Walking In the Air

8- 14 May – Our second week on the Gollie we make it to Llangollen

After such a lovely day on Sunday, Monday was, frankly, a disappointment. As it was a Bank Holiday and we had cruised a long day on Sunday, we decided to stay put and do “domestics”. This involved returning everything that was out of place to its rightful location, taking down bunting and general cleaning. Boring but necessary. It also involved a fair bit of kicking back and doing SFA too. It’s pretty rare for us to do this and we had a nice, wasted day.

Around teatime we heard a great deal of Police Sirens and then a chopper. We assumed it was a road incident, but I saw later on the dreaded Facebook, that it had been an incident on the Chirk Aqueduct, just up the cut from where we were moored. There was and still is very little detail in the local press, but the rescued person was airlifted to Aintree Hospital.

I was up early (for me!) on Tuesday as my stepmum – known universally as “Nanny Lynne” – was coming to pick me up to get the boy’s annual vaccinations done. It’s unfortunate that May is the anniversary as we are usually out cruising, but it is what it is. In other years we have either got it done at our vet at home or at our local vet in Droitwich. This year we went to Oswestry to a lovely vet called Park Issa. They were so helpful and friendly and both the boys were very well behaved and we were soon on our way.

Nanny Lynne gave me what my Dad always called the “five bob tour” of her home town, set as it is in the beautiful Shropshire countryside, and then we went to her house for lunch. Nanny Lynne is renowned for her delicious soup and today was no exception. I felt very sorry for Paul, beavering away back on Old Nick, as soup is a particular favourite of his. He even had to make his own lunch as I was absent.

We had a lovely time catching up and then she took us back to the boat via her local Pet Shop, where we bought some treats for the boys. She walked down the towpath with me to say hello to Paul and then we said goodbye. We are very grateful for her help and glad that the boys were well behaved for her. Annoyingly I forgot to take any photos! Tsk.

When Paul finished work, we set off towards pretty Chirk Bank, where the canal is on an embankment through the village. Nanny Lynne had told me that the pub where we had met that morning had been a favourite of George’s when he was little as it had a play area. He called them “toy pubs”, bless him, and was always very excited to find one. He spent many holidays on Sam Gunter with Dad and Lynne.

The Chirk Aqueduct is a marvel but always lives under the shadow of it’s more famous cousin, the Pontcysyllte. For my money. it’s ALMOST equally as impressive, as it runs cheek by jowl with the Chirk viaduct, originally built for the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway company, and which I think is still in use although, in all the times we have crossed, I have never once seen a train.

The aqueduct was built in 1801 and the viaduct in 1848. It’s a very stylish viaduct, standing 30 metres above the ground and being 260 metres (850 ft) long. It has 16 arches. The aqueduct, which briefly held the title “World’s Tallest Aqueduct, is a mere 65 feet (20 m) high, has 10 arches and is 710 feet (220 m) long. The sight of them holding hands as they tiptoe across the valley together is nothing short of awesome.

As I mentioned before, there is a distinct flow on the Llangollen canal. Around 12 million gallons (55 million litres) of water passes through Llangollen Canal every day, making it behave more like a river. We are currently going against the flow. The water is used to provide drinking water for the North West, by the way. We will make much better headway on our return leg next week.

Going over the aqueduct is really slow, because the flow of the water is constricted. Something to do with fluid dynamics and Bernoulli’s principle, since you ask! We notice it when going through bridges, too. And, in tunnels, it’s particularly bad. There is a “thing” called prop walk, which essentially tries its best to turn the boat round. In a narrow tunnel, you tend to go sideways as a result of prop walk, with the nose on one wall and the stern on the other. And to the tune of nasty grinding noises. It’s almost impossible to not do it, so it’s a case of grin and bear it. The aqueduct has railings on the towpath side and a ledge of around 2 feet 6 inches (just under 80cms) wide with no railings the other side. You can see both in the second picture below.

Here is a video of our crossing.

And immediately after the aqueduct is Chirk Tunnel. A shortie at 1380ft (421 metres) long, it has a towpath running through it and is single passage – room for only one boat. It’s like a bridge hole – whoever is closest to the portal gets to go through. By the time we had “crabbed” our way through, using twice as much current as we would usually use to make headway, there were a few boats waiting to go through in the opposite direction.

We found a nice sunny spot near Chirk Marina and moored for the night. A little too close to a railway line than we’d like but it did’t really trouble us and I drifted off to the comforting hoot of an owl.

We remained in place , there, until teatime on Wednesday and then set off, when Paul finished work. We made our way through the very short Whitehouse Tunnel – only 174m (190ft) long – and thence down to Froncysyllte, just immediately before the BIG ONE. We had a plan to get up early and do the last leg down to Llangollen. We’d hopefully have it all to ourselves and we could really take our time.

The alarm rang at 06:00 and we dressed and popped the kettle on, got the boys up and dressed (i.e. put their collars on) and were crossing the threshold of the amazing Pontcysyllte Aqueduct at 06:24. In very light rain. Accuweather promised it would stop very shortly and it did, so did not spoil our crossing.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, with its 18 arches was built in 1805, stripping Chirk of its highest Aqueduct title. It is, indeed, the highest aqueduct in the world (126 ft/38 m) and the longest (336 yds/307m) in Great Britain. The water in the cast iron trough is actually 5 ft 3 in/1.60 m deep.

As with Chirk, there is a towpath on one side, but on the Pontcysyllte (pronounced roughly Pont – ker – sulth – teh by the way), you just have a maybe 6″ max wide strip of iron between you and free-falling, as you can see in the pic below. It really is like walking in the air – or maybe cruising in the air? I’ll have a word with Aled.

Because of the early hour, we had it all to ourselves and could take all the time we wanted. Other times we have crossed there have been loads of tourists and other boats, but not today. Just us – and one person who was obviously on their way to work. What a daily commute eh? But it gave us time to take photos and even send the drone up.

The last section of the journey to Llangollen is a bit irksome. There are several very narrow bits with no room for boats to pass each other – you have to send someone ahead to ensure your passage is without incident. But the scenery more than makes up for it. It gets steadily wilder as you progress and I’ve always loved the views up to Castell Dinas Bran, high (321.4m / 1054 ft) above the town. It’s the remains of a mediaeval castle, built in the mid 13th century, and rather beautiful.

Castell Dinas Bran

We arrived at the services and, with some relief, dealt with the loo. The Llangollen is not particularly well served for Sanitary facilities and we were once again, approaching critical mass! We stopped at the shop and bought our two night’s mooring and entered the basin, What a delight. It has beautiful views and seems a really peaceful spot. We are looking forward to exploring the area over the next couple of days.

After we had moored, and I was making a batch of Scotch eggs, someone shouted “Hello, Kay” at the stern of the boat. I had no idea who he was but I did that “I’m sure I should probably know you but I have not got an actual Scooby” sort of thing and he kindly put me out of my misery. He had just spent the last week working on a project with my brother, Bruce, in Copenhagen and had arrived back in the UK in the early hours today. They had got chatting and he told Bruce he had a boat and that he lived in Llangollen and he promised to come and see us. It was a real pleasure to meet him, especially as he had a 17 year old Border Terrier bitch called Phoebe with him, to whom the boys were very respectful, as was right and proper for her venerability. And a lovely surprise. Although I was not looking my best, having been caught in the rain earlier!

Mark and lovely Phooebe

The weather was a bit changeable and thunder rumbled around us most of the afternoon and into the evening, with the occasional cloudburst, which rather scuppered our plans for a cycle ride that evening.

After a bit of a lie-in, we woke up to a mist moisty morning and decided that the weather looked good enough for a bike ride and set off down the towpath towards the famous Horseshoe Falls. The boys loved it and ran joyfully by our sides. The canal is very clear on these upper reaches and very brown in colour.

We arrived at the Chainbridge Hotel and decided that we’d have lunch there before pressing on to the Falls. The hotel is in a beautiful location sandwiched between the canal and the River Dee, upon which Llangollen stands. The hotel rather turns its back on the canal, although it is quite narrow at this point.

We ate lunch outdoors, overlooking the river and were joined by a very bold and cheeky robin. He actually came and sat on the rim of my glass. We were spellbound. And then along came some white water rafters, followed by the vintage train pulling into Berwyn station just opposite. It’s all go here!

Lunch finished, we rode off on the last few hundred yards to the falls, which I imagine are a very popular picnic spot in summer. The falls are actually man-made – by none other than Mr Canal himself, Thomas Telford. Their function was to act as a feeder of water from the Dee to the canal.

The weir has been part of a World Heritage Site since 2009. The site covers the last 11 miles (18 km) of the Llangollen Canal from just west of Horseshoe Falls, and takes in both the Pontcysllte Aqueduct, and the Chirk Aqueduct. The canal was awarded World Heritage status because of the “bold civil engineering solutions needed to construct a canal with no locks through such difficult terrain”. Amen to that!

The end of the canal is somewhat ignominious, but the falls are very attractive. The boys had a good run round and a play-fight over a stick in the field adjacent to the falls. And then it was time to retrace our steps, only this time, we took a detour into town, passing by the Pavilion (or Pafiliwn in Welsh!) which is where the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod (eye-stethe-vod) is held in July each year. The first of these Eisteddfodau took place in 1947, with the rather worthy aim of providing a means of healing the wounds of the Second World War, and help to promote lasting peace, based on the Welsh eisteddfod tradition. The Pavilion was originally built in 1992 as a permanent home for the Eisteddfod. It was refurbished in 2010.

It was pretty busy in town (and by now, the boys were in the backpacks) but we stopped to have a very nice ice-cream each, with the bottom tips of the cone going to the boys, as is traditional. The hill back up to the canal, which is on an embankment above the town, is very steep indeed, even with e-bikes. And certainly no joke with 10+ kgs of mutt on your back! But we made it back in one piece. A good bit of exercise for all of us!

Once back at the boat, I quickly did a load of washing to take advantage of the sunny day promised for tomorrow. Fingers crossed it does not rain overnight. As we are leaving Llangollen tomorrow (and I’m quite sad about that) it will take pride of place in the well-deck at the bow.

It was another misty start but the sun soon dealt with that. I was very sad to be leaving this lovely spot. I felt very much at home there. And we had witnessed some amazing antics from some of the hire boats that rocked up. One came in at full chat and I kept thinking that he’d need to slow down and reverse, but no. He struck the bank head on at speed! I was agog! Somebody did cry out just before they hit, but way too late to avert the collision. Others came in and struck other boats, there was much revving of engines and evident stress. Even the trip boat came in a shade to fast for my liking and set off at top speed. I guess they have a timetable to stick to, but the speed did seem a bit excessive. But – and I’m going to sound like and old codger here – speed seems to be the thing these days.

Paul nipped into town before we left to get some fresh goods and then we set off, with the washing adorning our bow, fluttering chearily in the breeze. We did a brief stop at the sanitary station in readiness for the sanitary station desert ahead and then it was off through the narrows. I am very glad we chose this time of year to “do” the Gollie. It must be absolute chaos at some of the pinch points! We encountered 3 boats at the end of one such section. They seemed to be playing a game of dodgems. We just pulled over and let them sort themselves out and then proceeded.

The Aqueduct was absolutely heaving on this fine and sunny day. We were going to put the drone up again but it would have been too complex. We gave way to one of the trip boats and then followed them across. It made me smile to think that I had been wearing a coat and furry scarf on the way over and, today I had gone sleeveless.

We met a couple and their son, walking across the ‘duct – I’d say he was around six years old. We asked his parents if he’d like a ride across. They were delighted and his little face melted my heart. In reality, you don’t actually need to steer across the aqueduct. The boat just nudges its own way across, but we let him think that he was steering and told him he was a natural.

I asked if they would be going much further and offered to let him help us do the lifting of the next lift bridge. It’s a fair few turns to get the bridge raised but Dylan didn’t flinch (although I think Paul was doing most of the work). His little face! I asked if he’d had Weetabix for breakfast and he had! Good job really as he then had to wind the bridge back down. His folks took loads of photos and were very appreciative of our “kindness”. He’ll have something for show and tell on Monday, bless him.

We pulled over mid afternoon at a pleasant spot, just near Pentre. Trees and birdsong. And solar for a while. It would do – especially as we had just come off hook-up and our batteries were fully charged. We noticed, by the way, that the going was a little quicker this way, aided by the flow.

We watched Eurovision, which we haven’t done for a while. It’s much more entertaining these days – although I don’t like the new voting. During the evening, there was a steady succession of people running by with head torches. I looked online to see what was occurring and drew a blank. It may have been a “dark run.” – which appears to be a thing! Along a canal towpath. At night. Seems like a recipe for a sprained ankle to me!

We left our nice spot after another lie-in and set off for The Poachers, George’s esrtwhile “toy pub” near Weston Rhyn, where we had met Nanny Lynne last week. We were meeting her there again and also getting our weekly shop delivered.

We passed through the two tunnels from earlier in the week, experiencing a bit of excitement near the end of Chirk tunnel. We were the last in a procession of three boats and it seemed that someone had started entering the tunnel from the other end. We could hear shouting and engines revving – a sure indicator of something amiss! We had a to rely on a passer by, walking through the tunnel, to tell us what had been going on. By the time we reached the end, they’d all sorted themselves out and were waiting serenely for their turn to enter the tunnel.

As it was quite quiet and we knew there was no-one behind us, Paul sent the drone up for some footage of the Georgian and Victorian marvels, the Chirk Aqueduct and Viaduct. I don’t think we’ll ever tire of the thrill of these incredible structures.

We arrived at our rendezvous, tied up and along came Lynne. She had very kindly accepted a parcel for me and was hand-delivering it. We had a chat and a cuppa and then off she went again to disturb some more worms in her garden. And slay those dreaded dandelions, with their pesky taproots!

Another week over. I’m Rather afraid that after this week of marvels, next week’s tales are going to be a bit tame, although we will be breaking new ground for us and Old Nick by taking a burble up the Montgomery Canal. We’ll leave you with a quick vid of us, burbling!

TOTAL 2023

6 Replies to “Walking In the Air”

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed ‘Walking in the Air’ with you & for the lovely write-up of our time together. I was also a tad cross that I hadn’t taken any pics – we were too busy chatting . . !
    Loved your additions of phonetic pronunciations of the Welsh place names – & their accuracy! You have certainly done this neck of the woods at the right time of year – &, as a Welshwoman, thoroughly approve of your glowing appreciation. Dai iawn! X x

  2. HI Kay,
    what a lovely post, it’s years since we’ve been on the Llangolllen and now I REALLY want to go again! Once we made the mistake of beiing there in August, and came back over the Ponty on Bank Holiday weekend. What idiots! we had to wait for 13 boats to cross before we could go over, and obviously gave way to the trip boat too. I don’t imagine they can possibly keep to a timetable. Great photos too

  3. Good morning ! Just a quick note to say thank you for taking the time to publish your travel diary. I have followed you from the start and sometimes (as now watching you in sunny May June whilst sipping tea in chilly grey November!) get behind a bit. They are interesting and amusing, great writing style. We live, I suspect not far from your home ground , in Chichester, have a Narrowboat share and a caravan so as work slows, the chance to explore more of this beautiful country increases. Currently reading your Llangollen diaries which we know well from caravan travels but not on the canal.
    So thanks again for the diaries , at my current reading rate I’ll be reading your winter ones in spring but never mind.
    Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year
    Steve Hawkins

    1. Hi Steve. Lovely to hear from you and thank you for your very kind comments. It is always good to hear from someone – I often think that I am blogging into the void, but I blog largely so that, when we are in our dotage, we have something to look back on. We are ex-caravanners and blogged about that too, both home and abroad and also about two longish RV holidays in Canada (Vancouver to Calgary) and the US(Denver to Seattle via Yellowstone) which we absolutely loved. Time for another, I think? All the best to you.

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