Wales is full of majestic mountains and covered in ancient forests. But few travelers realize that deep within these alluring landscapes lie countless lakes. Some are shrouded in folklore and legend, while others embrace their remote location, providing an idyllic setting for hiking, meditation, or the more daring adventure of wild swimming.
We’ve included 12 of the best:
National Botanic Gardens of Wales
Following a five-year, £7m restoration project, the National Botanic Gardens of Wales have restored a number of Regency lakes. These lakes were originally created by William Paxton in the 18th and 19th centuries to supply water to his farm in Middleton. These lakes are a pristine example of a Regency landscape garden.
Surrounded by a beautiful trail, visitors see a calm, quiet lake one moment, and the next the air is humming over a waterfall, waterfall and dam.
Along this route you will see Pwll yr Ardd, which means garden pool; Llyn Uchaf, translated Upper Lake; and Llyn Canol, meaning Middle Lake. Llyn Mawr is the largest lake, covering over 65,000m2, while Llyn Felin Gat overlooks a beautiful wooden bridge. If you’re lucky, you might see perennials, hellebores, lilies, otters and kingfishers.
Talley Abbey is the only Premontrean religious building in Wales. Behind its skeletal remains are Talley’s twin lakes, separated by a thin promontory. These were formed during the last ice age.
Not surprisingly, the name of the monastery was Talley (Talylychau), which means head of the lakes. Alajärvi covers an area of 27 hectares and is surrounded by alder and willow gardens and reeds. Due to its remote location, there are ducks, swans and loons. Lake Superior is about 16 acres in size, and in the summer you can see yellow and white water lilies floating on the surface.
About 17 miles from Llyn y Fan Fach is Dinefwr Park, which shares the story of the Lady of the Lake, as the estate’s white cattle are believed to be from the same herd she raised. This lake is located in an old deer park and is known as the lake of reflections because it makes you look richer than you are.
According to legend, a farmer used the lake to reflect himself and his ten cattle to make it appear that he had twenty cows, and he won the challenge to save his life.
Llyn and Fan Fach
To get to Llyn y Fan Fach is a six kilometer hike to the top. There you will come across a wild ridge known as Bannau Sir Gaer, which runs alongside a mysterious glacial lake. Shrouded in folklore, Llyn y Fan Fach is associated with the Lady of the Lake myth.
According to the story, in the 13th century, a young farmer saw a beautiful woman rising from the lake. He won her hand on the condition that if he struck her three times, she would leave him. Unfortunately, the farmer shot him and he disappeared back into the lake, taking the magical Pets with him and leaving his children behind. These boys became known as the Doctors of Myddfai who treated the English royal court.
The lake, a haven for wildlife such as fish, red kites, crows, buzzards and kestrels. Although there is a sign that says “no wild bathing”, travelers have sometimes ignored this rule and said it’s worth the risk!
Elan Valley Lakes
Almost the entire 180 square kilometers of the Elan Valley is covered by 12 special scientific sites. There are many dams in this country that supply Birmingham with drinking water. The elegant Craig Coch is the tallest of these, rising 1,040 feet above sea level with a sprawling loch behind Birmingham’s baroque architecture.
Garreg Ddu and Pen y Garreg Dams are also quite popular, surrounded by a colony of trees and rolling hills that make the landscape look like a cross between the Lake District and Great Hogwarts.
Caban Coch is the lowest dam, which resembles a natural waterfall and offers a peaceful walk by the lake among the bluebells.
Finally, Claerwen is twice the size of the other dams and its reservoir is almost as large as all the other lakes combined. There is a 6km footpath that starts on the north shore of the lake and takes travelers around the Claerwen National Nature Reserve.
Bosherston Lily Ponds are located on the Stackpole Estate which is owned and managed by the National Trust. It is believed that King Arthur found his sword, Excalibur, here and that this was his last stop before heading for Avalon.
There are many swans and pikes in the ponds and water lilies cover the surface of the lake in the summer months. In the fall, take a one-mile walk around the lakes to see orange, yellow and red reflections in the water or keep an eye out for otters.
By Llynnau Cregennan
The lake has rather morbid origins, as its name derives from the Welsh Crog-gangen, meaning crooked branch. The criminals are said to have been hanged from the branch of a nearby oak tree. Situated on the northern slopes of Cadair Idris, some 250 meters above sea level and overlooking the Mawddach Estuary, Llynnau Cregennan is one of the most beautiful locations in Snowdonia National Park.
The land around the lake is owned by the National Trust and has rural features such as two small hilltop farms, grazing sheep and fishermen hoping to catch trout. It’s also a great place to explore Welsh prehistoric history, with circles of Bronze Age huts and Neolithic rocks.
Lake Vyrnwy in Powys was built in 1880 to supply fresh water to Liverpool. The lake itself contains 12 billion gallons of water and is five miles long and half a mile wide.
With moorland, woodland and farmland, Lake Vyrnwy has been designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest. Home to 40,000 trout, it has little pollution, making the lake one of the best places for stargazing in the UK. The 12-kilometer flat route around the lake is perfect for cyclists. Photographers tend to admire the pointed tower rising from the depths of the lake, known as Siivilätorni. It looks like a saddle castle and the arch bridge definitely adds to that idea.
Llangorse Lake, east of Brecon, is the largest natural lake in Wales. It is 145 meters above sea level and was formed millions of years ago.
Llangorse is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is popular with anglers for pike, bream, perch, eel and roach. At Llangorse Common you can hire a boat, stand up paddle board, and windsurf, jolla or rowing boat. Nature lovers will also love this location as it is home to an abundance of wildlife such as otters, voles, swallows, Canada geese, eagles, swifts and woodpeckers. One of the best ways to see these creatures is to follow the hiking trail around the West Bank to Llangasty Nature Reserve.
In addition, Llangorse Lake is known for its afanc (Lake Monster) called Gorsey and its crannog, the only one of its kind in Wales. The latter is an artificial island about 40 meters off the north coast and is more than 1000 years old.
The Talybont Reservoir in the Brecon Beacons is the largest standing water reservoir in the area, covering 318 hectares. Construction of the dam began in 1931, and in 1939 it began supplying Newport with water.
There is a 9.5 km route around the lake, which is considered easy and takes almost three hours. If you’re looking for a place to sit and look out over the water or lose yourself in a quiet wooded area, this is the hike for you.
Llyn Brianne Dam
At nearly 300 meters above sea level and containing over 64 million cubic meters of water, the Llyn Brianne Dam is the largest body of water in South Wales and the largest dam of its kind in Europe. The loch is tucked away in the upper Tywi valley between Carmarthenshire, Powys and Ceredigion, and as this part of Wales is sparsely populated you are in the heart of the countryside.
It’s a great place to bike, hike, and kayak or navigate the single track mountain roads. The remote nature of the area makes it excellent for bird watching and, having been awarded Dark Sky Discovery Site status in 2019, it is ideal for astrophotography.
Brombil Reservoir, tucked away in the Margam Valleys, is a turquoise lake surrounded by a colony of evergreen trees and dense vegetation. Its entire appearance is reminiscent of Thailand’s breathtaking landscape, and its remote location means that few, even the locals, know about it.
The walk to the reservoir goes through a forest that follows the river Arnallt with stepping stones. The route takes you to the banks of the reservoir, where you can enjoy wild swimming or hiking in the mountains. The latter is much steeper, but offers the best views of the lake and Newport’s steel mills.