Duration: 7-10 Nights
TOTAL LOCKS: 42
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 7.5 HOURS PER DAY (49 TOTAL)
A spectacular route taking in the entire length of the Llangollen Canal, with a wonderful variety of countryside views, friendly canalside towns, some relaxing lock-free sections, a few tunnels and 2 incredible aqueducts including the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Wales.
Your cruise commences in Nantwich, a quaint mediaeval town on the banks of the River Weaver. Nantwich has many timber framed buildings and independent shops to explore.
Shortly after departing, you will reach Hurleston Reservoir and the entrance to the Llangollen canal on your left. The reservoir is fed by water from the River Dee, which then travels the entire route of the Llangollen canal at a rate of 12 million gallons a day! The resultant reservoir is used to supply the canals and drinking water for the area. There are walks around the reservoir if you fancy stretching your legs.
After passing through your first 4 locks on the Llangollen, peaceful countryside surrounds you for an hour or so before reaching the 2 Swanley locks and the town of Ravensmoor, where a track from Bridge No. 12 leads off to the left to reach the Farmer’s Arms pub and restaurant.
Some more lovely countryside and a few more locks further on you’ll find yourself at the village of Wrenbury where the ‘Dusty Miller’ pub is canalside and you can pop into the canal shop at Wrenbury Mill Marina if you fancy any souvenirs or anything else you may have forgotten.
Leaving Wrenbury, a fine lock-free section of canal leads you to Marbury Lock, where you can follow a short track on the left to the picturesque village of Marbury, a regular winner of the Best Kept Village Competition and surrounded by lakes or ‘meres’. The meres in this part of Shropshire are lakes which were formed when glaciers retreated during the ice age some 12,000 years ago – massive blocks of ice made deep holes in the glacial moraine which then melted to form the lakes.
A couple of hours’ cruising after Marbury, you’ll arrive at the bottom of the Grindley Brook Staircase. Not as daunting and grand as it sounds, there are only 3 locks in the staircase and only 6 locks altogether. There’s also a lock keeper on hand to help everything keep running smoothly. Close to the final lock, the handy Lockside Café offers light meals and refreshments. It’s a lovely location and you can watch the boats going through the locks.
Very soon you arrive at Whitchurch, where you can moor on the Whitchurch Arm of the canal and explore this ancient town. Inhabited since Roman times, Whitchurch has many half-timbered buildings, independent shops and regular market days.
Back to the Llangollen, and you are now treated to a 6 hour long stretch of rural canal with no locks and nothing but the lakes, the birds, and the beautiful scenery to enjoy and relax in before arriving at Ellesmere. Ellesmere is a great location to stop overnight – there are plentiful visitor moorings both on the canalside and on a separate ‘Ellesmere Arm’ of the canal (although these get very full so you may be better not venturing down there without sending a scout first to check for spaces!). Opposite the Arm are some historic canal buildings and old forge which is still in use today by the Canal & River Trust. Ellesmere itself is home to the Mere Visitor Centre, where guided boat trips are available on the lake, including on the Lady Katherine Steam Boat. There’s a visitor centre and café right next to the lake in an idyllic setting, and lakeside gardens offer children’s play areas and formal flower beds and walks. In the heart of the town are numerous quirky and pretty medieval buildings and streets, packed with antique and gift shops, pubs, cafes and a delicatessen.
Once you’ve torn yourself away from Ellesmere, you are fast approaching the English Border where a canalside notice welcomes you to Wales. Before that however, you’ll pass the start of the Montgomery Canal. Entrance to the ‘Monty’ is only possible by booking a passage through the locks, meaning there are a limited number of boats on its length and it remains quiet and peaceful. The Montgomery is still under restoration and so only offers limited cruising at present but there are plans afoot to extend the unbroken navigation to at least 33 miles.
Get ready for your entrance to Wales and its amazing aqueducts! As you enter the country, you immediately cruise over the Chirk Aqueduct which is incredibly pretty, situated as it is alongside a parallel viaduct with views to either side. The aqueduct is followed by the Chirk Tunnel. The tunnel is unusual in that it has a complete towpath inside. It’s only wide enough for one boat, but is short enough so you can see the other end before you enter and make sure you have a free passage. You may experience an odd sensation of getting nowhere in the tunnel, as the current is against you and there’s not much room for the water to pass around the boat. If this happens just apply a few more revs to power you through. Needless to say, you’ll whizz through on the way back!
Immediately after exiting the tunnel there are some mooring spaces on the right-hand side and this is an excellent place to stop to visit Chirk and the magnificent 13th century medieval fortress of Chirk Castle. If you are a National Trust member you can use your membership card here.
It’s only 2 hours of cruising from Chirk to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which is on a much bigger scale than the Chirk Aqueduct. Nowadays, this 200 year old aqueduct is known for its spectacular views and the thrill of crossing it, either on foot or in a narrowboat. At 126ft high, 1007ft long, and only 7ft wide, it’s a real adventure whichever way you choose to travel across. But what does ‘Pontcysyllte’ mean? How do you pronounce it? And why was it built in the first place?
It’ll come as no surprise to discover that ‘Pontcysyllte’ is Welsh – it means ‘the bridge that connects’. The original idea of building it dates back to the end of the 18th century, when a public meeting was held in Ellesmere to discuss planning a canal that could link the 3 rivers of the Mersey, the Dee and the Severn. At that time, canals were the quickest and safest way to move goods and raw materials (railways hadn’t been invented and the roads were terrible). Thomas Telford was appointed as the architect and the construction was supervised by the civil engineer William Jessop.
Work started in 1795 and it took 10 years to complete. During that time, Thomas Telford lived in what is now called the Telford Inn in Trevor, just beyond the aqueduct – you can still visit the Inn today. In those days, the substances used to make up the mortar were water, lime and Ox blood.
In 2009 UNESCO added the aqueduct to the World Heritage List, calling it a “masterpiece of human creative genius”. And in 2012 the Olympic torch was carried across on a narrowboat. There have been some novel methods used for crossing it, including in kayaks, on paddle boards and once by a pantomime horse towing the boat!
Thousands of visitors have crossed the aqueduct since it first opened - the sheer wonder of seeing it leading it to be nicknamed ‘the Stream in the Sky’.
And how do you pronounce it? According to the official Pontcysyllte Aqueduct website, it’s something like “PONT KER SUCK TAY”.
Once safely over the aqueduct, if you are not visiting Trevor Basin, turn left under the bridge and start the final few miles of cruising into Llangollen and the end of the canal. Be warned, the canal gets very narrow on the final stretch to Llangollen, and there are a couple of sections where it is one-way. Even though there is an occasional passing place, it's a good idea for one of your crew to get off the boat and walk up ahead so that they can tell you if it's safe to proceed.
There are good moorings on the approach to Llangollen, each one furnished with its own water point. If you can’t find space there, continue to Llangollen Basin where there are pontoons and more spaces. You do have to pay to moor at Llangollen (you can buy a 24 hour permit at the nearby café) but it’s only £12 per night (2023 price) so hopefully won’t break the bank.
It's well worth spending some time in Llangollen as there is so much to see and do. How about:
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 8 People