How water gets from Wales to Birmingham
In the later 19th century, Birmingham grew rapidly as a city. At the time Birmingham’s water supply came from wells, and the river Tame, a polluted river. A lack of clean water led to outbreaks of disease such as cholera.
How was this problem to be solved? The Birmingham Corporation Water Act was passed in 1892. This authorised the purchase of land in Mid Wales on the Rivers Elan and Claerwen. Three reservoirs were built to provide water for Birmingham, together with the means to transport it to the city – the Elan Valley Aqueduct. Construction started in 1893.
The aqueduct carries drinking water 73 miles from the Elan Valley to Birmingham. Most of it lies underground. The water travels at roughly 2 miles per hour. The Elan Valley is on higher land than Birmingham and the gradient carries the water on its way. It takes one and a half to three days to arrive at the reservoirs in Birmingham.
The water ends up in two reservoirs – Frankley Reservoir and Bartley Reservoir, both in Bartley Green.
Dwale the tale
Being a dragon is a lonely life. There are not many left alive, having been hunted to almost extinction by armoured knights of old who saw it as the height of bravery to kill a dragon. They would return to the King’s court with a team of oxen dragging the massive carcass behind them. The shimmering scales would be stripped away to make flowing cloaks to be offered to the princess of their heart’s desire who, swooning at the magnificent gift, would agree to give their hand in marriage.
Dragons grew wiser, realising that issuing streams of scorching fire from their nostrils was no longer the fearful deterrent it had been, and resorted to secrecy. Few ever saw a dragon. Even the memory of them faded into folklore.
Melys was the most careful of dragons. She spent her life hidden deep in a cave during the hours of daylight to avoid detection. The cave was not huge and in the long summer days, she dragged herself out of the cave on aching legs, stretching them to ease off cramp. Melys flew only under the cover of darkness, snatching fluffy sheep in her claws, tearing into their flesh as she fed. The scattered remnants of wispy blood-stained wool were thought by farmers to be evidence of dog attacks.
Shimmi relaxed, letting the broad waters of the River Severn wash over him. After the turmoil of the Bristol Channel, this was heaven. No need to dodge the busy ships crisscrossing the waters, no need to be on high alert for prying eyes hoping to catch glimpses of magnificent creatures such as himself, or worse catch them with their wicked grappling hooks. He was eager and able to take advantage of the lush green trees that lined the banks and the peacefulness that settled all around.
Shimmi was not huge, not as whales go, nor even large. He was quite small, much to the delight of his fellow whales who teased him mercilessly. He had decided he would be better off without them. This had led to his voyage into the Severn, a journey of self-exploration.
The Severn proved to be a long stretch of water which he lazily navigated till he arrived amid the most beautiful scenery he had ever experienced. Wales was lush and green with magnificent crags and valleys. He veered from the Severn cruising down wide-flowing rivers and gingerly making his way through tumbling streams.
One night as he was rolling in shallows to gaze at the awe-spiring stars twinkling in the darkness, he saw a shape moving across the sky. He traced its path, watching the stars fade out then back into sight. This was something he had no knowledge of – outspread wings like an albatross but bigger, so much bigger.
Then it happened. The winged darkness dropped out of the sky to the grassy hillside. An animal screamed its last cry. A flurry of white tufts drifted in the air. The kill was swift and clean. Shimmi was impressed, watching till the wings had headed out of view; he basked in the cool waters wondering what he had seen.
With little else to occupy his time, Shimmi began to look for this winged instrument of death. He saw it several times more – once you knew what to look for, it became easier to find. Lonely green hillsides with their smattering of sheep were prime hunting grounds but only on dark nights. Never when the moon was full.
One night, Shimmi froze in the water. He knew he had been spotted. He suspected that he could not swim fast enough to outwit those wings. He shuddered in the water, awaiting his fate. Yet the wings landed gently close to the water’s edge.
In the language without words that is intelligible to all the natural kingdom apart from man, the dark wings told him not to fear. And so a conversation started – two lonely creatures alone till they discovered each other. As time passed, as is the way with many relationships, Melys and Shimmi took the path to producing offspring.
Dragon eggs take a long time to hatch. Their grey mottled shell can easily be mistaken for stones, smooth and rounded but unbreakable. They take a good two years for the life inside to be ready to meet the world. It’s a long wait to welcome a new hatchling. Melys and Shimmi decided a good place to keep their egg safe would be amongst the stones that lie at the bottom of a river bed. The river Claerwen seemed an ideal choice.
Dragon eggs don’t need a dragon to sit on them as hens do. Dragons are cold-blooded – there is no warmth to give. Of course, there is also the issue of food. No one kindly feeds a dragon, scattering food for them to help themselves. Dragons must seek their own food. They cannot even stay close to the egg. To steal too many sheep in one area would be to risk discovery.
Yes, the river was a good hiding place. Shimmi kept an eye on the precious egg, checking it was safe as he floated on the gently flowing waters, scooping up the small fish that thrive in abundance in the clear river waters of silky green Wales.
Shimmi had noticed activity around the river for some time but had put his concerns to one side. The increase of humans was irritating and spoiled the peacefulness but this had been going on for many years. The influx had heightened, the noise from picks and shovels clanging on granite intensified. One day something strange happened. The river stopped its steady flow. The waters swirled, turned back on themselves, vying for position with nowhere to go. Shimmi was buffeted, mystified, and scared. He called to Melys, hoping she would hear him from afar, as she was off on her travels hunting for food.
Melys heard his distant plea and started her journey back as soon as night fell. The scene before her eyes was extraordinary. The mighty river had been stopped in its tracks. The waters covered the grass of the valley. The fields where she feasted on sheep were no more.
Her anguish was formidable. Her egg. Their egg. What had become of it? Shimmi understood. He searched the vast area of water. Exhausted, he was, at last, able to confirm that the precious egg was still lying safely at the bottom of this manmade lake.
The tiny hatchling was a delight to behold. Silvery limbs iridescent in the sunlight that on good days penetrated the waters. Melys and Shimmi were very proud and filled with love for this tiny creature that resembled neither of them entirely. A long narrow body shaped like a dart with rudimentary wings that looked as if they would grow as he did. It would take a long time for him to mature to full size, however big that may be. For no one knew. This was a new creature of a sort never before seen. Dwale they called him. Melys and Shimmi looked forward to watching over him for many years of loving parenting.
One fateful day, Shimmi, devastated, reported to Melys that he was unable to find the hatchling. He had searched every inch of the huge flood. Melys searched from the air – dragons do not swim – calling to her baby. Shimmi left the lake to scour the rivers that led to it. Melys followed water courses from the air, plaintively calling her little one.
Fear and despair, sadness and desperation – these can make you reckless. She had now searched for many years, watching humans come and go, generation after generation. Strange creatures they were with their noise and machines and their determination to shape the land to their whims.
One terrible night, Melys made a mistake. She was spotted cruising the night sky, wings outstretched. The clouds obscuring the moon were abruptly blown away by wind gusting from a hurricane in America hitting the Welsh coastline.
A field of late-night revellers still awake and partying long after the festival had ended saw the unmistakable outline against the almost full moon.
Of course when daylight came and their stories trickled to Instagram, and news outlets, and eventually the police, many dismissed them as the result of the festival. Many people nodded wisely. They’d had previous experience of these sorts of affairs that should be banned in their opinion.
More thoughtful people, especially those with some little connection to the medical field, attributed the sighting to mass hysteria. Things like this had happened before. They evidenced this theory by citing the name of one of the bands that had played – Dragonfly. Obviously, this had influenced the hallucination.
People who thought they were able to recognise the truth insisted that all photos depicting a dragon had been photoshopped. Yet Wales remembers its dragons. Hunters, both those armed with cameras and regrettably those armed with guns, headed to Wales in force searching for the dragon, each wishing for the glory of the knights of old, each wanting to be the first to tame the dragon.
Melys was forced to take cover, at risk of her life, sinking into deep depression. She could no longer search for her hatchling. What she did not know was that the news sensation had faded as more news-worthy headlines took precedence. Melys was never seen again.
Dwale was surprised by his journey but found it pleasant enough. The waters carried him slowly on a gently downward gradient. The brick tunnels were dark and gloomy, the huge round pipes echoed with reverberating water. The machinery that seemed to keep the water flowing was a bit scary but he came through unscathed. Little did he know as he saw the sun rise and fall, then rise again, that he had covered seventy-three miles of man-made waterways to be deposited into the prestigious Bartley reservoir, a magnificent feat of engineering to bring fresh water to the people of steadily growing Birmingham.
Loving his new surroundings, calm and peaceful, Dwale steadily grew in size. He waits for the day when his wings will be strong enough for him to take flight, to be able to glide above the waters, to explore his surroundings. And wistfully, he dreams of finding Melys and Shimmi.
Dwale - a sonnet
Local poet Ian S has composed for us
a Shakespearean sonnet dedicated to Dwale
Beyond the mythic mists of time sublime
where Wales portentous peaks abound in tales,
both tall and round, laconic cwms, whose rhymes
cascade their crystal clear words into vales
where dragon-like whales, or whale-like dragons,
enshrined in yesterlore, emerge from stone-
like eggs. Beyond the viscous tracts of dam-
nation by man - mystical beasts, alone,
are thrown aside. By sub-terrain commute,
without consent, young Dwale’s chaotic swim,
abrupt to Brum, betrayed him, resolutely
marooned on a mill-pond synonym.
Domains of dragons still exist; effu-
-sing, they persist. Fake folk is not fake news.