Some may not like the idea of canoeing on a canal, but when the canal in question is the Llangollen Canal World Heritage site and in an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, overlooked by mountains to North and South West that are Special Areas of Conservation and which itself overlooks the famous River Dee (another SAC) it is a pretty special experience. If you include the stunning bridge in the sky, a 126 foot high aqueduct then you are in for a stunning day out on the Llangollen Canal.
Start at the very beginning
If you want to paddle from the start of the canal then park at Llantisilio Green, walk past the toilet block and through the gate. The view down to Horseshoe Falls opens up, and at the bottom of the hill go through the gate on the left and you will find yourself at the start of the canal.
Before you get into the water take a look at the Horseshoe Falls. This man-made curved weir is where the canal draws its water from the River Dee, built by Thomas Telford between 1804 and 1808. The Llangollen Canal itself was built to feed the Shropshire Union Canal, and six million gallons of water a day flow out of the river and down the canal. It also feeds Hurleston Reservoir in Shropshire.
Once you have marvelled at the picturesque beauty you will be ready to enter the canal and paddle your way down towards Llangollen. Along your journey keep your eyes peeled for the fascinating wildlife located all along the canal side; there are lots of fish, freshwater lamprey and even the occasional mussel.
On your way to Llangollen you will see the chain bridge which was constructed in 1814 and which has recently been renovated and reopened to the public. Attached to this is a hotel called The Chain Bridge Hotel built in 1829. The original owners built the bridge to avoid tolls on Llangollen bridge and persuaded the canal company to extend the tow path to the hotel. This is the one-mile mark from Llangollen’s centre. Please don’t drive to the hotel to access the canal as there is limited parking which is reserved for guests of the hotel.
Carry on down the canal, through the only bridge with no towpath under, and soon after on your right there are lime kilns hidden down by the river. Soon the view opens out to the left and you will see an industrial building to your right; this is the Llangollen Motor Museum, formerly a slate dressing works. The narrowest point here used to be a crossing with a lift bridge, bringing slate on a light railway to the works.
After passing the motor museum look to your right and see the train track running parallel to the canal. This is the Llangollen Heritage Steam Railway and many people come to visit this attraction, from steam and diesel railway enthusiasts to Thomas the Tank Engine fans, and families simply looking for a good day out.
Watch out for the horse-drawn boats coming up from Llangollen Wharf as they have been for over 100 years as you make your way down the canal under small bridges and through the beautiful natural environment.
Just before paddling into Llangollen you will see the Pavilion, a large tent like building which is the venue for the Llangollen International Eisteddfod. This is a festival in July which was established in 1947 to promote peace and goodwill after the end of the Second World War, and where over 50 countries and over 120,000 performers gather to compete in musical and dance competitions. Other than at busy weekends and two weeks either side of the International Eisteddfod (the first full week in July), this is a good spot to access the canal for day trips.
Once you have passed the Pavilion you will be in the heart of Llangollen. This is where the horse-drawn barge starts at Llangollen Wharf with its own small tea rooms. In Llangollen there is the Castell Dinas Bran, many shops, pubs, cafes, hotels and restaurants, and of course the ProAdventure shop, for great outdoor kit and local advice.
After Llangollen you will be making your way down to Trevor. On your way you will see the Sun Trevor, where you can disembark the canoes and get a great pub meal, and the Bryn Howel Hotel which is renowned for their attention to detail and good old-fashioned cream teas. People do park where the A483 crosses the canal and carry down to the water.
The next access point is on a track behind the Bryn Howel Hotel.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct built by Thomas Telford in 1805 is the next wonder you will encounter whilst paddling along. This 1,007 foot long structure has 19 arches which carry 1.5 million litres of water and is classed as a World Heritage Site. With its outstanding views it is one not to miss. If you access the canal here please don’t park in front of residents homes or in the turning spaces.
Following your completion of the Aqueduct you may need to portage around a lift bridge. Then paddle a few miles downstream to Chirk. First you will arrive at Chirk Marina where you can get a bite to eat at The Boathouse, a canal side cafe-bar which serves traditional home cooked food, real ale and fine wines. Soon after you will make your way through a bridge, through the darkie, a long tunnel with towpath alongside. I try to follow a barge through here and use front and rear lights. You will come back into the light just before Chirk Aqueduct which was another one of Thomas Telford’s designs built in 1801. Running alongside this is the viaduct which holds the train line and was built after the aqueduct in 1848.
Your final destination will be ahead on the left. A pub called The Poachers Pocket which serves good food and real ale which will be much deserved after a good days paddle. The car park before the pub is a public one.