12 km – walked on 29 June 2017
This walk follows old canal tow paths all the way from Chirk from the English-Welsh border to the pretty small North-Welsh town of Llangollen. Walk across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, 38 m (126 ft) above ground and wave to passing canal boats. Learn more about this magnificent piece of engineering and its creator Thomas Telford. Enjoy the leafy tranquillity of the canal path with views across to the hills of the Clwydian Range. What is that “llan” in the beginning of seemingly all Welsh place names?
Best bits: easy to navigate and to walk on flat surface as it follows the canal. It is quite a thrill to walk across the aqueducts high above the ground. For those with a fear of heights, this can, of course, be a “boo bit”. It is wonderful that more and more of these old industrial tow paths are resurrected for recreational use for all of us to enjoy. Being flat, tow paths offer great outdoor opportunities for all abilities and interests: walking and cycling, in many places accessible to wheelchair users and prams.
Boo bits: Walking through the Chirk tunnel in complete darkness is not be recommended, so take a torch! Not a huge variety in terrain and landscape as it follows the canal practically all the way.
I was staying in the pretty village of Llangollen – famous for the annual International Eisteddfod Music Festival and its beautiful location by the river Dee and the hills of the Clwydian Range. You can do another nice, shorter canal walk to the Horseshoe Falls just outside of Llangollen.
The falls are really a man-made weir into the river Dee that feeds water to the canal. There are information boards to explain all this.
I took a bus to Chirk from the centre of Llangollen. With my backpack and boots, the bus driver guessed where I was headed and kindly stopped right next to Chirk aqueduct even though there was no bus stop – don’t you just love the countryside – these things never happen in the city.
Chirk aqueduct, at the border of England and Wales, was built between 1796-1801 by William Jessop and Thomas Telford. The railway bridge behind the aqueduct was built later – and higher to portray the supremacy of rail travel!
The adjoining tunnel, also known as “darkie” was one of the first with a towpath in Britain, and built between 1795-1802. Because at 421 m (1,200 ft) in length and unlit, it gets pitch black in the middle, so you’ll need a torch. You can also walk round it though. I had not done my research and was unaware of either of these facts and, once I realised that I had to get through the tunnel and saw a canal boat was just getting in, I made a snap decision to follow the canal boat thinking that it’s light would help me through (I had no torch). Bad decision: the boat light did not help me see the path at all (and at this point I was not sure I was even supposed or able to walk through the tunnel) and I just ended up breathing its fumes in the tunnel. Luckily, I realised that I can get a torch on my mobile phone which helped a little – it really does get completely pitch black in the tunnel! It was not pleasant.
There is another tunnel, Whitehurst Tunnel, a bit later in the walk which is shorter (174 m) but also gets pretty dark and it looked like there was no detour round it.
After this the walk is plain sailing along the canal and despite occasionally passing cyclists/canal boats/joggers, there is a feeling of tranquillity all the way through – at least until you get to the famous Pontcysyllte aqueduct.
Pontcysyllte aqueduct is a good place for a break. There are toilets, an information centre, a gift shop, a café and a pub. Unlike the Chirk aqueduct which is at the beginning of the walk, you will have to walk across the aqueduct and if you suffer badly from vertigo this might not be for you. You could then, for example, start a walk from here and walk back to Llangollen or the other way round – or indeed back and forth.
The welcome sight of a nice tea room back in Llangollen.
PRACTICAL BITS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Public transport: Chirk train station has direct services to transport hubs like Wrexham, Chester and Shrewsbury. Bus number 64 links Llangollen and Chirk.
Llangollen Parade Street stop, next to the Llangollen Museum and round the corner from the tourist information centre, is the most central and the usual end and start stop for buses to the village.
Warning: The Chirk Tunnel is not lit and will get pitch black in the middle, so you will need a torch. There is a handrail all the way through though.
Llangollen is a pretty small town by the river Dee and a good base for the canal walk and other walks in the region. More about it in a separate blog. You can find all the information you’ll need from the wonderfully helpful tourist information centre.
Telford Inn Pub by Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Thomas Telford: (1757-1834)
was one of the greatest British engineers, called the colossus of roads (get the pun?). Apart from the aqueducts on this route, he is behind many of the most famous roads, bridges and canals in Britain, such as the Caledonian Canal in his native Scotland, the Göta Canal between Stockholm and Gothenburg in Sweden, St Katharine Docks near Tower Bridge in London, the Conwy and the Menai suspension bridges, the latter of which was the longest suspension bridge of its time. Thomas Telford, the first President of the Institution of Civil Engineers is also the first engineer to get the honour of being buried in Westminster Abbey.
Designed by Thomas Telford, completed in 1801. At 21 m (70 feet) above the river Ceiriog, not quite as high as the more famous Pontcysyllte aqueduct, but amazing all the same and part of the same UNESCO World Heritage Site. The navigable aqueduct consists of ten arches and is 220 m long and crosses the English-Welsh border.
Another masterpiece by Telford and Jessop, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009. Built between 1793-1808, it is now the oldest and longest navigable aqueduct in Britain and highest in the world, rising 38 meters above the river Dee below. You can cross it along the tow path next to the canal, not for the fainthearted though. It is 307 m long (336 yards), 3,7 m wide and 1,60 m deep and has 18 arches.
WELSH WORDS OF THE WALK
llan – You will find this prefix in many place names in Wales, for example, Llangollen and Llandudno. It means an ‘enclosed land around the church’, a parish or a settlement, and is often combined with the name of a saint. So, Llandudno, for example, is named after St. Tudno and Llangollen after St Gollen.
aber – Another common part of Welsh place names, meaning the “mouth of”. So, Aberystwyth is the mouth of the river Ystwyth, Abergele the mouth of the River Gele and so on.
You can find help with pronunciation, for example, from these helpful sites:
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