Monday, November 19, 2007

Quiet, Peaceful, Serene

So where’s your favourite place? If you could go anywhere in the world which destination would you chose? My dumb fear of flying limits my choices but it’s no matter because I wouldn’t need to travel far – just an hour or so North West.

I love Elan Valley in Wales. I love the way that, despite being heavily resculptured in the early 1900s the landscape seems so stunningly natural. You have these huge dams carving into the valley that should spoil things but the amazing Victorian architecture just works to make the area hauntingly beautiful.
I love the silence that seems to hang over the Valley. Admittedly if you visit on a Sunday the peace is disrupted by the plethora of bikers that are drawn to the windy roads but go another day of the week and you can be truly alone with nature.

The original dams were opened in 1904, built to supply Birmingham with fresh clean water and halt the spread of disease in the second City. The amazing thing is it all works by gravity, the water travels the 73 miles on a very gradual slope of 1 in 2,300 Could we build something so simple, so elegant and so sympathetic to the landscape yet so perfectly functional today? Worryingly I doubt it. Though the efforts of the newer dam, opened in 1952 do give me hope. It was built using totally different construction methods – the improvement of concrete technology meant that they could build a damn three times the size of the originals – but of course it wouldn’t look like the originals. What did the designers do to blend it in? The covered it in stone to echo the Victorian architecture of the originals. A lot of cost to serve no purpose other than aesthetics – something I doubt we’d justify today.

I’ve you’ve never been to Elan Valley I urge you to back your best camera and a packed lunch and head there as soon as possible to marvel at man made beauty – made in the days when we could build things on budget, on schedule and still have the finished product serve it purpose.

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