It was early spring when my walking companion and poet, Peter Gibbs, and I set out on the scenic, forty-six mile Llangollen Canal.
This famous waterway, which opened in 1805, links Llangollen in North Wales to Hurleston in South Cheshire and was on our to-do list after passing its junction while strolling along the Shropshire Union Canal.
The Llangollen Canal was built during the Industrial Revolution primarily to transport coal from South Denbighshire and connect to the wider canal network via the Rivers Mersey, Dee and Severn.
On that dreary April morning, a sulking sun suddenly broke through the clouds and suddenly the hedgerows were ablaze with a confetti of white blossoms, while the wood anemones, primroses and cyclamen scattered along the towpath took on a lighter hue.
We were now well away from the hectic crowd en route to the small northern market town of Whitchurch, some fourteen miles ahead, through dead flat countryside with the first signs of yellow rapeseed crops visible in the surrounding fields.
Every now and then a narrowboat stuttered by with an exchange of friendly waves.
“Just walk another forty minutes and then cross the lift bridge to get into town,” instructed a helpful lady at what happened to be a canalside cafe where we stopped for tea and cake.
When we reached the bridge we found a signpost with the single word ‘City’ pointing to a small connecting waterway and our hope grew that after eight hours on the way the end of the journey was finally in sight.
But alas it wasn’t to be, as the towpath eventually ended in a small housing estate and we were then siren-like guided down a series of interconnecting footpaths to emerge onto a road.
“Just walk through the park and you’re in the city,” we were relieved when a passer-by heard us.
After a hearty meal in friendly Bulls Head and a good night’s sleep at our B&B, our previously sluggish mood lifted and we were on our way again, despite the worsening weather.
We soon found West Country couple Joanne, a former carer, and her partner Neil, who had purchased their boat Harebelle last summer and were now planning to spend their future cruising around the country.
Then the rain started and the towpath, which was quite uneven in places, soon became slippery and our tried-and-tested hiking poles came into their own.
Again our way passed through remote open country with only a small village between us and the end of the journey in the small market town of Ellesmere, another twelve miles ahead.
Now we entered a large swamp area and a nature reserve with small lakes formed by old peat cuttings, and soon the sounds of wild birds filled the air.
The waterway was wider here and dead straight for several miles, so all we had to do was put our hooded heads down and trudge on.
But then the rain stopped and the canal meandered through higher and more wooded countryside, and here we met a happy team of Canal and River Trust engineers.
They were busy supporting a collapsing stretch of bank, a massive ongoing operation considering the entire waterway network.
As we proceeded under a clearer and mistier sky we were now enjoying the view of two large lakes which our OS map called ‘Meres’ hence Ellesmere we concluded.
Like Whitchurch, it turned out to be a small market town with winding streets and many old buildings.
Back on the towpath the next morning we soon came to the junction with the Montgomery Canal linking Welshpool and Newtown in Mid Wales and another future walk has just made its way onto the list.
Later the canal meandered through undulating folds in the landscape with now not so distant Welsh hills surrounding the sunny rural scenery and a series of locks unseen for many miles began to open the canal gently to raise to a higher level.
Not far away we came across the impressive 70ft high and 700ft long cast iron Chirk Aqueduct, built on stone piers by engineers Thomas Telford and William Jessop to carry the canal through the Ceiriog Valley.
A nose-to-tail flotilla of narrowboats approached us, some of which we assumed had wintered further up the canal and were now migrating to spend the remainder of the summer months roaming the country.
Another treat awaited us as we made our way through the 1,500-foot Chirk Tunnel, guided by a railing and a distant point of light.
Beyond the tunnel an easy footpath took us up to a road and into the small town of Chirk and so to the end of the day’s journey and our overnight stay at the hotel.
By eight in the morning we were back on the towpath for the most scenic and interesting last nine miles of the hike.
A carpet of wood anemones cascaded through the forest as we approached the much shorter Whitehouse Tunnel and then on to a famous highlight of the walk, namely Telford and Jessop’s spectacular Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
This spectacular three hundred and thirty-six meter long, one hundred and twenty-six foot tall triumph of industrial architecture, with eighteen arches of stone and cast iron, carries the canal across the River Dee into the valley of Llangollen.
We were soon rounding a wide valley amidst high hills with the town of Llangollen and the River Dee far below on our way to the end of the journey at Horseshoe Falls.
But first we had to dodge a horse-drawn narrowboat full of tourists. a sight that would have left any traveling and hardy boatswain of yore speechless!
We stayed at the Premier Inn, Nantwich, the Reubens in Whitchurch, the Ellesmere Hotel and finally The Hand Hotel in Chirk.
While the relevant OS maps are the most useful, we find Pearson’s Canal Companions indispensable in planning all of our towpath walks.
NIGEL HEATH ENJOYS A WALK ALONG THE LLANGOLLEN CANAL IN SPRING
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