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Chirk to Chirk Bank and Rhoswiel

Now pleasantly rural, this is a fascinating area of industrial and transport history, with collieries, a corn mill, turnpikes, tramroads, the canal and the railway.

Distance: About four miles long though it can be halved by omitting the loop from Chirk Bank via Rhoswiel.  The bus option (see below) gives a much easier walk and reduces the length to 1¾ miles.

Surface: Some of it is on field footpaths, including one steep section and stiles, so suitable footwear is essential.  The bus option is entirely along a well-surfaced towpath.

Location: The walk starts outside ‘Glyn Wylfa’, Castle Road, Chirk [SJ287375, satnav LL14 5BS]

Parking: ‘Glyn Wylfa’ has a car park but use this only if you intend to have refreshments there.  Alternatively the large car park off Colliery Road, near the centre of Chirk village could be used.

Refreshments: ‘Glyn Wylfa’ has a welcoming coffee shop.  ‘The Poachers’ at Gledrid provides a wide range of meals and drinks.  A wide range of food and refreshments is available in Chirk village.

Bus option: Park in Chirk village and take Arriva bus 2 (hourly) to Rhoswiel roundabout.  A walk of about 300 yards along the road towards Weston Rhyn brings you to the canal bridge.  (Both English and Welsh bus passes are valid.)  This halves the walking distance.

Chirk

‘Glyn Wylfa’, now a community building, was built in 1899 for the owner of Chirk Mill, Mr Steele Roberts.

Walk east along Castle Road to the junction, then cross the main road.

The site of the church is originally thought to be a ‘llan’ (a Welsh phrase describing a walled enclosure containing a chapel, hermit’s huts and burials) dedicated to Saint Tysilio.  The first stone church was built in Chirk during the 11th Century but most of what is seen now is somewhat later.  The tower was erected in about 1475 when the church was enlarged; at about the same time it was re-dedicated to Saint Mary.

On the right, overlooking the valley, is the site of the early 12th century motte and bailey castle.

Chirk to Chirk Bank

Walk a few yards down the hill then take the footpath on the left.  Descend the steep hill.  The path rejoins the main road at the bottom of the hill.

What is now the main road dates from 1824, part of Telford’s Holyhead Road from Shrewsbury to Holyhead, built to the highest standards (and financed by the government).  The ruling gradient across the mountains of north Wales was 1 in 30 — the steepest at which galloping horses could pull a stage-coach.  The only place where this could not be achieved was here at Chirk, where the gradient from the bridge is 1 in 20, despite the massive rising embankment.

The first part of the footpath follows the line of the original pre-turnpike road.  The earliest turnpike road took a more westerly course, the road including a hairpin bend, but nevertheless had a 1 in 8 gradient; this line can be seen clearly.

At the bottom of the hill, Chirk Mill is passed on the left.

The bridge over the Ceiriog was rebuilt by Thomas Telford in the early 1790s, one of his earliest bridges designed as County Surveyor for Shropshire; it was widened in the 1920s in reinforced concrete, faced with the original masonry.  From here there is a good view of the canal aqueduct and railway viaduct. 

In the early 19th century there was a coal mine in the field between the bridge and the aqueduct.  The workings undermined the canal and in December 1816 the embankment failed, flooding the mine  After a legal battle the canal company was held liable because it had not bought the mining rights.

Cross the bridge, and take the road rising to the right by the Bridge Inn.

This road through Chirk Bank and Weston Rhyn was the original turnpike road from Oswestry to Wrexham.  Telford built the Holyhead Road on a totally different line here, with a much gentler gradient.

Chirk Bank to Rhoswiel

At the top of the hill, go over the canal bridge.  Continue to the cross roads and turn left into Oaklands Road.  The footpath to Rhoswiel starts almost immediately on the right.  Follow the footpath across several fields.

Part way along, the original line of the Glyn Valley Tramway is crossed.  This opened in 1873 as a horse-drawn narrow-gauge railway from Glyn Ceiriog, down the valley as far as Pontfaen, then climbed steeply to cross the ridge on its was to Gledrid Wharf (which is seen later in the walk).  The main traffic was slates but passengers were also carried.  For the first eight years it was operated by the canal company.  In 1888 it was converted for steam haulage, the western terminus altered to Chirk, and the 1½ miles from Pontfaen to the canal interchange at Rhoswiel closed.

Cross the final stile, enter a yard, and leave by the lane from the far right-hand corner.

There was a small colliery part way along the lane on the left.

At the end of the lane, turn left, cross the canal bridge and descend to the towpath.

Rhoswiel to Gledrid

[The ‘bus option’ joins here.]  Walk north along the towpath.

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.  The section from Llanymynech via Frankton Junction to Chirk Bank was completed in 1797.  However, the part from Trevor (at the north end 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, and this opened in 1805. 

The original terminus of the Glyn Valley Tramway can be seen on the opposite side of the canal.  The route of some of the tracks can still be made out by the ridges in the field.  Some of the stones visible at the water’s edge have holes: these were originally stone sleepers.

‘The Poachers’ was originally called the ‘New Inn’.

UNESCO made the eleven miles of canal from the bridge by ‘The Poachers’ 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.

Gledrid to Chirk Bank

The narrows was where Quinta Bridge stood until 1903 when it was demolished to provide material to fill in a nearby breach.  It has grooves for stop planks.

Shortly before Chirk Bank Bridge, on the other side of the canal, is the site of a chute at the end of a tramway from Quinta Quarry.  This was short-lived as the drop was found to break up the coal.

The bridge (which the walk crossed earlier) shows a very early use of cast iron beams to support a deck, enabling the road gradient to be less than it would have been.  At that time, as previously mentioned, it carried the main turnpike road from Oswestry to Wrexham.

Chirk Bank to Chirk

Continue along the towpath

Just after Chirk Bank Bridge is the site of a wharf.  The warehouse was demolished in 1933. 

Further along the canal, the quarry on the off-side provided stone to build the aqueduct.

The five Aqueduct Cottages were built by the Shropshire Union in the early 1870s for employees working on the Glyn Valley Tramway.  Between numbers 3 & 4 is an earthwork platform believed to have been used as the construction yard for the aqueduct.

Chirk Aqueduct, completed in 1801, has ten masonry arches, 68 feet above the river Ceiriog.  The top part of the piers and the arches are hollow, then an innovative concept.  The bed of the canal was a cast iron plate; the sides were made waterproof through the use of hydraulic mortar.  The contractors were John Simpson and William Hazledine, the total cost being £20,899.  The full iron trough was inserted in 1869.  Netting was put on the railings in 1914 after a girl had fallen off the aqueduct.

The aqueduct crosses the England–Wales border.  This does not follow the present line of the river but its former line which is still clearly visible.  The mill leat went under the furthest (northern) arch.

The railway viaduct was built 1846–8; Henry Robertson was the engineer and Thomas Brassey the contractor.  The end spans were originally of timber because of foundation problems — these were replaced by additional masonry spans in 1858.

Chirk Basin Wharf originally had a weighbridge and a wharfinger’s hut.  ‘Telford Lodge’, on the other side of the railway, was probably the resident engineer’s house when the aqueduct was being built.

Chirk Tunnel, 460 yards long, completed in 1801,  was mainly built by ‘cut and cover’ — in other words, a trench was dug then roofed over.  It was one of the earliest tunnels to have a towpath; the water flows under the towpath, making it easier for boats to come through as they do not build up a wave of water in front of them.

Ascend the path to Castle Road and turn right.  ‘Glyn Wylfa’ is about a hundred yards along on the left.

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