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,
where the yarn bombers had adorned a letterbox to commemorate armistice day
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
Though sometimes you just can’t beat nature
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.
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,
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.
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
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
But soon thought better of that idea and leapt off…. onto the Towpath for another angle.
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.
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.
We wandered along the wharf to the shop that manages mooring fees, and found they also sell ice cream…. banana and chocolate chip….
We were off to a good start. This is where the horse drawn trip boat operates from.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
And whilst we were plugged into an unlimited power source, I took the opportunity to bake some Christmas cakes.
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.
But it was a beautiful walk, so i just carried on.
I suspect this hotel garden features in many wedding photos,
some lucky to live just off the towpath
But the last mile the canal was cut out from the rock face
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.
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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
It is quite scary looking down from the Towpath side to the River Dee below
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.
Once we got into Trevor basin we cruised through the heaving mass of the hire boat centre on change over day
And found ourselves a secluded spot right at the end of navigation, where the planned route would have taken the canal to Chester
It was lovely to see Heather and Ant if only for a few hours
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.
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.
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.
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.
And onto Chirk, where we were met by a guard of honour
Before we crossed the border between England and Wales on the Chirk Aqueduct
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
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
where the heavens duly opened and we sat out the rain for the next few days
Turning right at Hurleston Junction, leaving the Shropshire Union main line we were warmly welcomed by a team of volunteers at the Hurleston flight.
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.
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.
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.
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.