh countryside.
Although the second largest reservoir in Wales, Lake Vyrnwy is a rather secluded body of water. Only a few towns sit along the nearly 12 miles of pristine shoreline, making the area a paradise for visitors who enjoy the peace and tranquility of nature. Activities on and around the lake are numerous with fishing, sailing, canoeing, rock climbing, cycling and horseback riding opportunities in abundance. A relatively flat cycling trail circles the entire lake and offers an incredible view of the mountains and dense forests in the area.
The most distinct feature of Lake Vyrnwy (pronounced Vernwee) is the dam. Started in 1881 and completed in 1888, the large stone-built dam was the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. Earlier dams in Britain had been built by creating large earth embankments to hold back water on streams and rivers. Unchanged from the day it was built, the dam measures 140 feet (44 meters) high from the bottom of the valley and 130 feet (39 meters) thick at the base. The length is 1,170 feet (357 meters) and accommodates a narrow road bridge along the top. The dam is ornately decorated with over 25 arches and two towers (each with four corner turrets) that rise 13 feet (four meters) above the road surface. The Vyrnwy dam was the first dam to allow water over its crest instead of in a channel along the side. At the bottom of the dam is a body of water known as the Stilling Basin which absorbs the energy from the water that flows over the crest and into the valley. The basin prevents the force of the falling water from eroding the foundation of the dam.
When the Vyrnwy Reservoir was still in the planning stages, one of the biggest problems encountered was the valley village of Llanwddyn which would be flooded as the reservoir filled. Llanwddyn consisted of a church, two chapels, three public houses, 37 houses and 10 farmsteads. The entire village had to be relocated and rebuilt farther downstream before the first stone of the dam could be laid. Today, the village of Llanwddyn has a population of 300 and has several cafes and gift shops. The town is a popular tourist stop due to its location near the border of Snowdonia National Park, and the Cambrian and Berwyn Mountains. During drought conditions, when the water level of the reservoir can be low, the old foundations of several original Llanwddyn buildings can be seen.
The West and East Towers on the Lake Vyrnwy dam release compensation water through huge valves to maintain the River Vyrnwy (or Afon Efyrnwy in Welsh), which was totally impounded by the building of the dam. The river was originally fed by the streams and waterfalls which now empty into Lake Vyrnwy. Beginning at the foot of the dam, the river flows for 39.7 miles (63.9 kilometers) east towards Britain, where it eventually converges with the River Severn near the village of Melverley on the Welsh border. Depending on the water levels downstream, the towers may release up to 10 million gallons (45 megaliters) of water into the river each day. Inside the West Tower is a an electrical generator which is driven by water leaving the reservoir. Before modern power lines arrived in the 1960s, the generator was Llanwddyn's only source of electricity.
Just before the Lake Vyrnwy dam is the reservoir's straining tower. The purpose of the tower is to filter out material in the water through a fine metal mesh, before the water flows along a 68 mile (109 kilometer) aqueduct into Liverpool. Constructed at the same time the dam was being built, the picturesque, gothic tower stands 210 feet tall (63 meters) of which 49 feet (15 meters) is below water, and is topped with a pointed copper clad roof. Second to the dam, the tower is one of the most photographed landmarks in the area.
In addition to being a reservoir, Lake Vyrnwy is also a National Nature Reserve. In 1977, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) was given joint management of 16,000 acres of Lake Vyrnwy. The RSPB has several bird hides around the lake, where rare species are known to breed such as the peregrine falcon, the pied flycatcher, and the wood warbler. Around 90 species of birds have been recorded to be living on the reserve. The reserve also has the largest remaining tract of heather moorland in Wales which is home to a number of birds rarely found in other parts of the country.
Shortly after completion of the dam, Lake Vyrnwy was stocked with 400,000 Loch Leven trout. Today anglers will find the lake full of wild brown trout, stocked brown trout and rainbow trout. There are several boat launches around the lake and many places to rent a boat. Fly fishing is the preferred method of fishing with just as many anglers along the shoreline as in the water.
A total of 31 streams, waterfalls, and rivers flow into Lake Vyrnwy. On the northern edge of the lake sits the hamlet of Rhiwargor where the rivers Afon Eiddew and Afon Naedroedd meet. Up the hill from Rhiwargor, the Rhiwargor Waterfall, the largest in the area, flows down the heather-clad slopes of the valley of Afon Eiddew and into the lake. A two mile trail leads to the base of the waterfall and is a great spot to cool off and have a picnic.
Accommodations on Lake Vyrnwy consist of holiday cottages, bed and breakfasts, a few hotels, and camping and caravan parks. Many self-catering cottages are located on beautiful farms and offer trails, private beaches, and a great base site for cycling, hiking, and bird watching. The 12-mile trail around the lake is popular with cyclists and walkers. For those who did not bring a bike, bike rentals are available including tandem bikes. Additional vacation rentals and real estate can be found near Snowdonia and the Snowdonia National Park, just west of the lake. As well as being the largest National Park in Wales, Snowdonia boasts the highest mountain in Wales, and the largest natural lake in Wales, as well as a number of small, picturesque villages.
A must-see on a visit to Lake Vyrnwy is the Llanwddyn Sculpture Trail in the valley below the dam. Started in 1995 the trail features over 50 wooden sculptures, created by master sculptors from across the world, placed at picnic sites and clearings around the lake.
Set against the backdrop of the majestic Berwyn Mountains, no stay in northern Wales is complete without a visit to Lake Vyrnwy. Whether you enjoy culture or the great outdoors, the tranquil shores of this crystal-clear lake offer fantastic holiday accommodations and a chance to explore a relatively untouched and fascinating area.
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