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Last Updated: Friday, 10 October, 2003, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Drought reveals poet's hidden depths
Nantgwyllt House, copyright Powys Digital History Project
Nantgwyllt House was demolished

Shrinking water levels in a group of mid Wales reservoirs are revealing the secrets of a literary legend's rural retreat.

A drought affecting the Elan Valley's reservoirs has exposed the garden walls of Nantgwyllt House and Cwm Elan, where poet Percy Bysshe Shelley once stayed.

Parts of the walls have reappeared in recent years, but they are now more visible than any time in the 100 years since they went under water.

Levels have dropped so low that the reservoirs are some 40ft below their maximum, said Severn Trent works manager Noel Hughes.

"It is not as alarmist as it sounds, but we are doing the rain dance as quickly as possible," he said.

Shelley and his new bride Harriet stayed at Nantgwyllt House, and later at Cwm Elan, in about 1812.

Important landowners and magistrates used to live in the area and there was once a little chapel but it was all swept away in one go
Gavin Hooson, historian

They wanted to buy the house but failed, and years later properties in the area were demolished to make way for the reservoirs.

After leaving Wales, Shelley abandoned Harriet and she drowned herself in London in 1816.

Now the area of mid Wales where they once stayed is a beauty spot and a draw for tourists.

"We have hundreds of visitors here and they are always interested in the history of the reservoirs built around 100 years ago," said Ann Lawrence, tourist information worker at the Elan Valley Visitor Centre.

"The whole area is very impressive and there is lots of solitude".

'Screaming need'

Visitors are expected to flock to the reservoirs to see the walls before the rain comes.

Gavin Hooson, project leader of the Powys Digital History Project, said fans of Shelley would probably be interested in the newly-revealed site.

"Important landowners and magistrates used to live in the area and there was once a little chapel but it was all swept away in one go.

"It was sad the community went but there was a screaming need for clean water in Birmingham where hundreds of people were dying," he added.

Water - and its connections to Shelley's life - has been noted by many students of the lyric poet.

Water levels are a fraction of what they should be and about 70m gallons of water from the Elan Valley are used by Birmingham residents every day.

Tthe five reservoirs in the Elan Valley hold about 20,000m gallons.

Fiona Wase, an educational ranger, said people interested in seeing the walls should be aware there was no path.

Walkers can contact the Elan Valley Visitor Centre.

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