Beautiful narrow boat cruises: Llangollen Canal
The Llangollen Canal is one of the most popular narrow boat cruises on the inland waterway network. A must-see journey for narrow boat enthusiasts, the route is 44 miles long and has 21 locks; so it’s perfect for a six or seven day cruise round trip starting from Venetian Marina.
If you’re new to narrow boating, this journey can be a little daunting but as you build confidence, it’s an amazing experience. So we thought it might be good to map out the route and offer a few highlights and tips for making the most of this cruise.
From Venetian Marina, head towards Hurleston Junction on the Shropshire Union Canal (around two hours of travelling time), then turn right and go through three locks.
Wrenbury in Cheshire is the first village that you’ll come to. It’s a peaceful location, with the village centre being a conservation area. On the canal there are three rare single-span timber lift bridges. Apparently among Thomas Telford’s earliest works, two are listed footbridges, whilst the third carries road traffic and is lifted by a winch.
Another highlight of Wrenbury is the Dusty Miller, a popular traditional pub and restaurant. You can pretty much moor outside if need of refreshment!
From Wrenbury, carry on over the Shropshire border. Around a mile out of Whitchurch you’ll come to Grindley Brook, famous for its three-chamber flight of staircase locks.
Whitchurch itself is a bustling market town with numerous walking routes and a heritage centre. There are some shops in the town centre if you want to take the local bus service from the canal.
Whixhall is your next stopping point. If mooring here, a visit to Whixhall Moss may be in order. It’s a national nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – and home to important wildlife including 1,900 invertebrates, the large heath butterfly , hobby, nightjar, water voles and adders.
Whixhall is also close to the main road. From here you can venture by road to Hawkestone Park with its well-known hotel, golf-course and some lovely walks. Around the area you can also find Hodnet Hall Gardens and Colemere Country Park.
As you approach Ellesmere you’ll go through a prominent tunnel, which is 87 yards long. If a spot of shopping is in order, Ellesmere town centre is close to the canal and has numerous antiques, craft and gift shops. There’s also a weekly market.
After Ellesmere it’s on to the pretty border town of Chirk, well-known for its castle, complete with medieval fortress, dungeons and murder holes. If you’d prefer something more sedate, the castle’s award-winning gardens may appeal. A National Trust site, the castle holds a regular programme of events throughout the year – and it’s fairly close to the canal.
Chirk is also significant for its tunnel and aqueduct. Darkie tunnel is 459 yards long and was one of the first British tunnels to have a towing path. It’s known as a great walking route and a good spotting place for kingfishers. Chirk aqueduct was completed by Thomas Telford in 1801; it’s 710-ft long and 70-ft high, and runs alongside a railway viaduct.
Now it’s time to head towards the 1,007-foot long Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (that’s pronounced Pont-ker-suck-tay if you’re not familiar). The aqueduct stands 126 feet high above the River Dee and was built by Thomas Telford. Completed in 1805, it was recently made a World Heritage Site. The views are breathtaking, as highlighted in this BBC video clip and picture gallery; little wonder the site attracts 200,000 tourists every year.
If you’re out and about in the area, this public transport map from Wrexham County Borough Council may be a useful resource. And if you’re looking for something to eat and drink there are plenty of local food options – including CAMRA’s 2012 National Pub of the Year, the Bridge End Inn in Ruabon.
Next stop Llangollen - popular for its steam railway (including dining and driving experiences), Llangollen Motor Museum and horse-drawn boat trips each summer. There’s also an international Eisteddfod every July. It’s great to walk around the area and there are some very popular shops and pubs, including The Corn Mill which is right on the river and features in the Good Pub Guide.
The Llangollen and Dee Valley website has more information about things to do and places to stay and this interactive map from the BBC highlights some landmarks, points of interest and history about the 11-mile World Heritage route.
From this point in the journey, the canal becomes a lot more narrow and shallow. In extreme heat (if the water is quite low) it can be hard to navigate, so do bear this in mind if you’re planning to take in the whole route. There is a winding hole at the top so you can turn the boat around.
From the turning point you can see Horsehoe Falls, again built by Thomas Telford to supply the Llangollen Canal with water from the River Dee. The water is crystal clear at the top end of the canal and you can also see the roach, bream and eels swimming around.
Over to you…
So there you have it – a few suggested highlights for your next Llangollen Canal visit. We hope you find this post useful. If we’ve missed any important landmarks or places you’d recommend, do leave some feedback below…