Drovers retreat Woodland Walk
Looking at the tranquil scene of our Drovers Woodland walk, you may think this valley has been like this since forever. Not so, this area has seen many changes over the last couple of centuries.
A long history
For many hundreds of years, this area was simply a wooded valley cut through by a stream. Since Mediaeval times a Drovers Road had passed through it, along which cattle and sheep were walked between west Wales and the livestock markets of London and elsewhere in England.
Until the 1870s, the main road between Knighton and Penybont (now the A488) passed through the farm the other side of Drovers Retreat, where it partly followed a Roman military road. Probably due to the steeper gradients of the old route, the road was moved to cut through our valley.
An old gentleman visited Dolau village some years ago, and Carolyn met him. His parents had run the village shop. He had a vivid memory of playing as a child (probably in the early 1930s) in the part of the main road called the Graig Loop. He stopped playing as he heard a car (an unusual thing then) approaching from the direction of Knighton. As he watched it, moving fairly slowly along the road, he realised that it was moving backwards. He then saw it was being driven by the local vicar. He heard later that the vicar’s car had problems with its forward gears, and could only be driven backwards. Probably not a sight we would see today!
Birmingham’s Water Supply
In 1898 things again changed dramatically in the valley. Birmingham had expanded rapidly during the Industrial Revolution, but living conditions for the mass of people who had moved there for work, were appalling. Water-borne diseases were rampant, but under the leadership of local MP Joseph Chamberlain, a monumental plan was developed to bring safe, fresh water from the Elan and Claerwen rivers in mid Wales. This was a staggering piece of civil engineering, with much of the work of building the dams and the pipeline to Birmingham being carried out by hand. The pipe is tall enough to walk through, and its route passes directly beneath the Drovers Woodland walk - 300 feet down.
As a result of all the tunnelling required, there was a temporary village for navvies close by. By the 1901 census, two of these huts remained and about thirty people still lived in them, presumably finishing this section of the pipeline. We don’t know the exact location of the huts, but the records show that one man died and his grandchild was born in 1898 and 1899. The man who died was 72, and his death certificate lists one of the causes of death as “Exhaustion”. Although the management methods used on this scheme were enlightened for its time, life remained very tough for the labourers.
So, from a secluded wooded valley, the area was now filled will spoil from the excavations for the pipeline. We know a steam crane was operating here, and several tools, as well as coke and clinker have been found.
In the 1930s, the large horseshoe loop of the main road (the Graig Loop) was straightened out into the carriageway we see today, leaving the loop as a beautiful area which nature is now claiming back for its own.
Further disruption in 2015
The area was further disturbed in 2015 when Severn Trent Water company excavated the area, checking on the pipeline’s safety after 100 years.
Now, by keeping sheep out of the area, nature is taking over, and wild flowers and shrubs can again flourish. Trees destroyed by Severn Trent’s excavations have been replaced, and the area planted with new trees.
Now, all that can be seen of the massive disruption of the water pipeline is the canal in which the stream was contained during the pipeline construction work, and the concrete hut in which they stored the explosives when blasting the pipeline through the rock.
We have cut pathways through the area to enable our visitors to enjoy the area. We hope you do.