Llangollen Canal and Castell Dinas Bran

After yesterday’s walk from the Horseshoe Falls at Llangollen I am keen to explore the Llangollen Canal and also visit the renowned Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  It is another cracking day, but storms are forecast for later so I ensure my waterproofs are in the rucksack before driving to the Horseshoe car park close to the River Dee at Berwyn.

Starting my walk by exiting the car park through the gate to head down to the river,  I soon catch up with groups of young children conveying inflatable boats.  As I pass one group a child enquires of their leader how they are going to get their boat back up the hill.  He is just about to get an education into what happens when you put a boat into a river heading down stream.

On reaching the falls I turn left and follow the footpath signs around the valve house to the start of the Llangollen Canal.  I have walked along many canal towpaths, but do not recall ever being at the start of a canal quite like this.

The waterway is carved through the rock and is soon well above the River Dee as I pass behind the Chainbridge Hotel.  This hotel offers rooms with a canal view or for a few extra pounds a view of the river. I like canals, but if I were staying here I would be dipping into my wallet to pay the extra.

Describing my route from here to the Aqueduct at Pontcysyllte could not be easier.  Just stay on the canal towpath all the way! Its an amazing six miles along a canal without a single lock.  It’s not that the ground is flat; it is a stunning bit of engineering by Thomas Telford.  This initial section is carved into the rock and must have taken some imagination and planning to construct.  After the Hotel car park I pass a cracking bridge.

As I head towards Llangollen I meet plenty of people along the way, this is a tranquil setting and the canal towpath is obviously a popular spot.

Nearing Llangollen I pass the sheds of the Llangollen Heritage Railway, this volunteer run organisation has managed to restore ten miles of track from Llangollen to Corwen.  The line was closed to passenger traffic in 1965 and to goods in 1968, but the efforts of the volunteers saw trains running again in 2014.

Soon after I pass a group of school children learning to canoe.  It is refreshing to see young people given the opportunity to gain such outdoor skills.

On reaching Llangollen Wharf I go by the café, which adjoins stables from which horses pull tourist barges along the canal.  This is an interesting bit of local history, I initially thought it was a modern tourist attraction, but according to the companies website it has been operating since 1884 when a chap called Captain Jones was invalided out of the White Star Line. He used a boat to get to Llangollen and thought it might be attractive to others so started a service from Chirk Railway Station to Llangollen.  It has been running ever since, but nowadays horses are not allowed to cross the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

This canal was originally built as the Ellesmere Canal with the aim of connecting the River Mersey to the River Severn.  Work started in 1795 but was never completed.  The water source for the canal was to have been the River Dee at Wrexham, but the link was never made so the feeder was built from the River Dee at the Horseshoe Falls.

Renamed the Llangollen Canal in the late 20th century the canal runs for 46-miles from where I started today’s walk, to the Shropshire Union Canal at Hurleston Junction. When we stayed close to Nantwich last year we walked sections of this canal, including the part where it joins the Shropshire Union Canal.

Like many canals a railway company purchased this one, maintenance was not their priority, resulting in it silting up and by 1937 traffic between Frankton and Llangollen had ceased.  Fortunately due to the strategic importance of this section in supplying water to the wider canal network it continued as a water supply.

The lack of maintenance had a disastrous effect on 6thSeptember 1945 when the canal breached its bank at Sun Bank Halt, a station between Llangollen and Trevor. Water cascaded from the canal and washed away the railway embankment further down the hill resulting in a crater 40 yards long and fifty feet deep. It caused a mail train with 16 carriages and two vans to crash killing one of the crew.

Because of the need for the water supply the canal was repaired and by 1954 was being used by pleasure boats.  There then followed years of doubt about the future of the canal until it was placed under the control of the British Waterways Board in 1968.

After a couple of hours wandering along the towpath I reach the basin at Pontcysyllte.

This place is busy with people either enjoying refreshments in the sunshine or promenading over the aqueduct.  I’m not sure my vertigo would enable me to cross this aqueduct, on a quiet day with Lynnie for company I might be tempted, but with so many folk about I decide not to risk it!

The eighteen, stone and cast iron arches of the aqueduct took Thomas Telford ten years from 1795 to design and build.  They cross 128 feet above the River Dee and are a stunning feet of engineering.

It is still hot and humid and I am conscious that storms are forecast for later so I decide not to hang around too long. Instead I turn and retrace my steps back along the towpath, after a quarter of a mile I reach the bridge that would transfer me to the southern side of the canal instead I take a footpath on the right which follows the Offa’s Dyke Path.  This takes me through fields of pasture away from the canal to the entrance driveway of Trevor Hall.

Continuing to follow the Offa’s Dyke way-markers I head through Trevor Hall Wood, which runs behind Trevor Hall, unfortunately there is no view of the splendid Hall from here. It is now a wedding venue and according to its website the current house was built in 1742 and had an interesting history with many different owners and tenants through the years.

In 1956 a local timber merchant acquired it and applied to demolish it, after opposition it was saved and purchased by the Dudley branch of the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service.  They planned to convert it to a children’s home but in 1963 a major fire reduced it to a shell and a local farmer purchased it and used it as a cattle shed.  John Tree, a chartered surveyor, purchased it in 1987 and restored the property.

Rain starts to fall whilst I am in the woodland.  It is weeks since there was any serious rain, I am not sure if I am on the edge of a downpour or if this is the start of one.  The trees provide a level of protection so I decide against donning my waterproofs.

I stay on the Offa’s Dyke trail, ignoring footpaths to the left and the right.  As I reach the end of the wooded section the rain becomes more persistent and I reluctantly drag the waterproofs out of my rucksack. Still on the Offa’s Dyke Path I follow the way-markers to reach a minor road. This section is known as the Panorama Walk, it is said that the views from here are some of the best in Wales.  The storm has reduced the visibility and the driving rain makes taking pictures difficult.

On the horizon I look towards Castle Dinas Bran, a bank of cloud covers the mountains.  I’m glad I am not on Moel Morfydd today!

As I walk along the storm passes and I start to appreciate why this place is so renowned.  There are some stunning views, but I am conscious of more cloud heading my way so don’t hang around.

I stay on the Offa’s Dyke Path until I reach a sign for Castell Dinas Bran where I turn left and follow a signed footpath steeply uphill towards the remains of the castle. The storm has made the pathway very slippery so it is tough going, but the effort of getting to the top is rewarded by the cracking sight.

This medieval castle is thought to have been built in the 1260’s by Gruffydd II ap Madog, he was an ally of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd Prince of Wales and the castle was built following the signing of the treaty of Montogomery which secured Wales for Llywelyn.

The castle had strategic importance and when in 1276 the peace between Llywelyn and Edward I failed war between England and Wales broke out. Edward dispatched Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln to capture the castle but it had already been abandoned and set on fire, though not badly damaged.

In 1277 Edward placed troops at the castle and it remained in his control until the next war with Wales, which commenced in 1282.  It is thought to have been recaptured by the Welsh before returning to English control. At the end of the war the castle was granted to John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey but he decided not to rebuild it and it has remained a ruin ever since.

Probably due to the stormy weather I am the only person up here, I had expected it to be busy but enjoy the opportunity to explore on my own whilst still keeping a watchful eye on the storm clouds rolling steadily towards me.  I cannot recall seeing such a dramatic cloud formation.

Following the well-defined path I head steeply downhill towards Llangollen to eventually reach the canal.

Turning right along the towpath I soon pass the Llangollen Wharf where the horses have finished their day’s work and are being readied to be taken to their stables.  From here it is a straightforward process of following the towpath back to the Chainbridge Hotel. The storm has passed and it is very pleasant walking along this stretch of canal.

Today I have covered just over twelve miles and despite the rain it has been a stunning walk.  I have decided that next time I head this way I will make sure Lynnie is with me.  She would love this walk.

To view this 12 mile walk on OS maps Click Here

To follow our walk you will need Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 225 – Llangollen & Berwyn

13th July 2018

© Two Dogs and an Awning (2018)

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