Narrowboat Adventure #16: Thomas Telford, we salute you

Narrowboat Adventure #16: XX

Saturday 2nd to Monday 4th April 2022

We had all promised ourselves a cooked breakfast so we strolled into Llangollen past the Riverside Taxidermy Studio which we remarked on at each time of passing: it seems such an unlikely business to be thriving in such a prime, picturesque location.

After a very civilised and sustaining breakfast at the m’Eating Point we set off to retrace our route along the Llangollen Canal. There are sections of the canal known as ”narrows” between Llangollen and the aqueduct which are effectively single track with no passing places. Signs recommend you send someone ahead to check that there are no boats coming in the opposite direction and Gill and Matilda opted for a brisk walk to confirm that the route was clear. Although there was undoubtedly more traffic on the canal around the aqueduct, the advance party only encountered one boat travelling in the opposite direction. As they had not sent any scouts ahead, it was fortunate that those on board The Duke were alerted.

As you start walking along the towpath a sign states that children must be supervised at all times crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct due to the “wide gaps in the historic railings”. Matilda felt it should also specify close supervision of visually impaired Lakeland Terriers as she found it significantly more stressful to walk across the aqueduct with Ralf [who had demanded a comfort break] than she had done crossing in The Duke with the sheer drop beside her. Ralf kept getting as close as he possibly could to the edge to pee over the side and could easily have fallen through the wide historic railings even with the added padding of his life jacket.

Matilda would advise against anyone walking below the aqueduct as she is sure that Ralf cannot be the only dog to relieve himself into the abyss. 

On the this, the return journey, Derek was designated chief cinematographer.

It is such a grand feat of engineering by the self-taught Thomas Telford it has been a real treat to travel across the ”stream in the sky”.

Ralf seemed very interested in the sculpture celebrating the railways at the eastern end of the aqueduct.

Once again, we passed through the 175m long Whitehouse Tunnel, which was completed in 1802 and nowadays passes under the A5.

Although we were travelling through scenery we had passed through before, we found that places really do look different from the opposite direction. We had barely noticed the factory in Chirk on the outward journey as it was behind us but it appeared looming in the distance ahead as we approached the town. Matilda thought it smelled of baking and subsequently Robert spotted a large sign with Cadbury branding. Apparently the factory processes cocoa butter which is then transported to the Cadbury factory in Bourneville. Rather irrationally, it seemed to be less of an industrial eyesore once we knew it was processing chocolate as opposed to concrete.

This section of canal is fed by the River Dee and the Horseshoe Falls weir in Llangollen and therefore, unlike many, has a discernible current, flowing gently towards England. The water is so clear at the Llangollen end that you can clearly see the debris lying on the bottom. Because of the current, it takes slightly longer to travel from England into Wales than it does to travel from Wales back to England. Although the navigation was abandoned in 1944, the channel was maintained as it supplied water to the Shropshire Union Canal, and subsequently to the Mid and South East Cheshire Water Board.

Whilst crossing the bridge north of Chirk Tunnel on his way to find the hostelry of the day, Robert passed Chirk railway station which is next to the canal. He was intrigued to see a small section of cleared land and a van with some narrow gauge railway track. Robert’s research informed him that it is the beginnings of the restoration of the Glyn Valley Tramway, a two foot four inch narrow gauge steam operated railway, built to carry slate from Wales to Chirk.

At Chirk Robert had stumbled across the start of the preservation of the whole line: the 1 km stretch which you can see in the photograph. As regular readers will know, Robert is very keen on narrow gauge steam railways of the Welsh variety.

While Derek and Robert were sampling the local hostelries [see below], a very inquisitive pair of mallards came to investigate what Gill was cooking and the female seemed ready to join us in the cabin [see Video of the day].

The Stanton House Inn and Hand Hotel, Chirk – hostelries for day 46

02/04/2022 – Miles: 4.75 – Locks: 0 – 3h45m

The route for day 46 – Llangollen to Chirk
The whole day’s journey in GoPro stop Fram animation

We had consulted the map and agreed that we would moor up before the Chirk Tunnel so that Matilda, Gill and Derek could visit Chirk Castle on Sunday as this is just a short walk from the western end.

Gill, Derek and Matilda set off to visit Chirk Castle leaving Ralf in Robert’s care on board. The sun, which was struggling to reach the canal cutting, was shining brightly on the splendid Davies Gates, commissioned in 1712.

The construction of Chirk Castle was originally started in 1295 as part of Edward I’s efforts to subdue the last princes of Wales and is just on the Welsh side of the border.

It was bought by Sir Thomas Myddleton [1550 – 1631] who was a founder member of the East India Company and Lord Mayor of London in 1613 and it was the Myddleton family home for over 400 years.

The castle has its own “drying ground” where the laundry could be hung out without being seen. Frankly this walled area is more beautiful and spacious than Matilda’s garden at home and she was quite envious. Lesser horseshoe bats apparently live in in the laundry roof space.

The drying ground, Chirk Castle

The gardens open before the house and entry is free. Here you can see fine yew topiary and statues and although there are many well-established trees some have fallen victim to storms. A cedar which fell in 2014 was carved into a bench to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.

Elements of the interior were designed by Pugin in a neo-gothic style. The staircase takes you to the second floor which . . .

. . .includes a 17th century Long Gallery.

The Long Gallery, Chirk Castle

Matilda, Gill and Derek agreed that if they lived locally, as the gardens were free and the courtyard cafe opened before Chirk Castle itself, this would be an excellent venue for Sunday breakfast.

Even though we were in poll position to enter the tunnel, as we were waiting for a boat to exit a man without any clear understanding of canal etiquette or common courtesy motored straight past us. Robert was not impressed but did overtake him later.

After Chirk Tunnel, we crossed Chirk Aqueduct with views of the viaduct running parallel.

We returned through the same two locks and this time Derek was able to manage them without help.

Although originally we had not planned to stay in the same places on the return journey along the Llangollen Canal, when we passed The Narrowboat Inn we decided we had time to carry on to Ellesmere. Matilda was particularly pleased with this decision as it allowed her to go to the Vault – the quirky little pub adjacent to the old town hall full of interesting objects and memorabilia which Robert and Derek had sampled on the outward journey. It did not disappoint.

Vault Cellar Bar, Ellesmere – hostelry for day 47

03/04/2022 – Miles: 6.25 – Locks: 2 – 5h0m

The route for day 4 – Chirk to Ellesmere

On Monday Gill and Derek awoke to the realisation that Ralf was not quite himself. We diagnosed a mini stroke without any veterinary training at all and a Google search soon confirmed the symptoms: confusion, walking in circles and strange eye movements to name a few. He did not seem to be in any distress and we all monitored him carefully noting improvements during the day.

Canine care took precedence so there are very few photographs to record the day. With no more locks to test us, Derek cheerfully winched open the lift bridges.

On our final evening with Gill and Derek we had hoped to return to The Black Bear in Whitchurch for a meal. Unfortunately a sign on the door informed us that it was closed for two days. Not to be thwarted in his desire to buy the TravellingHerds a meal, Derek found a Chinese takeaway. A taxi was also ordered to ensure the swift delivery of the hot food. Unfortunately, due to some alcohol-induced miscommunication Robert came back to The Duke in the cab, whilst Derek walked back with the food. Robert did confess that he had made the cab stop so that he could offer a lift to a random pedestrian, who looked a little like Derek in the dark. Both Robert and Derek seemed highly amused by the incident.

04/04/2022 – Miles: 16.25 – Locks: 0 – 4h15m

The route for day 48 – Ellesmere to Whitchurch

Route Map:

Days: 48 – Miles: 362 – Locks: 364

Video of the day:

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