The Elan River starts (Map Link) at the base of Banc Yr Wyn at 527 meters (1,729 Ft) in the Cambrian Mountains Wales. From a distance it melds into a remote and rugged landscape, which has the nickname of being the 'Desert of Wales' on account of the miles and miles of acid grass land and elephant grass that covers the mountains.
The river gathers water from the surrounding slopes of Banc Yr Wyn 527 Meters (1,729 Ft), Geifas 572 Meters (1,876 Ft), the Ochr Lwyd 544 Meters (1,784) and Ban Hir as well as direct rainfall that soaks the immediate earth around it. The source resembles a huge bowl that appears like a depression and or plateau seemingly as a result of the sheer amount of water it contains. Very quickly a stream is formed from source carving out a cleft into the ground as it does so. It's as if the very mountain is sweating.
It tumbles now for about 4 KM through bog land, which is unchartered by ordinary folk. Waters add to its volume from other surrounding slopes such as Banc Cerrig Fendigaid at 500 Meters (1,640 Ft). The views down the valley as you descend are epic on a good day.
Pretty soon the river appears to be a river as trout make their way amid the subtrate in search of food, which constitutes aquatic insects, terrestrial insects, other fish, crustaceans, leeches, worms, and other foods. Once Salmon made their way upstream to spawn but the reservoir system that ends with Craig Goch, the nearest to its source, has since prevented them from doing so. Having said this the Wye Usk Foundation have started replenishing lost gravels below the Caban Coch dam, which has reported some success with Salmon and other species returning. This is good news!
It's still an impressive mountain water course that passes through stupendous scenery. It has its challenges as can be witness throughout but it's future is beginning to look good in light of recent conservation efforts.
The Elan Valley, which takes its name after the River Elan is home to a series of reservoirs constructed during the Victorian era. Caban Coch, Claerwen, Garreg Ddu, Penygarreg and Craig Goch all supply water to the Birmingham conurbation some 70 miles to the East of the Cambrian Mountain range in which the reservoirs are situated.
Over the years it has forged a reputation for its wild life, outdoor activities and remote tranquillity. The hiking is glorious (in great weather), the drives stupendous and the wild life uplifting.
This valley though still remains one of water as Dwr Cymru Welsh Water manage the estate to good effect delivering, not just water, but conservation programmes and education. As a visitor attraction it's worth every effort. Click on image left for link to website.
We start in the spectacular cwmystwyth, camp and hike up tpo the source of the Elan taking in the awesome views of the mountains as we do. At source we deliberate and remember my twin Paul and follow the riever down through bog to the road leading to Craig Goch Reservoir. There we Bothy at Lluest Cwm Bach Bothy. Along the way we meet some mountain folk and outdoors enthusiasts.
The morning of day 3 is wet but beautiful. After a good evenings rest and a chat with people staying in the Bothy (I chose my tent) we head towards the Elanvalley proper passing by Pennygarreg whilst visiting the chapel beyond that was moved when construction got under way. From there we walk alongside Caban Goch, visit the visitor center and finish off at the Elans confluence with the Wye all the while speaking with great people.
Mountain or Region - Cambrian Mountains
Authority/District - Caredigion
Length of River: 30 KM 19 Miles
Other Wye Rivers in the Area: River Wye (Plynlimon), Elan & Irfon
Highest Wye Peaks In The Area: Banc Yr Wyn 527 Meters 1,729 Ft (source), Geifas 572 Meters & Esgair Y Llewyn 538 Meters
Source Grid Ref: SN 819737
The walk up to source will take you over open access land. It is boggy and tough going and only suitable for experienced walkers. Once on top you can enjoy a wild open plateau with views across the Northern parts of the Cambrians.
Maps Sheet Finder
Ordnance Survey 1.25,000 Sheet Map 213
Ordnance Survey 1.25,000 Sheet Map 214
Anquet 1.25,000 Digital Map 213
Anquet 1.25,000 Digital Map 214
Photo Location Click
How to get there by bus
From Hereford catch the Sargeants bus into Llandrindod Wells. From Llandrindod Wells catch the X47 bus to Rhayader. To get to the Elan source catch a taxi from here to Cwnystwyth. About £20. To walk the Elan simply catch a taxi from Rhayader to the Elan Village or Visitor Centre. It’s pleasant to walk back into Rhayader via a route of your choosing that could take in part of the river. From Rhayader same as above. From Cardiff or the South catch the T4 into Llandrindod Wells. To get to Rhayader, Cwnystwyth and Elan Village/Visitor Centre same as above. From the North/Shrewsbury catch the X75 to Llangurig then the X47 to Rhayader. To get to Cwnystwyth and Elan Village/Visitor Centre same as above.
There are fantastic Bothy experiences in the area if you are intrepid enough.
How to get there by car
From the Midlands/Hereford take the A480 into Kington, then onto the A44 into Rhayader. Via the B4518 turn right a couple of miles out of town onto the old Aberystwyth road and follow this for 22 KM to the Tyllwyd campsite at Cwmystwyth. The source of the Elan is above.
From Cardiff or the South take the A470 to Brecon. From Brecon take the B4520 into Builth Wells. From Builth take the A470 into Rhayader. To the Tyllwyd campsite at Cwmystwyth same as above. From the North Wrexham take the A483 to Newtown, From Newtown take the A489 onto the A470 into Rhayader. To the Tyllwyd campsite at Cwmystwyth same as above. From Shrewsbury take the A458 onto the A483 Newtown, then onto the A489 for a short distance before the A470 to Rhayader passing through Llanidloes and Llangurig. To the Tyllwyd campsite at Cwmystwyth same as above.
For simple Elan River walks see Elan Valley Visitor Centre. There are fantastic Bothy experiences in the area if you are intrepid enough.