TOWPATH WALK ALONG THE LLANGOLLEN CANAL

Join Peter Brown for a (DIY) guided walk along the llangollen Canal from the Horseshoe Falls to the town of Llangollen. 

Yes, DIY - Do it yourself! Copy and paste the information below and take the walk when convenient. And then afterwards send us a message and a photo or video please; here's our email link.

And find us on Facebook at: facebook.com/iwa.shrewsbury

Also check our IWA Branch homepage for reports and forthcoming events which may be happening in this beautiful and historic area.

You can watch a short video of this Horseshoe Falls to Llangollen Walk which we made in January 2011 when conditions were very slippery!

The Horseshoe Falls walk: About three-quarters of a mile each way.  The towpath is well-surfaced but is accessed either by a long flight of steps or by going down a steeply-sloping field.  (The walk as described is therefore unsuitable for people with walking difficulties, but they could get onto the towpath at the Motor Museum.)
Extension: The walk can be extended to Llangollen Wharf.  A delightful round trip can be done by taking the steam train from Llangollen to Berwyn — or by travelling on it from Llangollen to Carrog and returning to Berwyn.  From Berwyn station take the B road across the viaduct and walk up the hill to the car park.
Parking: From Llangollen take the A542 (signed to Ruthin), and after about a mile & a quarter turn left on to the B5103.  About a quarter of a mile further on, the B road goes downhill left — ignore that and go straight on (an unclassified road).  The parking is about 100 yards later, on the left. [SJ197433]
Refreshments: The Chain Bridge Hotel.  Tea, coffee and snack food is available at the Motor Museum.
Toilets:

At the car park.

Please note: No date is stated for this walk because it is for you to decide when to go. Peter Brown (pictured below) has provided these notes so that you can download them and enjoy the walk whenever you wish. As you might anticipate some details may have changed since this information was prepared.

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World Heritage status

UNESCO made the eleven miles of canal from Chirk Bank to Horseshoe Falls a World Heritage Site in July 2009.  The citation states: ... The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal are early and outstanding examples of the innovations brought about by the Industrial Revolution in Britain, where they made decisive development in transport capacities possible. They bear witness to very substantial international interchanges and influences in the fields of inland waterways, civil engineering, land-use planning, and the application of iron in structural design.’

Brief history

As authorised in its 1793 Act of Parliament, the Ellesmere Canal was to go from the River Severn at Shrewsbury to the Dee at Chester and then on to the Mersey at Ellesmere Port.  However, the section from Trevor (just to the north of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct) to Chester was never built, principally because of financial problems.  The plans were changed: a link was made from the Whitchurch Branch to Hurleston Junction, on the summit level of the Chester Canal.

The water supply for the long summit level of the canal was to have come from the hills to the north-west of Wrexham.  With the change in plan, this source was no longer available.  It was therefore decided to build a feeder from the River Dee above Llangollen to Trevor, and it would not cost greatly more to make this feeder navigable.  It was opened for traffic in 1808, three years after the completion of Pontcysyllte aqueduct and the Whirchurch–Hurleston section.  At the same time, in order to enable water to be drawn from the Dee during the drier summer months, the dam at Lake Bala was increased in height; in the 1830s two reservoirs built in the hills west of Bala.

 

Horseshoe Falls

[From the car park the most spectacular way of getting to Horseshoe Falls is to walk down the field.  Sometimes this can be accessed through the fence near the toilet block; alternatively one can walk down the road (left) towards Llantisilio and look for the easiest place to climb over the metal fence.]

The curving weir on the River Dee brings water into the canal through the intake sluice and the meter house.  The cast-iron cap to the weir was added in the early 1820s. 

The Act authorising the intake contained clauses protecting the water supply for the mills at Llangollen.  It did not give permission for the canal company to sell water to industries but by the late 1940s this had become significant, the principal users being Monsanto at Cefn Mawr, the creamery at Ellesmere and the London Midland & Scottish Railway (by then the canal’s owner) at Chester.  The position was regularised by an Act in 1944, which allowed water sales for the next ten years and introduced the requirement for accurate monitoring of the volume of water taken into the canal.  As a result, the meter house was built.  By the time the 1944 Act expired, a further Act had been obtained to supply domestic water to south Cheshire.

The towpath walk

The five-arched Kings Bridge Viaduct was built in 1902–6 by Denbighshire County Council. 

Next comes the Chain Bridge Hotel, an unattractive structure particularly when seen from the back.  There was a hostelry here by the 1830s.  The first Chain Bridge was built in 1817 for Exuperius Pickering (there were three people with this name, and this was probably the oldest) who had an extensive coal business.  The Chain Bridge has been rebuilt twice with the original chains being re-used, making them the oldest suspension chains in use in the world.  (Contrary to what one sometimes reads, there is no evidence that Thomas Telford was involved in its construction.)  It is now owned by Denbighshire Council and it is hoped that it will be restored.  The wharf here became the head of navigation.

Ty Craig Bridge (48A) does not have a towing-path as this section of the feeder was not originally intended to be navigable.  It is followed by four limekilns set in the river bank which would have been charged with coal and limestone from the canal, built by Pickering, together with the limekilns’ manager’s house.

Afon Eglwyseg Aqueduct is built to the traditional canal design with strong masonry retaining walls, the canal being carried in a puddled clay earthen trough.  After the success of Chirk and Pontcysyllte, much lighter structures with partial or full iron troughs, one wonders why they reverted to the concepts of the previous generation of canal builders.

The Oernant slate quarries, in what is now usually called the Horseshoe Pass, have been in production since at least the late 18th century - indeed they were mentioned in one of the Ellesmere Canal's prospectuses.  In 1852 Henry Dennis built a tramroad from the quarries to a dressing shed between the canal and the river.  This necessitated an embankment across the valley - still clearly visible - and a lift bridge across the canal.  The dressing shed is now the motor museum and also houses a small canal display including some excellent models showing how canals were constructed.

The towpath continues into Llangollen, this section being used by the horse-drawn trip boats which have operated from Llangollen since the 1880s.

The Horseshoe Falls

horseshoe_weir

 The Horseshoe Falls on the River Dee near Llantisilio above Llangollen not far from the Chainbridge Hotel

 

 

 

horseshoe_falls_walk_mapDiagramatic map of the walk [not to scale]

 

chainbridgeThe Chain Bridge currently closed, awaiting renovation

steam_railway_berwyn steam train passing Berwyn station and the Chain Bridge over the River Dee

chainbridge_hotel-entrancethe towpath between the main entrance to the Chainbridge Hotel and the Llangollen Canal

 

 

Shropshire Union Railway & Canal Company cast iron sign

llangollen_nb_stables

the towpath approaching the stables at Llangollen