Wednesday 30th March to Friday 1st April 2022
The route which the new crew – Gill and Derek – would be negotiating was to be very different from that tackled by Sue and Henry earlier in our narrowboat adventure. This stretch of the Llangollen Canal features only two locks, although there are several tunnels and aqueducts including the iconic Pontcysyllte Aqueduct as well as lift bridges . . .
Although we had been unsure at times whether we were in England or Wales, and had been expecting to see a proud proclamation when we were entering Wales, we did eventually spot a fairly low-key indication on one of the mooring signs.
On their first day, Derek was designated as steering assistant and started the day at the helm under Robert’s guidance past frolicking lambs as we left Whitchurch.
At the end of the day, once through the 80m long Ellesmere Tunnel we moored in Ellesmere itself. A walk round the town took us past the market hall dated 1879 and a memorial to Eglantyne Jebb, born in the town, who went on to found Save the Children in 1919.
A branch of the canal leads into the town, past picturesque historical buildings and machinery left over from the canal’s heyday.
Robert also identified the Vault, which opened at 16:00, as a potential watering hole. This turned out to be a cellar bar filled with fascinating objects and memorabilia [see hostelry for day 43]. Derek was particularly taken with the WWII paratrooper’s folding bicycle.
As we were settling in for the evening, we noticed that it was snowing and found it hard to believe that just three days ago, Robert was wearing shorts.
30/03/2022 – Miles: 12.25 – Locks: 0 – 5h0m
The lesson for day 44 was to be locks, this time under Matilda’s tutelage, but it was curtailed by the appearance of an experienced boat dweller who seemed to be spending his spare time helping people through the locks in the hope of receiving beer in return. He said he was waiting for the wind to drop so that he could continue painting his boat.
Derek did not like to disappoint him after the boat before us had handed over two bottles of Badger ale, but would actually have preferred the chance to tackle the locks himself on the way to Rhoswiel.
Throughout the adventure we have seen symbols of solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
31/03/2022 – Miles: 9.53 – Locks: 2 – 5h0m
April Fools’ Day might not seem to be a very auspicious day to traverse Pontcysyllte – the highest aqueduct in the world and the longest one to be found in Great Britain. The 336 yard long Chirk Aqueduct provided us with a taste of what was to come.
Adjacent to Chirk Viaduct, on the left of the photograph above, the Aqueduct was designed by William Jessop and Thomas Telford and was built between 1796 and 1801, straddling the border between England and Wales. Innovative design features minimised the weight: the ten semi-circular masonry arches are hollow and the water channel has an iron bed plate and brick sides sealed using hydraulic mortar.
Just along the towpath, Chirk Tunnel, known locally, if politically incorrectly, as ‘the Darkie’ was one of the first in the UK to incorporate a towpath. It was indeed dark inside.
Although there were no locks on this section there were lift bridges to wind up and down.
The first 11 miles of the Llangollen Canal from the Horseshoe Falls to Chirk Aqueduct, including the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You catch your first glimpse of the aqueduct as you approach.
It is difficult to describe just how high 126ft [38m] above the ground seems when you are travelling across the 307m aqueduct with the River Dee and the Vale of Llangollen far below you. Sometimes it is best not to look down.
The canal has a towpath on the east side . . .
. . . and a sheer drop to the west.
We found a mooring spot just above Llangollen with views across the town.
Robert walked into the marina to pay the mooring fee past the horses used to tow the tourist boats.
There were no spaces so we turned in the marina and the handsome cat in the narrowboat behind us kept a critical eye on us while we moored up.
The River Dee babbles over rocks and stones next to the station.
On arrival in Llangollen, Robert took Ralf to meet an old friend who lives locally while Gill, Derek and Matilda walked the short distance out of the town and up the hill to Plas Newydd, the home of Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby who left Ireland to find a new home.
Unfortunately, there was scaffolding over most of the exterior.
Many notable figures of the day visited the “Ladies of Llangollen” as they were known, and one of their requirements was that people should bring any oak furniture which they no longer required. This was apparently going out of fashion at the time and many people were replacing it with more delicate Regency designs. The “Ladies” broke up the items of furniture and reused the carvings and various elements to decorate their home.
When the Duke of Wellington visited he is said to have donated the two lions which adorn the entrance.
We had hoped to follow in the footsteps of such illustrious people as the Duke of Wellington, Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott by partaking of a hot beverage but unfortunately the tea rooms were closed.
Although Robert met his friend Dave in the Liberty Tavern, The Corn Mill was recommended as hostelry of the day. Thanks to Gill and Derek for a delicious meal there [see Dish of the Day].
01/04/2022 – Miles: 7.25 – Locks: 0 – 4h30m
Days: 45 – Miles: 331 – Locks: 362