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Horseshoe Falls & the Dee Valley

A particularly lovely stretch of the Dee Valley, with a walk alongside the feeder into the Llangollen Canal.


IWA Shrewsbury District & North Wales Branch


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Location: Two miles west of Llangollen.                                         

Distance: About three-quarters of a mile. 

Surface: The walk includes a long flight of steps and going up a sloping field.  The walk is therefore unsuitable for people with walking difficulties.

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.

Toilets: At the car park.

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 of such dimensions as to be navigable up to the crossing of the Eglwyseg river.  It was opened for traffic in 1808, three years after the completion of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Whitchurch–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 1944 an Act was passed closing the canal to all traffic except for the trip boats from Llangollen.  Thanks to lobbying from the Inland Waterways Association and the actions of the local canal management, the canal survived and has become the most popular canal in the country.

Having parked, exit the car park in the south-east corner, cross the B road into the smaller car park, then walk down the steps.

Chain Bridge Hotel

The Chain Bridge Hotel has been the site of a hostelry since the 1830s, possibly earlier.  It has been extended over the years.

Chain Bridge

The access to the Chain Bridge goes past the front of the hotel and is a right of way.

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 up the Dee valley. As first built, the chains supported the deck from beneath.  (Contrary to what one sometimes reads, there is no evidence that Thomas Telford was involved in its construction.)  The bridge has been rebuilt twice with the original chains being re-used, making them the oldest suspension chains in use in the world.  It has recently been well restored.

The wharf here became the head of navigation.  Occasionally horse-drawn trip boats come up this far from Llangollen Wharf.

Return to the towpath and pass the back of the hotel.

King’s Bridge

The five-arched King’s Bridge viaduct was built in 1902–6 by Denbighshire County Council. 

The meter house

The Act which authorised taking water from the Dee 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 nevertheless by the late 1930s these sales 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 (to give time for the industries to make alternative arrangements) 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 this Act expired, a further Act had been obtained to supply domestic water to south Cheshire, using the Llangollen Canal as a conduit.  This helped ensure that the canal survived.

Horseshoe Falls

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

Return to the car park by walking up the field.

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