Penllergare Valley Woods

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Fairy Land Alive Again

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Above Upper Lake - Watercolour painting by Emma Charlotte c.1860

Above Upper Lake – Watercolour painting by Emma Charlotte c.1860

On the west bank of Upper Lake, there used to be a little boathouse (the Shanty) made from old timbers with the front supported by an old tree. In the summer this was decorated with roses growing all over the roof and when photographed was called Fairy Land. It was photographed many times in the 1850s and is shown on a painting by his daughter, Emma Charlotte. The Upper Lake (which John Dillwyn Llewelyn called the Fishpond) was probably John Dillwyn Llewelyn’s favourite location and mirrored the rugged picturesqueness of the steeply sloping valley and diversity of planting on both sides. At one end, damming the river, John designed a waterfall of rough quarried stone that, today, has become the focal point of Penllergare. See further photos: Fairyland, Shanty and Wigwam (from 2008 Conservation Management Plan)

Today, there is no trace of the Shanty unfortunately. See Dyfed Archaeology Evaluation 2010. “The approximate location of The Shanty however can be estimated from studying the historical illustrations and the 1877 Ordnance Survey map. It was located on the west bank of the Upper Lake on the north side of a small bay. Photographs of the 1850s show that The Shanty sat approximately 1.2m – 1.5m above the water on a stone foundation with rustic stone steps leading down to the lake. It was a rustic structure, with a shingle roof supported by untrimmed tree trunks. The photographs show that it functioned as a summerhouse and boathouse, with the dock for a small boat situated between the stone foundation and the west bank of the lake. A path ran alongside the lake and past The Shanty.”

Surrounding the mansion house were more formal gardens, a tennis court, summerhouse and walkways, with many paths leading down into the valley, along natural terraces and down flights of steps.

Near the Shanty by John Dillwyn Llewelyn c.1852

Near the Shanty by John Dillwyn Llewelyn c.1852

Today, near the old shanty site, on the west flank, below the formal gardens and largely submerged in undergrowth and volunteer trees, there remains a complex of these terraces. Features include revetments, paths, steps, walls, a possible well, rockeries and enigmatic buttress/stub walls. According to a survey of the Upper Lake by Cambria Archaeology in 2006, a small quarry  was adopted as part of the garden. “A stream was diverted into it via a small leat creating a waterfall at the back of the quarry, and possibly a second waterfall at the mouth of the quarry. To the south of this quarry a natural rock outcrop also seems to have been quarried and again with a stream diverted into it creating a waterfall.  A dam, now in poor condition, supplied these leats, although as they are at different levels it is difficult to envisage how they could have been supplied simultaneously. The flow of water into the dam and into the leats has been disrupted by later constructions upstream. The waterfall  would have been visible from a flight of steps that leads down the steep slope (see image (right)).”

Only six months ago, the vegetation in this area was deciduous woodland, much of it 20th century regeneration, with a very dense rhododendron under-storey. Thanks to community support, an exciting restoration project is underway to bring this area and the rest of Penllergare Valley Woods back to life. Over the Autumn months, our woodland volunteers have been clearing the rhododendron scrub and have been revealing some exciting historical features for everyone to see, explore and enjoy.

Only this weekend, a local walker took this photo of the recently uncovered waterfall “near the shanty”. The Shanty may be gone but Fairy Land is very much still alive don’t you think?

The Little Cascade Above Upper Lake by Carey Beor via Facebook - January 2013

The Little Cascade Above Upper Lake by Carey Beor via Facebook – January 2013

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