Guide to the Llangollen Canal
Exploring the waterways of the UK
Exploring the waterways of the UK
The Llangollen Canal has been described as the most beautiful canal in the UK. This scenic waterway crosses the border between England and Wales, linking Llangollen in Denbighshire, north Wales to Hurleston in south Cheshire, via the town of Ellesmere.
The Llangollen Canal started life as part of the Ellesmere Canal, first proposed in 1791 by a group of industrialists who owned coal mines and iron works near Llangollen. If they could link this mining area to the River Mersey in the north and the River Severn in the south then they could distribute their goods more easily.
As part of the Shropshire Union system, the canal thrived until the end of the First World War, after which it saw very little traffic and the navigation was formally abandoned.
The route was designated as a cruiseway in 1968 and as leisure use of the canals grew, the route was rebranded as “The Llangollen Canal” in the 1980s, becoming one of the most popular routes for holidaymakers. In 2009, when the 11-mile (18 km) stretch from Gledrid Bridge near Rhoswiel to Horseshoe Falls including Pontcysyllte and Chirk aqueducts was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
The 11 miles of the Llangollen Canal and its associated structures gained World Heritage status in 2009.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Chirk Aqueduct are found on the Llangollen Canal.
The Llangollen Canal leaves the Shropshire Union Canal in Hurleston in rural Cheshire and climbs through the peaceful Shropshire countryside, passing through the towns of Whitchurch and Ellesmere to cross the border into Wales near Chirk.
From Chirk the canal cuts increasingly hilly countryside to finish alongside the River Dee which falls out of Snowdonia, just above Llangollen. The small town of Llangollen, known as the ‘gateway to Wales’, has lots of attractions, from the steam railway to a whole range of outdoor activities. Llangollen is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site along eleven miles of canal from Gledrid to the Horseshoe Falls via the spectacular Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
The Llangollen Canal is 41 miles long and takes at least three days to cruise (one-way), more when busy.
You can find out more about our cruise guides and waterways maps on our canal boat holiday base information pages for canal boat holidays in Wales.
Chirk aqueduct is an impressive structure of brick and stone pillars, 70-foot high and 710-foot long which carries the Llangollen Canal across the Ceiriog Valley. Designed by Thomas Telford, the water is carried in a cast iron trough. It was completed in 1801 and the railway viaduct runs alongside it, carrying the main line railway through to Holyhead. As you cross the aqueduct you enter Wales and immediately after the aqueduct comes Chirk Tunnel.
This short tunnel opens out at the end of the Chirk Aqueduct. It is 421 meters long, designed by William Jessop and Thomas Telford and is unusual for having a complete towpath inside. Boats cannot pass each other in the tunnel but fortunately it is straight enough to be able to see if a boat is already inside.
Perhaps the greatest feat of engineering on the entire canal network in the UK is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. The aqueduct was designed and built by Thomas Telford , who realised that such a high crossing of the River Dee was necessary to complete the route of the canal to Llangollen. He had already built the Chirk aqueduct and so used similar techniques, building stone piers and placing the cast iron troughs on top of them.
The aqueduct has 18 arches, is 12 ft (3.7 m) wide and is the longest aqueduct in Great Britain at 336 yd (307m) long. It is also the highest canal aqueduct in the world at 126 ft (38m) high.
Every ten years or so the aqueduct is drained for maintenance. It is emptied via a giant plug in the trough in the middle of the aqueduct!
The Llangollen Canal is fed from the River Dee at Llantysilio and has twenty-one locks. The last four are in a close flight at Hurleston Junction where the canal meets the Shropshire Union Canal. There, the four locks drop the water level by 34ft 3in (almost 10.5 metres).
The Grindley Brook locks are called ‘Staircase Locks’ as one lock opens directly into the bottom of the next lock. These locks raise the boats up from the Cheshire Plains to the Welsh hills.
The original Ellesmere Canal was built by industrialists to transport local supplies of iron and coal out of Wales.
This famous engineer in the late 1700s designed not only the Chirk and Pontcysyllte Aqueducts, but also for the building of bridges, roads and churches.
The Ellesmere Canal was an excellent way of moving bulky cargo such as slate, clay, limestone, lime, coat, grain and malt. Sometimes even cheese!
All the raw materials for making iron (iron ore, coal and limestone) were found in North East Wales. The pig iron was delivered to the canal side, loaded onto narrowboats and taken to local forges and foundries.
In 1884, a horse-drawn passenger boat service for sightseers started. People can still travel by horse boat today starting from Llangollen Wharf.
You can cruise on the Llangollen Canal starting from our narrowboat hire base at Chirk in Wrexham. Check out our canal maps and cruise guides on our base page for more information for your canal holiday.