Penllergare Valley Woods

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The Upper Lake and Waterfall

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Here’s the first in a series of blogs about the historic features of Penllergare Valley Woods. This week we’re focusing on the Upper Lake (also known as the Fish Pond) and the waterfall – both of which are incorporated in the current restoration project. Here goes…

In 1839, as part of John Dillwyn Llewelyn’s continuing programme of creating a picturesque landscape at Penllergare, the waterfall and two lakes were formed. The engineer of these projects is not known, but it may have been William Hicks-Beach, a young engineer and friend of Llewelyn.

Upper Lake (Fish Pond)

In Victorian Penllergare, the Upper Lake was an impounded body of water covering some 1.3 hectares. It 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. He used the Upper Lake for picnics with his family and boating as well as fishing. A boathouse – otherwise known as the Shanty or Fairyland – was situated on the west bank, along which ran a wide, smoothly gravelled path. It was on the Upper Lake in 1848 that Llewelyn demonstrated his electric boat to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, although he had been experimenting with the work since 1841.

Upper Lake - Summer Evening.

Upper Lake – Summer Evening by John Dillwyn Llewelyn

Rustic Boathouse on the Estate by John Dillwyn Llewelyn

The Waterfall

In order to create the Upper Lake,  a dam was put up across the Afon Llan at a point where the valley deepens and narrows. From the lake the river cascaded over the dam by means of an artificial waterfall. This iconic waterfall – still in good condition today – is a masterpiece of nineteenth century engineering and one of the jewels of the Penllergare landscape. It was constructed from massive blocks of masonry held together with iron ties over which the water cascades in three separate falls. A path flanked by boulders leads along the western crest of the dam to a viewing point from which are obtained views over the lake, across the waterfall and downstream to the Old Bridge.

The Waterfall, Penllergare, c.1850. Photograph by John Dillwyn Llewelyn

Writing in 1886, A Pettigrew provides a description of the lake and waterfall in its Victorian heyday:

“Advantage has been taken of the narrowness of the valley here to make a lake by throwing a bank across it and damming the stream. The lake is beautifully situated and its surface along the margin is covered with different kinds of Water lilies, while the steep banks on all sides are wooded down to the water’s edge. In the middle of the bank, at the lowest end of the lake, there is a strong bulwark composed of large blocks of stone, which forms the resisting power to the heavy weight of water at a point where the lake forms a cascade, which leaps boldly over a fall of 18 feet, … Both lakes are well stocked with trout which afford good sport to Mr Llewelyn and his friends from boats during the fishing season.”

Boat on Upper Lake - JDL

Boat on Upper Lake – JDL

The Upper Lake and Waterfall Today

The waterfall and lake were popular photographic subjects for John Dillwyn Llewelyn and members of his family. Today, the massive embankment of the M4 motorway and the A48 cuts across its original upper end and the surviving portion of the lake is heavily silted and overgrown. Even so, the magical qualities depicted in John Dillwyn Llewelyn’s photographs are still discernable.

Upper Lake December 2012

Upper Lake December 2012

Upper Lake May 2013

Upper Lake May 2013 following clearance work by woodland volunteers

As part of the 2012-15 restoration poject, the Upper Lake will be de-silted in order to reinstate it to its historic form and prevent total reversion to marshland. The waterfall will also be repaired. What’s more, an Archimedes screw microhydropower turbine will be installed underground on the east bank of the waterfall to generate renewable energy and to help fund future maintenance.  If you’d like to find out more or get involved as a volunteer, do get in touch. Email or call 01792 344224.

The Waterfall December 2012

The Waterfall December 2012


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