In the days before the internet, if we fancied a short break in the UK, we picked up a brochure from a travel agent. Dougie and I would choose somewhere based on one photo and a few lines of text. Every year we would see the Lake Vyrnwy hotel in Wales and wonder what it would be like to stay in a wonderful place with no vowels. It took until 2023 before we actually made the decision to visit. It was Dougie’s idea. As soon as he mentioned the name – well, probably the second time, once he’d got his tongue around the pronunciation – I was hooked on the idea. And all the info I needed was on the website.
Lake Vyrnwy and its hotel
Lake Vyrnwy Hotel & Spa in Powys, Wales, sits grandly at the end of a huge reservoir created in the 1880s to provide a water supply for Liverpool. The road network to reach the hotel is great: A and B roads all the way from the M54. Just a shame we live in the east of the country and have to navigate round Birmingham with traffic and roadworks. Honestly, if we lived in the west, I’d visit Wales all the time.
The lake is about the size of 600 football pitches with a perimeter of 19km (12 miles). It’s managed by the RSPB and Hafren Dyfrdwy (part of Severn Trent Water).
The hotel itself is positioned a little higher up than the lake shore which allows for the most incredible views from the dining room, terraces and bedroom windows. It’s one of those hotels which has a country house charm, where you can return after a long day’s walk, pull off your muddy boots and relax by an open fire. We chose to stay for three-nights on a dinner, bed & breakfast basis. It was excellent value and included a free bottle of Prosecco every night while we were staying.
The dining room is cleverly designed so that nearly every table has a decent view of the lake. The tables for two directly by the window are particularly good. Evening meals are chosen from the main menu: scallops, hake, venison, steaks etc or the cheaper tapas-style sharing menu: bao buns, meatballs, fajitas. Breakfasts are table-served with the usual hot and cold options. The food was very good and service was relaxed and friendly. Local gins went down nicely too.
Walking around Lake Vyrnwy
We weren’t sure how to spend our two full days. We had thought we might drive to nearby towns such as Oswestry. However, once we’d settled into the hotel, the idea of leaving the lake area was unthinkable. There are several walking trails which start from various points on the lake shore. There’s also the option of doing a complete walk around the perimeter. This is certainly doable but it’s a tarmac road so we decided to leave that to the cyclists.
As our first day was pretty rainy, we drove to the far end of Lake Vyrnwy. From the car park there we picked up the Rhiwargor Waterfall trail and happily plodged up the valley to the waterfall and back again.
Giant Hand of Vyrnwy
On our way back we stopped the car by the side of the road to walk a few yards into the woods. The highlight here was the Giant Hand of Vyrnwy, a 50ft sculpture by Simon O’Rourke completed in 2011. This beautiful Douglas Fir had been the tallest tree in Wales before it was damaged by storms. A plan was devised to commission a piece of art using the tree stump. Simon created the giant hand (modelled on his own) to show the tree’s last attempt to reach the sky. Here’s my Douglas trying to emulate it.
As the weather was warm and sunny the following day, we left the car at the hotel and walked across the dam to the southern shore of Lake Vyrnwy. There’s a small village, Llanwddyn, which has a great little cafe. Most of the original village was submerged when the reservoir was created. On this side of the lake are the toilet facilities provided by Severn Trent Water. It’s quite sad to be excited about toilets but you know what I’m like about loo breaks. These were superb. If I’m being picky, can I suggest they put another set on the north shore?
This second day was perfect as we walked a couple of trails. It was just so lovely pottering about along the shore and up the valley sides, always with the backdrop of Lake Vyrnwy.
The Straining Tower
The focal point of most photos of Lake Vyrnwy is the straining tower which is essentially the intake tower to extract water from the lake. What makes this functional piece of engineering such a delight is its design – Gothic Revival based on the tower at Chillon Castle on Lake Geneva. A little bit of fairytale magic.