Thursday, 20 August 2015

Chirk and the River Ceiriog

Castle Gates
Not too far from where we were staying in Wales was the magnificent Chirk Castle, unusual in that it is still lived in and has been since Mediaeval Times.  We had spent the earlier part of the day touring the castle but since we had plenty of time remaining in the day we were eager to see more of the surrounding countryside and so picked out walk number 12 from Pathfinder Guide Volume 32 North Wales, Snowdon and Offas Dyke to do after our visit.
Chirk Park
We re-parked our car down by Chirk station so that we did not get trapped in the National Trust car park after closing time.  That was also nearer to the official start of the walk in the centre of Chirk.  The railway station is a bit tucked out the way on the very edge of the village and down a ramp in a cutting so as to be almost unnoticed.  Yet, the railway provides a very useful link between here and Shrewsbury, Birmingham and Chester.  It runs alongside the Llangollen Canal here and in thick woods below us we could see the canal emerge from a lengthy tunnel through which it also manages to switch sides with the railway.
Chirk Castle
Our route today though would head up the hill away from the canal and railway after a brief section through woodland.  We would initially cross a field and then a road before entering the castle estate.  It was quite a blustery sort of day with thick cloud billowing all around us.  Despite the slightly autumnal conditions though there seemed little threat of rain, which was good news.  The parkland was a proper deer park environment with oak trees dotted across a largely grassed area.  It looked like in some cases the oaks trees had acted as lightning conductors for many of the trees were in a bit of a state.
Chirk Castle
Eventually as the ground flattened out at the top of the park the castle came into sight.  Not a particularly tall building by castle standards it is still easy to see why it was built in the position it was.  Certainly our view earlier from the towers was incredible and the defenders of the castle would have been able to see any approaching army from a good few miles away.  Unusually the castle wasn’t destroyed following the Civil War, a fate that befell a good number of other castles.  I imagine in this case it was because the owner of the castle at the time was rather more friendly towards Parliamentarian forces…
Striding Into The Distance
Surprisingly, given that it was getting on for late afternoon now people were still heading into the estate.  I suppose most of them are National Trust members otherwise what is the point of going for such a short time?  We decided to by-pass the cafĂ© on the basis that we would have had to go into the ticketed area of the castle once again.  There is a hatch at the side though for any walkers that are passing – I’m not sure whether they would welcome non-members without them paying a fee but the castle and grounds are certainly worth a look and the price of the entrance fee.
Chirk Park
Our route took us up the side of the car park and further up the hill to a couple of cottages on the corner of a road.  Unbeknownst to us we had crossed Offa’s Dyke earlier and although marked on the map crossing the field we passed through it was nigh on impossible to see it.  Of course the fact that I didn’t really know what I was looking for didn’t help!  Offa’s Dyke was built as an earthwork defence by King Offa, the ruler of Mercia in the late 8th Century.  The Dyke is a scheduled ancient monument and is followed by a long distance footpath for its entire length of nearly 180 miles along the Welsh Border.
View Across Chirk Castle
As we reached the road we immediately turned left and continued climbing through sheep fields to reach the summit just before some woodland.  As we climbed we got some fantastic views of Chirk Castle and the Vale of Cheshire beyond.  The clouds were showing some signs of clearing too which was good news especially as opening up the views were concerned.  Once we reached the trees the views in the direction of the castle were no longer but as we started dropping down into the valley below new views along the valley opened up.  
Ceiriog Valley
We were now following the Offa’s Dyke Path and it dropped down steeply into the valley below where we were largely going to follow the River Ceiriog back to Chirk.  Unfortunately for us though the path cannot follow exactly especially for the first part of the walk and we had to drop down along a lane to begin with keeping an eye out for cars all the way.  Luckily none came but there are a fair few houses here, most with splendid looking gardens and fantastic views.  I think any of them would suit me very well!
Ceiriog Valley
At the bottom of the hill we crossed a main road and walked up through the hamlet of Bronygarth and across Crogen Bridge.  Apparently a major battle took place here between Henry II and Owain Gwynedd, which resulted in a Welsh victory despite being outnumbered.  The significance of the defeat was such that Henry, having been lucky to get out alive, gave up on his idea of conquering Wales.  
Welcome to Shropshire
There is no path along the river here and so we had to walk up the other side along a road which thankfully was quiet although we did have to dodge a few cars.  We were surprised though to cross into England along this stretch of road.  A Sign proudly welcomed us to Shropshire so cue amusement from the children who wanted to have pictures of themselves with a foot in each country.
Bronygarth House
Eventually we found the junction of the onward path and dropped down through trees to reach the river once more.  The path looked like it had fallen away due to erosion at one point and so we were diverted onto another alternative much further up the slope.  Looking at the terrain I guess that this is quite a regular occurrence.  Soon we were out in a large field with unfettered river access which prompted the girls into taking their shoes and socks off and going for a paddle.  Most of the clouds had rolled away now and this meant that it had got quite hot.
The walk along the valley floor was most enjoyable as we flitted between fields alongside the river.  We had imperceptibly crossed back into Wales too as we crossed over the river.  Just after crossing the river via a beautiful old masonry bridge we had the most beautiful sight of Telford’s Chirk Aqueduct and the later railway viaduct just in front.  Interestingly as we were to discover the two transport links swap sides a little to the north of here as the canal enters a lengthy tunnel and the railway makes progress through a cutting.  The height difference between the two allowed them to cross over each other.  Must be a bit confusing for the unsuspecting canal cruiser!
Chirk Viaduct/ Aqueduct
We walked past the two bridges and crossed the main road adjacent to Chirk Bridge just beyond.  This was a little scary but we did manage it eventually after a procession of cars went by.  On the other side was an old mill.  The path by-passed it and the old place was clearly not in use as a mill any more but some of the engineering features including the earthworks for the mill race were still very much in evidence.  Our route took us briefly along the 'towpath' of the mill race before climbing up into Chirk itself.  The small town of Chirk looks like a most agreeable place with several shops and places to eat & drink.  Unlike other villages it has managed to retain a certain charm without becoming twee.  With a railway station nearby and a lack of obvious tourism I imagine that it would make a really nice place to live.  
From the centre of town it was a short walk back along the road towards the railway station.  The road was a good advert for the place being populated by some very nice looking houses that are obviously well cared for judging by the beautifully kept gardens.  This was a hugely enjoyable walk with plenty of history and great scenery along the way.  Having increased the mileage from the previous walk the children did not seem to notice and in fact were already talking about a longer walk next time!


  1. As always, I enjoy your blogs as much as your pictures, such a great idea. I think you are right about National Trust members going in late. That's one of the benefits of membership. Sometimes you just wasn't a half hours walk or so in beautiful surroundings. I look forward to my next vicarious walk with you and your lovely family. Thanks for inviting us!

    1. Thanks Tom - we love being NT members (and English Heritage for that matter) as it means we always have somewhere to go when we are on holiday :) Glad you enjoy my blog - thank you very much for your encouraging comments.