The overwhelming popularity of the Llangollen Canal never seems to waver – and why should it? For this is a truly magnificent canal, from its quiet beginnings in the dairylands of Cheshire through to its fantastic climax in the dramatic mountains of North Wales. But there is a price to pay for all this scenic grandeur, as the Llangollen can be exceptionally busy in the peak summer months – an out-of-season visit often brings greater rewards.
Leaving the Shropshire Union Canal at Hurleston Junction, the waterway slips quietly through a timeless landscape of black-and-white cows and black-and-white farmhouses. The pretty villages of Wrenbury and Marbury serve to enhance the rural idyll. By contrast, Grindley Brook locks are often the scene of frenzied activity in high season – fortunately the lock-keeper is normally on hand to offer expert guidance to inexperienced boat crews struggling with the staircase chambers.
The mountains of Wales, initially just grey/blue smudges on the western horizon, are coming ever closer now, but first there is Shropshire’s very own Lake District to enjoy: a series of delightful meres grouped around the handsome town of Ellesmere. Passing Frankton Junction, where the Montgomery Canal heads off towards Newtown, you ascend the canal’s final two locks at New Marton.
Then there are two splendid aqueducts to negotiate. First there’s Chirk, spectacular enough in its own right, followed by fabulous Pontcysyllte, where the canal crosses the River Dee on an incredible structure 1,000ft long, 127ft tall at its deepest point and comprising an iron trough supported by 18 stone pillars. Celebrating its 200th birthday in 2005, Pontcysyllte is undoubtedly the single most iconic structure on the British canal network and has UNESCO World Heritage status.
And then you’re on the last lap into lovely Llangollen, a town made famous by its annual Eisteddfod. You can moor in the special mooring basin while you explore all the sights. Strongly recommended is a horse-drawn trip along the final short section up to Horseshoe Falls, and there’s a steam railway too, offering an alternative way to enjoy the peerless majesty of the Dee Valley.