The Llangollen Canal leaves the Shropshire Union Canal just north of Nantwich in rural Cheshire and climbs through deserted Shropshire farmlands to cross the border into Wales near Chirk. It then cuts through increasingly hilly countryside to finish alongside the River Dee tumbling out of Snowdonia just above Llangollen. It is 41 miles long and takes at least three days to cruise (one way).
The Llangollen Canal is probably the most beautiful canal in Britain certainly the most popular. The scenery varies from isolated sheep pastures to ancient peat mosses, from tree lined lakes to the foothills of Snowdonia.
The canal has three major engineering feats, two old and one modern. The aqueducts at Chirk and Pontcysyllte were built by the engineers Thomas Telford and William Jessup and were among the first to use cast iron troughs to contain the canal. At Chirk the trough is supported by conventional masonry arches but at Pontcysyllte the trough is exposed and sits atop 120 foot high slender masonry towers. When you cross the Pontcysyllte aqueduct by boat there is an exhilarating sheer drop on the non-towpath side! The modern feat seems tame by comparison but required considerable twentieth century engineering expertise. Constant landslips on the stretch from Trevor to Llangollen meant closing the section for two years to rebuild long stretches of the embankments above the River Dee and encase the whole canal in a concrete trough.
Pictured above is a view across the 190 year old Pontcysyllte aqueduct, known as one of the canal wonders of the world. The towpath on the right is suspended over the water and has a cast iron handrail that most walkers seem to find reassuring. When you cross by boat there is only a lip a few inches high on the left between you and the drop to the River Dee 120 feet below! You should stay below decks if you don’t have much of a head for heights, but you will miss some amazing views!
The canal is unusual amongst Britain’s artificial waterways in having a strong (up to 2 miles per hour) flow.
One of the most popular destinations on the whole waterways network, Llangollen is about a weeks cruising time from Swanley Bridge Marina for the return trip and the memorable journey will take you through some of the most idyllic countryside and across the amazing Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, now a World Heritage site, towering 126 ft above the River Dee. Although busy with tourists throughout the year, in July this grey slate town becomes host to the famous Eisteddfod with singers and dancers in national costume arriving from all over the world. Other attractions include 7.5 miles of steam railway and Llangollen Wharf, a base for motor boat and horse-drawn boat trips. As you might expect, there is no shortage of places to eat and drink. A new marina, built at the end of the navigable section, allows more summer visitors to moor overnight in Llangollen.