Catching up still on the Llangollen

I’m many weeks behind sharing our autumnal adventures, so to catch up on our journey having done the “half full monty” we continued floating downstream along the Llangollen. We enjoyed a few days in Ellesmere,

Ellesmere basin


where the yarn bombers had adorned a letterbox to commemorate armistice day

Lest we forget

We do love a bit of street art, but sometimes canal artists know how to sum up the mood of the nation just as well

Bloody Corona indeed

Though sometimes you just can’t beat nature

A moment of joy

Our plan was to be off the Llangollen before the planned winter closures started on the 8th November, but we still had time to walk around Whitchurch. It has some lovely “old” timber framed buildings Not all of them quite as old as they seem being built in the 1930’s.

All walkers need a Walker’s pie and pastry


And then onto Marbury, which does have a genuine old church which claims to be home to the oldest pulpit in Cheshire, 1456

We still haven’t quite relaxed into properly exploring the places we visit, but churches usually feel a safe space to wander around midweek,

Even the grave yard was lovely to wander through

and we are very grateful to the communities who have left their doors unlocked for the likes of us.

But we’re not out of the woods yet with more Covid bridges to cross and canal bridges to float under.

Let’s do the full Monty

Arriving at Frankton locks

But, because the Montogomary canal is still one of those restoration projects that has an unnavigable section in the middle we could only get so far. But never the less we were both keen to explore as much as possible, so we booked our passage through the Frankton lock flight (which is only operational between 9am and 1pm each day) expecting to explore the viable 6 miles during a three night stay.

Something to look forward to

But we were in for another treat, this little used rural backwater proved to be a haven of peace and tranquility after the superhighway of the Llangollen. The friendly volockies suggested we stopped at the Weston junction for lunch, but we ended up staying 2 full days.

Reversing into our mooring at Weston junction


The Weston Arm was abandoned and filled in, but the first 100m or so now holds a services station and just room for a few boats to moor, but the junction itself has been created into meeting point for boaters, and walkers alike, with picnic tables and a small car park. Needless to say we made the most of some sunshine to relax.

A few days in the sunshine

In its heyday (the early 1800’s) the Monty was actually the main line built with the purpose of transporting lime to be used as agricultural fertilizer. Unlike many other canal companies the land owning shareholders made their money from increased agricultural output and profit as opposed to commercial traffic tolls. It was 35 miles long, intertwining between the English and Welsh border, from Frankton to Newtown.

A pity only 6 miles is navigable for narrowboats now

Nowadays the navigable section in only 6 miles to Gronwyn bridge 82, although the last mooring opportunity is at Spiggots Bridge 80. We moored overnight so we walked the last mile to the end.

Bridge 82, as far as we can go

We the last winding hole is just before the bridge, through a lift bridge, so I just waited for Firecrest to return before lowering it

Looking towards Gronwyn wharf and lift bridge

As we meandered slowly back along the twisty narrow canal we realised one of the reasons for having to book passage is to limit the number of boats because of the tricky route and limited mooring.

It’s a bit shallow and narrow in places


Our friends Kim and Paul have been cruising a similar route to us and we agreed to meet up at the Weston mooring to take advantage of the picnic table and the sunny weather and enjoyed a barbeque together.

In the end we extended our stay on the Monty to 6 nights and having reached Gronwyn we can add it to our list to claim a Golden Propeller badge. We’d recommend it to anyone travelling without time restrictions, if just for some peaceful time out.

Going with the flow

What a difference the flow of water makes to how fast we can travel, or rather how much less power it takes to travel back from Llangollen. We thought it best if I walked ahead again to act as the mobile traffic light. But it was a peaceful day and we didn’t meet many oncoming boats

Heading back to Trevor


We toyed with spending another night at Trevor but it was such a lovely day we cruised on, over the Pontycysllte aqueduct, this time I took the opportunity to have a better look over the edge

That’s a long way down


But soon thought better of that idea and leapt off…. onto the Towpath for another angle.

Crossing the aqueduct


We continued speeding (relatively) along through the Chirk tunnel. It took us roughly 20 minutes pushing upstream and about 7 minutes downstream and that was just thanks to the power of the flow carrying us.

Exiting Chirk tunnel


And over the aqueduct back into England.

Making the most of Llangollen

The powers that be place a £6 per night charge to moor in Llangollen but only permit a 2 night stay. We don’t object, it includes electricity, which for us is very cost effective. We’d happily pay for electric if only CRT would install accessible points along the cut. But that’s another issue, we were here in Llangollen and wanted to make the most of it.

Our mooring at Llangollen wharf

We wandered along the wharf to the shop that manages mooring fees, and found they also sell ice cream…. banana and chocolate chip….

And it tasted as good as it looks

We were off to a good start. This is where the horse drawn trip boat operates from.

Harley the horse and the James Brindley trip boat

Not only is it a treat to see the boat being pulled by a horse, the vessel itself is a object of beauty. Llangollen wharf has been a tourist attraction for well over 100 years and I’m not sure if the two trip boats are the restored originals or reproductions. They plod gently along what’s little more than a stream

Kings bridge 49W


With a photo opportunity at the chain bridge over the river and in true Dr Dolittle style, the horses and tiller are simply unbuckled and reattached for the return journey.

The chain bridge at Berwyn


However as there’s no winding hole beyond Llangollen basin, for us to turn firecrest around we chose to walk the remainder of the canal to its source.

The start of the Llangollen Canal


This is where we see the true reason for the Llangollen Canal. Not only did it transport goods such as coal and iron, it also carried the main water supply for South Cheshire.

The Horseshoe falls


The water flow is managed by an impressive 140m weir designed by Thomas Telford in 1808. Its known as the Horseshoe falls. As with most canals, the Llangollen has seen many owners over the years, usually the railway companies. After the decline of commercial traffic in the 1930s, in 1944, the London Midlands and Scottish railway were granted a parliamentary act of abandonment allowing it to close a 175 miles of canals. However the stretch now known as the Llangollen Canal was saved and maintained because it provided the main water supply south Cheshire. 12million gallons of water are drawn through here every day.

The river Dee at the Horseshoe falls

In 2009 the sheer beauty of the location alongside the pioneering engineering earnt the last 11 miles from Chirk to the Horseshoe falls was awarded a UNESCO world Heritage site status

Llangollen Bridge

Of course Llangollen isn’t just about the canal and the river, the town is a thriving tourist attraction in its own right, which makes it very busy with a combination of tacky gifts suitable for landfill and some fine artisan crafts and delicacies. We treated ourselves to Oggies for lunch, the Welsh equivalent to a Cornish pasty and in our opinion much better.

Two Oggies

And whilst we were plugged into an unlimited power source, I took the opportunity to bake some Christmas cakes.

Something to look forward to

The Notorious Narrows and Shallows


The last 4 miles into Llangollen is notoriously known for being narrow and shallow, and full of blind bends and happy hirers. We seriously debated whether to take the boat or catch the bus. Not one to shirk a challenge and so what if we scratched the paintwork, we set off on Firecrest to complete our journey. I say we, I set off on foot to see us safely through the Trevor basin bridge, but I quickly realised I was walking a well trodden and very well maintained footpath. As the stone slope up this bridge shows just how well worn.

I’m not sure what H&S would have to say about this slope

But it was a beautiful walk, so i just carried on.

Looking towards llangollen

I suspect this hotel garden features in many wedding photos,

The Bryn Howell hotel

some lucky to live just off the towpath

Who doesn’t dream of a white picket fence

But the last mile the canal was cut out from the rock face

That’s one worried helmsman


And although the photos don’t show it we could still see jagged edges sticking out. Luckily there is signage informing boaters that it is single way transit for the next couple of hundred metres and advices a crew member to walk ahead. Luckily I did so and was able to call Eric on when I saw the route was clear.

All clear

Thankfully on this journey we had anticipated the majority of boats would set off in the morning leaving a fairly clear run upstream. And it proved a wise plan to wait for rush hour to be over as I only had to phone back to Eric and tell him to wait twice. Not that waiting was a problem when faced with the magnificent scenery around us.

The Dee valley

And our reward was to arrive in llangollen unscathed with a choice of mooring, all with electric shore power and water points. (And I’d more than clocked up 10000 steps on my fitbit)

Probably a good job we had power, cause we weren’t going to get much solar here.

And here we go, over the big one. The Pontycysllte Aqueduct

We moored overnight at Froncysllte

Mooring up at Froncysllte to wait for our guests

where we were joined for our adventure by Heather and Ant, and their pet rats, (ok the 5 knitted rats that have an Instagram page if their own, so like to travel)

Ready for an adventure


The weather was so dire that we really thought our crossing was not going to happen. But as luck would have it the rain stopped and the wind dropped so off we set.

One giant leap for a narrowboat crew


Oh boy is it an experience, this Pontycysllte is the longest canal aqueduct at 307m long and the highest at 38m traversing the Dee valley. It is supported by 18 arched stone pillars.

Underneath the arches


It has a 3.7m wide and 1.6m deep cast iron trough which incorporates a protruding towpath over the water, this allows sufficient space for water displacement not to impede the boats movement. (Cause even the most unscientific of boaters know how frustrating it is when your boat slows down through narrow bridge holes and shallow weedy water). I wonder if Archimedes envisaged he would be enabling people like Telford to design such structures, because unlike road or rail viaducts the load is constant not increased when a boat enters the channel as the equivalent mass of water is moved off the aqueduct.

Plenty of water to get a narrowboat through


Provision was made for railings on the off side (not sure I like that term on an aqueduct like this) but they were never erected

Yes I think railings would spoil the view down

It is quite scary looking down from the Towpath side to the River Dee below

The mighty River Dee

But then some scenes are worth it, ok this photo was taken from the footbridge in Trevor basin, but at least if the bride had fallen in she would have been able to parachute to a safe landing.

And the sun shone for the wedding

Once we got into Trevor basin we cruised through the heaving mass of the hire boat centre on change over day

If we can steer across the aqueduct, we can get through that gap

And found ourselves a secluded spot right at the end of navigation, where the planned route would have taken the canal to Chester

Trevor visitor moorings, unusual to see them this quiet

It was lovely to see Heather and Ant if only for a few hours

Family reunion

After they left we thought it would be peaceful here but in the 24 hours we were there, several boats came down this short 150m arm expecting to go through the bridge towards Llangollen. Some were quite huffy when we lent out and advised them not to go any further, some had the confidence to reverse back, but one poor family just didn’t know what to do, so Eric helped them. He mentioned the disproportionate number of disoriented boaters to a CRT man, who insisted the route was signed… but not adequately replied Eric. Fortunately non of the lost narrowboats took the footpath and ended up looking up at the aqueduct from the valley.

From the valley below

Approaching the aqueducts

If there’s one thing non boaters have heard about on the canal system, it’s the Pontycysllte aqueduct. But they rarely comment on the Chirk aqueduct which we think is prettier, albeit less dramatic but still one of our favourites. The next few days saw us cruising slowly towards these feats of engineering, but we still had time to enjoy the journey.

Sometimes it’s the clouds that make the scene

After we passed the junction of the Montgomery canal we noticed the bridge numbering changed, instead of continuing with sequential numbers, the sequence began again with the addition of a W. Was it 1 Wales or 1 West we wondered, but as we had not yet reached Wales we assumed the latter.

Bridge 1W

We passed through Whittington Hire base, which is where we had hired from in 2012, although it is in new ownership now and sports a dazzling red livery.

Whittington Hire fleet

And onto Chirk, where we were met by a guard of honour

3 little maids


Before we crossed the border between England and Wales on the Chirk Aqueduct

Crossing the Chirk Aqueduct, the bow’s in Wales and the stern in England

One reason we like it is because the railway viaduct runs parallel to it, so we get some lovely views through the arches onto the River Ceiriog below

The Chirk Aqueduct is 21m high and 220m long, it was designed by the civil engineer Thomas Telford and completed in 1801. The water is carried in an iron trough although it’s the 10 stone arches that make is so attractive
No sooner had we crossed the aqueduct, we were straight into the 421m long Chirk tunnel

Disappearing into the darkness

And whilst I’m not a fan of these long dark holes under ground, I can’t begin to imagine how many locks I would have had to work, if Telford hadn’t risen to the challenge. So whilst I might have found the aqueduct and tunnel an easier option, Eric certainly didn’t. The narrow shallow channel means there is little room for water displacement around the boat. And combined with the flow of water coming from llangollen makes it really hard going to move the boat forward. The boat crawls regardless of the throttle used, quite unlike punching upstream on a deeper wider river.
We opted to moor up outside of Chirk Marina

Chirk marina

where the heavens duly opened and we sat out the rain for the next few days

Promises to be fulfiled

Meerly Meandering towards the Meers


Our journey towards Wales continued taking us through some harvest ready farmland, with vistas only “spoilt” by old oak trees blocking the view.


For several miles we weren’t sure if we were in England or Wales as the border line wiggles with seemingly little rational, but for the main we were still on English soil even if we were travelling on water from Wales….. hmmm this is getting confusing.

One bank is Welsh, the other is English, I’m not sure which is which

Back in 2012 when Eric and I were confirming our dream to live on a narrowboat, we hired a boat at the end of October on this canal.

Cheryl and Eric on the Llangollen in 2012

The idea being to test out if we were prepared for being cold and wet, as it turned out we had a whole week of warm sunshine with a golden autumnal glow. The place we enjoyed mooring was under the beech trees at Blakesmere. So we were looking forward to returning

Moored at a the Blakesmere picnic spot

We were a few weeks earlier this time so didn’t get the golden glow, and despite some sunny spells we were experiencing some heavy rain showers. So despite the lovely outlook, beechnuts and raindrops landing on the roof, plus lack on internet and tv did nothing to rekindle our romantic memories of this undeniably pretty place.

Blakesmere

After one night we moved on to take advantage of Ellesmere itself.

Ellesmere wharf

The arm that goes into the little town was originally planned to be the mainline of the ill-fated 20mile route going towards Chester on the “Ellesmere canal”. However geographical constraints and commercial rivalries meant it this mid section joining the Mersey to the Severn was abandoned. Leaving Ellesmere with a loading wharf that has been gentrified. It’s a lovely place and well worth a visit.

And that’s as far as it got


Most boaters love the convenience of a canal side supermarket and the block paving means it’s easy to trundle the Tesco trolley right up to the boat. It is, after all, a loading wharf. But Ellesmere has so such more than convenience and I stocked up from Hawkins butchers and Vermeulens deli.

Spoilt for choice

I’m sure we will do the same on our return trip but it was time to move on again.

Wending our way to Whitchurch

We always knew the Llangollen is a popular canal but despite the number of boats it’s still been a pleasant rural cruise. We enjoyed beautiful vistas over the fields, enhanced by dramatic skies with rainbows taking the stink out of the torrential downpours.

Looking over Knowles Hill

Not all of the going was smooth, parts of the canal had been infiltrated by reeds making it difficult to navigate. I collected photographic evidence to send to CRT to complain, but the thought of a trite rebuffle citing the need to create wildlife havens, just makes me think why bother. Come on CRT, the wildlife living in canal reeds isn’t going to increase with a wider footprint, keep the channels open for boats and just let the stretch of reeds run for longer, if you must. But perhaps maintenance costs have got more to do with the problem than environmental concern.

Not our idea of a well maintained canal

Balmy days and lock side pubs all made it better. But as we’d had fish and chips for lunch at the Dusty Miller, (delicious and good value) we only quenched our thirst here at the Willey Moor.

The Willey Moor pub and lock

There’s a lockie at Grindly Brook staircase locks so we were up and through before I had time to blink, and we were lucky to get into the mooring by the Whitchurch lift bridge

A good place to stop

So we had the opportunity to take a meander into this peaceful little town. Navigation into the town comes to an abrupt end at Chemistry bridge when navigation ceased in 1939 and the canal was filled in.

The abrupt end to the Whitchurch arm, although the footpath does follow the old canal route into town

But the route was bought by the Whitchurch Waterways trust, who plan to open it up and create a small marina basin. It will be a lovely place to visit if it ever comes to fruition although they might have to do something about the wildlife

That’s a scary looking dragonfly

Whitchurch itself is worth exploring, the Roman road from Wroxeter (south of Shrewsbury) to Chester passed through here although there have been Neolithic remains found here. After the Norman conquest, a castle and stone church were built out of the local white Grinshill sandstone. So “Westune” (meaning West Farmstead) became Whitchurch. That particular church is no longer standing but the current parish church built in 1713 is particually beautiful inside and worth a visit.

Inside St Alkmunds

Whitchurch was granted it’s market town charter in Tudor times and although it is in shropshire, it became home to Beltons, a major producer of Cheshire cheese.

Whitchurch High Street

We’re going to Wales on the Llangollen canal


Turning right at Hurleston Junction, leaving the Shropshire Union main line we were warmly welcomed by a team of volunteers at the Hurleston flight.

A warm welcome from the friendly volunteers

We were helped up the 4 locks, took advantage of the facilities and then moored up for a few days to enjoy a new outlook, and found ourselves moored next to Kim and Paul, fellow Braidbar boat owners. As happened last time we saw them an afternoon cuppa turned into an evenings glass of wine, and another glorious sunset.

Sunset at bridge 3

Of course what Eric didn’t realise was that I had been studying my Google map and had seen Snugburys ice cream parlour was within walking distance of our mooring, but what I didnt realise it that it was guarded by a giant honey bee.

Snugburys bee garden

Needless to say my tub of Creme Brulee ice cream was worth the walk, even though there was so much choice, wonder what I’ll have on my return visit.

Spoilt for choice

The history of the Llangollen Canal is a bit of a mishmash and the cynic in me suspects there was a lot of politics and greed involved in its creation. Back in the late 1790’s a group of industrialists wanted to ship their Welsh mined goods out to the rest of the country, north via Ellesmere, through Chester and onto the Mersey at Ellesmere Port, and South via Shrewsbury onto the River Severn. However nothing went to plan, various routes were half built but not connected with the main line, and quite frankly I got totally confused as to who did what when. Needless to say the section between Ellesmere and Chester never got built. Hence our need to travel the long way round. Eventually rival canal and rail companies got their act together to run and maintain the route we know now, falling under the banner of the Shropshire union canal and rail company, But it wasn’t until the 1980’s that this canal formally became known as the Llangollen Canal rather than the Llangollen Branch of the Shropshire union. (Please don’t quote me on these “facts”) What we do know for sure is that it is one of the most popular holiday canals with hire boaters and the current Shropshire canal society has made sure there is a lot of peaceful rural mooring, which we love.

Mooring at bridge 12