Cruising Time Per Day 3.5hrs • Total Locks 4
Blackwater Meadow to Llangollen –
Past Frankton Junction, through Chirk, across Chirk Aqueduct then Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and back – 7 nights – total locks 4 (2 x 2)
A spectacular journey across an ancient landscape bursting with natural beauty. Rare birds hide in big skies, precious wildfowl bob on the water, and munching sheep fill green fields as far as the eye can gaze. Yet even with such inspirational views, manmade canal engineering marvels successfully vie for a boater's attention. A long stretch of this route has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is one of the 7 wonders of the waterways. It’s the most unpronounceable, most talked about aqueduct on Britain's canals!
Blackwater Meadow Marina sits just outside the pretty town of Ellesmere. You’ll be eager to set off to enjoy the sightseeing ahead, but there's plenty to explore before the journey even begins, such as Meres Visitor Centre by the Mere which gave Ellesmere its name. Ellesmere Yard, just opposite the town arm, was once a typical sight along Britain's canals, and is now a rare example of an unspoilt and much-cherished canal scene, a well-preserved canal maintenance yard dating from the early 1800s. In the cluster of buildings, many are Grade II*-listed, including a blacksmith's forge and joiner's shop, a dry dock, a yard manager's house and Beech House, once head offices of Ellesmere Canal Company. Visitors may revel in the fact they’re treading on the spot where engineer Thomas Telford worked while building this canal.
Heading west, the canal winds towards Frankton Junction where the Montgomery Canal branches off to the south. If you have time, walk down the locks near the junction and explore the Monty, as it is affectionately known.
The route continues through remote countryside until your first exertion at the two New Marton locks. There are no more locks beyond so crews can relax and enjoy the views. There's a brief encounter with noise when the canal goes under and then alongside the A5 between bridges 17 and 19, but soon the canal quietly loops round to cross Chirk Aqueduct, leaving England behind and entering Wales. Chirk Aqueduct is 70ft high with 10 spans of 40ft each to carry the canal over the river. The history of canals as transport routes and the invention of their rival railways is written powerfully in the landscape here. When the steam train decided it could carry trade faster than canal boats, railway tracks were often laid alongside existing waterways. The railway exerted its importance in 1846-48 by building the viaduct 30ft higher. The railway remains busy today, so as you cruise over the aqueduct don't be surprised if a train screams past in its hurry.
Before plunging into Chirk Tunnel (459yds/420m long), keep any eye out for approaching boats in order to avoid embarrassment, as it’s not wide enough for two boats to pass. The canal follows the path of the railway past Chirk then through short Whitehouse Tunnel (191yds/175m long). Again, this little tunnel isn't wide enough for two boats to pass, so check before you enter. The railway waves goodbye to the canal as it heads northwards and boats turn sharply east. Here a sweet excitement builds with innocent hills and fields of sheep bordering the canal on one side, and on the other glimpses through trees tease down to the River Dee below - wafting a hint of the mighty moment that lies ahead! From here most boats cruise in slow sweaty haste, passing Fron Lift Bridge, before turning northwards to where the heart-swelling monster marvel awaits - Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
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 one of Telford’s greatest engineering achievements. The aqueduct and 11 miles of the Llangollen Canal, stretching from Horseshoe Falls just beyond Llangollen through to Chirk Aqueduct, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009. This inspirational feat of engineering sends shivers to the vertiginous and the non-vertiginous. Believe it, or not, its 18 arches are held together with ox blood and Welsh flannel to keep the Llangollen Canal in flight above the River Dee. How can 127 feet of fresh air make narrowboats fly and a canal defy gravity? “Don’t look down”, crew members will whisper to each other as you steer into the flying bathtub, with sheer drops to the side. The story of the unpronounceable aqueduct is more than a history of who built it and why - it is the living drama it continues to create, as anyone ventures across this wonderful, terrifying marvel.
Beyond the aqueduct, the canal breathes again, ambling through idyllic Welsh countryside. The water winds its narrow leafy way past sheep-filled fields and under pretty stone bridges, as it hugs the hillside with occasional peeks over the stunning River Dee below. The canal becomes very narrow approaching Llangollen then opens out into perfect visitor moorings. Llangollen is a place to shop, eat, explore or just get an ice cream and put your feet up. The wharf is a busy little hub, with waterside teashop and the perfect chance to tuck into some Bara Brith (Welsh cake). If time allows, walk to Horseshoe Falls at the end of the Llangollen Canal. Here, the water swirls into an impressive circular weir across the River Dee, marking Thomas Telford's dramatic finale to his canal. The weir isn't merely for visual effect - it keeps a constant supply of water flowing into the canal.
Before engines were invented, canal boats were pulled by real horse power and you can step straight back into history if you hop on the horse-pulled trip boat that meanders from Llangollen Wharf towards the end of the navigable canal. Even if you choose to watch from the towpath, it’s a thrill to see these gentle giants at work.
When it's time to leave, retrace your route back to Blackwater Meadow, with the anticipation of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and those idyllic Welsh water-miles ahead again.
The following are examples of the boats that you can hire from ABC Boat Hire at Blackwater Meadow Marina:
Alvechurch Weaver - For a maximum of 4 people, 2+2 Berth, Length 49ft, Semi-traditional Stern
Alvechurch Eagle (6 berth) - For a maximum of 6 people, 4+3 Berth, Length 66ft, Cruiser Stern
Alvechurch Eagle (7 berth) - For a maximum of 7 people, 4+3 Berth, Length 66ft, Cruiser Stern
Viking Wye Class - For a maximum of 8 people, 6+2 Berth, Length 68ft, Cruiser Stern
Alvechurch Owl - For a maximum of 10 people, 6+4 Berth, Length 70ft, Crusier Stern
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