We crossed the railway line and headed down into the dark tree lined cutting of the canal just north of Chirk Tunnel. This tunnel of more than 450 yards was luckily not on our route for otherwise we would have had to either pick our way through holding the handrail or bring a torch. The tunnel appears to be something of a bottleneck on the canal for there were a large number of boats waiting to enter. I'm not sure what the protocol is for entering the tunnel but a number of boats were waiting to pass through. I suspect that this is a popular mooring spot for the town of Chirk also.
The cutting was rather damp from the earlier rainfall and we had to pick our way past some of the muddier spots as we headed along the first section of canal. It was difficult to get a feel for the outside world along this stretch as the cutting is surprisingly deep. When we couldn't hear the chatter of the crews on the boats though we were aware of the hum of factories that are just outside the woods on our right hand side. One of them is a chocolate factory although sadly there was no giveaway smell to confirm that.
Eventually we left the cutting and the trees on either side of the canal relented a bit. The view each side was still rather obscured though from tall flowering plants this time. Rosebay and Greater Willowherbs dominated but Purple Loosestrife also got involved too. This made for very pleasant walking and for a time at least the number of boats passing calmed down giving us some peace and quiet. This is apparently the most popular section of canal in the whole of the country and I guess with aqueducts, great views and no locks between here and Whitchurch (a popular point for starting cruises) it was easy to understand why.
|First Glimpse of Pontcysyllte|
At Irish Bridge there was a sharp turn to the left as we reached the Dee Valley. Here, the railway line that we had been following since Chirk headed off across the valley on a large and impressive looking viaduct as it headed north towards Chester and Wrexham. For us though the canal took a course on a shelf high on the valley side to the village of Froncysyllte. Although our side of the valley was very rural (perhaps because it is in shade a lot of the time) the other side was pretty built up. The trees flanking the side of the canal largely blocked our views across the Dee Valley however, with only glimpses to be had from time to time. It was just after we had turned to head westwards briefly that we got the first glimpse of one of the reasons for taking this walk - the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
In Froncysyllte we passed a couple of tea houses that we perhaps should have made use of. In our excitement to get across the upcoming aqueduct we by-passed them in favour of a refreshment stop the other side. If you decide to take this walk I would suggest you don't wait - what is available here looks far more promising than what we found on the other side. I cannot say that the walk to the aqueduct was particularly enjoyable either as we had to put up with a couple of young girls talking inanely on the phone as they wandered along the towpath. It rather spoiled the ambience!
|Completing the Crossing|
|Heading Along Llangollen Branch|
Crossing the aqueduct was rather scarier than I imagined. None of my girls are particularly good with heights but I don't normally struggle. Yet the narrowness of the path and the fact that there was just a thin metal railing between us and oblivion was definitely something more than my comfort zone. I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to take a boat across for on the non-towpath side of the canal there isn't even so much as a fence but a sheer drop! Definitely not for the faint-hearted and yet there was something very exhilarating about the whole experience! My girls were on for an ice-cream on the other side so for them it was just about reaching the destination - I'm not even sure they looked at the view!
|Former Railway Bridge|
|Dinas Bran Castle|
Soon we came upon the railway bridge across the canal. Sadly this section of railway between Ruabon and Llangollen is no more - it closed with the Beeching cuts. I suspect it will never reopen either since the trackbed in Llangollen itself has sadly been built over. This stretch has really returned to nature - the trackbed is seriously overgrown and would take an awful lot to clear. The track follows the canal for some distance but not that you would know it unless you looked really carefully!