Monday, 20 October 2014

Llangollen Canal Part 1 - Whitchurch to Llangollen

The second week in September saw us 'take the fastest way to slow down' (holiday brochure quote -  but for once correct); a canal boat from Whitchurch to Llangollen and back (with friends Sue and Andy).

Lets start with some geography -the Llangollen Canal leaves the Shropshire Union Canal just north of Nantwich in rural Cheshire and climbs through deserted Shropshire farmlands to cross the border into Wales near Chirk. It then cuts through increasingly hilly countryside to finish alongside the River Dee, just above Llangollen. It is 41 miles long.

The section we did from Whitchurch to Llangollen included two locks, three tunnels and the aqueducts at Chirk and Pontcysyllte. The 18 kilometre length between Chirk and Llangollen was awarded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 2009.


After lunch and a wander around the medieval centre of Whitchurch we collected our 60foot narrow boat from Whitchurch Marina. A gentle cruise of about 5 miles took us to a mooring at Prees Junction where there is a short length of the Prees Branch of the Canal (which never actually reached the village of Prees and is now only one mile long).

A beautiful evening saw geese coming home for the night to the Nature Reserve that surrounds the canal. The Fenn's, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses National Nature Reserve is the third largest lowland raised peat bog in Britain.


The sunset was the first of of several that were quite memorable.


I was woken at 6:15 to shouts of  'get your camera out ' and as soon as I had looked out of the boat I could see why -

 Once again we were treated to a fly past of geese 

 First cup of coffee of the day

 Cobwebs and a last look at a superb first mooring.


Last view of Prees Junction before we set off.

First bridge of the morning (Cornhill Bridge) and we met a boat with a gentleman sat at the front celebrating his 80th birtday!

The short (87yard) Ellesmere Tunnel was next.

We carried on past the Ellesmere Branch (to be explored on our return)and then started to catch up a couple of boats  - in the distance is Val Hill, a tree topped glacial mound which addes a few bends to the canal.

I got off the boat and walked ahead to look for a lunch time mooring (and a chance to photo our boat making its leisurely progress).

We did soon stop and Andy spotted a bird of prey keeping watch.

Soon after we started off again we had to pull a boat off a shallow bank - all part of the fun of cruising.

Next up was the only two locks we had to negociate - New Marton Locks - 12 foot 4inches - not very deep.

We decided to spend the night just up stream of the locks (upstream is the correct term as the Llangollen Canal does have a current with a noticable flow).

A friendly duck,

a glass of wine,

another sunset,

and a bright moon to finish the day.


A misty start to the day again

and a Happy Birthday to me!

An old man we passed on the canal bank - he seemed very contented.

Today we went to Chirk Castle ( a brisk walk or in our case a short taxi ride) away from the canal.

The Castle was completed in 1310 during the reign of the conquering Edward I to subdue the last princes of Wales. It was built on an outcrop above the meeting point of the rivers Dee and Ceiriog.  The state rooms include a 17th-century Long Gallery, grand 18th-century saloon with rich tapestries, servants' hall, and the restored East Range, containing the library and 1920s style Bow Room showing off Chirk Castle’s connections to high society.

The award-winning gardens cover 5.5 acres of manicured lawns, clipped yews, herbaceous borders, beautiful rose, shrub and rock gardens, and the wooded pleasure ground.

The statue of Hercules was relocated to the gardens in the 1980′s using a helicopter to extract it from the nearby woodland.

The castle gates were built by the Davies Brothers, renowned iron craftsmen from near Wrexham.  They look out of place at their current location by the lodge, which is not suprising as they were originally erected in a more imposing position close to the castle 

On the way back from the castle we had a look at the Chirk Aquaduct from the view point above the entrance to Chirk Tunnel.

The aquaduct was opened in 1801, is  70-foot (21 m) high and 710-foot (220 m) long and carries the canal  across the Ceiriog Valley. It consists of an iron trough suported by ten masonry arches. The adjacent railway viaduct was built forty years later.

After crossing the aquaduct you enter a broad pool  which then leads to the Chirk Tunnel.

The tunnel is 459 yards long and has a towpath running through, removingthe need for the old practise of 'legging'.

A short distance north brought us to Froncysyllte,  a small village reached after a passge along a shelf in the valley side above the River Dee. We spent the night here with a dual celebration of my birthday and Sue & Andy's wedding anniversary in the local pub - The Aquaduct.


Viewed from the canal the following morning, The Aquaduct  pub is hard to miss!

Before then we had our first glimpse of the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct.

By way of introduction an information board shows the aquaduct...

..and more comes from

  • Pontcysyllte means 'the bridge that connects'.
  • There are 18 piers 126ft high, and 19 arches each with a 45ft span.
  • To keep the aqueduct as light as possible, the slender masonry piers are partly hollow and taper at their summit.
  • The mortar was made of oxen blood, lime and water. Kind of like treacle toffee.
  • The aqueduct holds 1.5 million litres of water and takes two hours to drain.
  • The structure is 1,007ft long, with the River Dee running beneath it.
  • The work was undertaken by Thomas Telford and supervised by the more experienced canal engineer William Jessop.
  • The first stone was laid in July 1795. It was completed in 1805 using local stone.
  • This is the largest aqueduct in Britain. It's fed by water from the Horseshoe Falls near Llangollen.
  • The water runs through an iron trough that measures 11ft 10ins wide and 5ft 3ins deep.
It's called 'The Stream in the Sky' and it is quite incredible.

The towpath side of the iron trough has railings, the other side is completely unprotected from about 12 inches above the water level.

You don't look down on this side unless you have a head for heights!

On the far side of the aquaduct is a basin where the canal was to have carried on to Wrexham and then Chester linking the Mersey and the Severn. The demands of the route and recession following the Napoleonic Wars thwarted this plan, leaving a simple transport wharf. by the village of Trevor.

At the basin you turn right  to follow the Vale of Llangollen. This branch was built to provide a feeder from the River Dee once it was definite that the mainline would not be completed. The canal here is  narrow and not very deep.

There are some stretches of 'one way working'

The canal approaches Llangollen  above the River Dee giving views across the town as you finally arrive at the famour Llangollen Wharf.

We carried on to the mooring basin which is as far as hire boats can go. We then had time for lunch and a wander around the town...

... before going to the riverside station (seen the the photo above) and catching a steam train  on the Llangollen Railway for one stop to Berwyn Station.

The five-arched Kings Bridge Viaduct was built in 1902–6 over the River Dee at Berwyn.

Poster seen at Berwyn Station reminds me of my  childhood holidays

The reason for coming here was to go to the place where the canal draws its water from the River Dee. Designed by Thomas Telford in 1806, the Horseshoe Falls are a 460 feet (140 m) long man-made weir - shaped like a horse-shoe , which help create a pool of water that can enter (via an adjacent valve house and flow meter) the canal.

We walked back to Berwyn Station along side the narrow channel that is the start of the canal

 and then over the River Dee. The famous Chain Bridge can be seen in the distance.The first Chain Bridge was built in 1817 for Exuperius Pickering who had an extensive coal business.  The Chain Bridge has been rebuilt twice with the original chains being re-used, making them the oldest suspension chains in use in the world.

We then returned to the marina at Llangollen..

 ..and went for a meal at the 18th century Corn Mill.

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