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

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