Walk from Llangollen Wharf to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
The big walk of Britain’s canals - a mere handful of miles, yet a riot of thrills. Rare birds hide in big skies, wildfowl bob on the water, and munching sheep fill green fields. And this walk showcases the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Thomas Telford's engineering marvel, the longest and highest aqueduct in the UK.
11 miles of the Llangollen Canal, built between 1795 and 1808, including Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Llangollen Wharf, are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even for those too fearful to venture across, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the ultimate must-see event of Britain’s canals.
Canal: Llangollen Canal
Start: Llangollen Wharf OS Grid ref: SJ214423 Postcode: LL20 8TA
Finish: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct OS Grid ref: SJ270421 Postcode: LL20 7TY
Distance: 6.4km / 4 miles
Start: High above the town, Llangollen Wharf is busy with boats, people and horses. Before engines, canal boats were traditionally pulled along from the towpath by sturdy horses. Horse-drawn boats have become a rare sight on today’s waterways, with only a handful still operating for tourism. The Wharf runs horse-drawn boat trips along the canal and motorised boat trips to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
1. Turn right to follow the towpath heading away from the wharf. The canal is very narrow here, often only wide enough for one boat.
2. When you’ve walked past the visitors’ moorings, both canal and towpath widen as glorious views spread out in front of you.
3. One of the canal’s many lift bridges is left open to allow for passing boats. It’s blissfully solitary and the locals are sheep, herons and soaring kite.
4. The canal curves under bridge 42, then the trees clear and the view of the Dee valley below is breath-taking. This is a great spot to linger as not only are there views of the valley and the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran, built in the 1260s, on the hill behind you, but also a bird’s-eye-view of boats slowly wending their way through this narrow passage.
5. Once you’ve dragged yourself away from the view, the canal continues to wind its narrow leafy way past sheep-filled fields and under characteristic stone bridges.
6. The canal hugs the hillside with occasional peeks over the river valley below. Unusually, this canal has a 2mph flow as it feeds water to other canals so you may notice a slight current in the water heading downstream making boating trickier.
7. Look closely under the many bridges and tight corners and you’ll see where towing ropes once gouged into the masonry as horses tugged their heavy cargo.
8. Cross the narrow footbridge over the canal, pass some houses then cross over the road. During the Industrial Revolution, Trevor Basin was a busy wharf with tramways linked to iron foundries, chemical works, brick and tile works and nearby coal mines. It is busy today with holiday and trip boats, and there is usually plenty of boating activity to watch. Cross the footbridge and turn right to reach the Aqueduct.
9. One of the Wonders of the Waterways, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the longest and highest aqueduct in the UK, 1007ft long and 127ft high, and spans the river Dee in the valley below. Built by Thomas Telford and William Jessop, the Aqueduct was completed in 1805 and is considered to be one of Telford’s greatest engineering achievements. It sends shivers to the vertiginous and the non-vertiginous as, believe it or not, its 18 arches are held together with ox blood and Welsh flannel. The brave can tread the slim towpath that hugs the water, while boaters steer into the flying bathtub, white-faced, with sheer drops without even railings on their side. The story of the unpronounceable aqueduct is more than a history of who built it and why - it is the drama it has created, and continues to create, as anyone who ventures across plays their part in the living documentary of this wonderful, terrifying marvel. Railings at the start of the Aqueduct have grooves carved from the ropes of giant horses that once trod trustingly over a brave manmade structure.
End: When you reach the other side, you could follow the road down to the river and get the awesome view from below (it's a steep hill back up to the Basin though). Relax on the grass by the water, explore the Aqueduct and Basin, hop on a bus or walk back to the Wharf from a different perspective.