The Llangollen Canal
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), more when busy.
The Llangollen Canal (or just The Welsh as it is known to enthusiasts!) is probably the most beautiful canal in Britain, certainly it's the most popular. The scenery varies from isolated sheep pastures to ancient peat mosses, from tree lined lakes to the foothills of Snowdonia.
Towns along the way include medieval Whitchurch with its half timbered buildings, the interesting market town of Ellesmere set in its own "Lake District", the fortified border town of Chirk and Llangollen itself, sat astride the River Dee, an ancient gateway to Wales beneath the ruins of Castel Dinas Bran.
The canal has three major engineering feats, two old, one modern. The 'pioneering masterpiece of engineering' by which the early civil engineers crossed the difficult landscape between Chirk and Llangollen has resulted in the 18 kilometre length being awarded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO in 2009.
The aqueducts at Chirk and Pontcysyllte were built by the engineers Thomas Telford and William Jessop and were among the first to use cast iron troughs to contain the canal. At Chirk Aqueduct the trough is supported by conventional masonry arches and hidden inside the masonry, almost as if the engineers were not confident of their new material. But at Pontcysyllte Aqueduct the trough is exposed and sits atop 120 foot high slender masonry towers. When you cross it by boat there is an exhilarating sheer drop on the non-towpath side! You should stay below decks if you don't have much of a head for heights, but do try to look through the windows, otherwise you will miss some amazing views!
The modern engineering feat may seem a little tame by comparison but required considerable twentieth century engineering expertise. Constant landslips on the stretch from Trevor to Llangollen, one of which derailed a train on the railway below, eventually meant closing the section for two years to rebuild long stretches of the embankments above the River Dee and encase the whole length of canal in a concrete trough.
The Montgomeryshire Canal ran from Welsh Frankton Locks, where it left the Llangollen Canal, for 35 miles down the Welsh Borders through Welshpool to Newtown. Now under restoration.
See our Guide to the Montgomery Canal