The Elan Valley is a river valley situated to the west of Rhayader, in Powys, Wales, sometimes known as the "Welsh Lake District". It covers 70 square miles (180 km2) of lake and countryside.
Abundant rivers and water here, together with the elevated position meant that this was chosen as the site for the reservoir system to supply England's second largest city Birmingham.
Water from the reservoirs is carried by gravity to Frankley Reservoir in Birmingham via the Elan aqueduct. Pumping is not required because the network drops 52 metres (171 ft) along its 73 miles (117 km) length from its source to Frankley. A gradient of 1:2300 maintains a flow of less than 2 miles per hour (3.2 km/h); water takes two and a half to three days to reach Birmingham. The aqueduct, which was started in 1896 and opened in 1906, crosses several valleys and features numerous brick tunnels, pipelines, and valve houses.
In 1892, the British government passed the Birmingham Corporation Water Act allowing the council to effect compulsory purchase of the total water catchment area of the Elan and Claerwen valleys (approximately 180 square kilometres (69 sq mi). The Act also gave Birmingham the powers to move more than 100 people living in the Elan Valley. All the buildings were demolished; these included three manor houses , 18 farms, a school and a church.
The landscape today is mainly home to thousands of wild roaming sheep which are left largely untended for most of their lives, only rounded up for lambing and shearing. A friend of mine who dated an Albanian who had recently come to England recounted how they had driven through mid Wales and how her friend from Albania was most perturbed by who was looking after the sheep and who owned them, he couldn't understand how hundreds of square miles of sheep could just be left without shepherds, and why nobody was stealing them.