We made it. We crossed the Pontcysllte Aqueduct without incident. It is absolutely awesome, and definitely one of the wonders of the canal system. It’s also blooming scary, as you look over the edge, 127 foot down at the highest point, and there is no safety rail. The boat is in a trough, so there’s no way you can fall out of it, but facts never stop the mind playing tricks.
The views over the River Dee and the Welsh Countryside are awesome. If you ever have the chance to make this trip, grab it with both hands.
The Llangollen is the canal that keeps giving and keeps challenging. The Chirk Tunnel was far worse than the Pontcysllte Aqueduct. It’s only 420m long but it meets my private definition of hell. I’ve never been in a tunnel before and felt it was never going to end – until Chirk. I don’t think I’ve ever nearly cried in a tunnel either but Chirk very nearly broke me. The problem was we couldn’t get the boat off the side. The Llangollen flow had us pinned, and also because of the flow, it was such slow going. We pushed forward, inch by painful inch. I’m still traumatised by the memory.
In comparison the Narrows were a doddle. They are three stretches of canal where the cutting has been blasted out of solid rock, and the Llangollen, hardly a wide canal at the best of times, reduces to the width of a singe boat. If you’re travelling with other boats, or you have crew it’s a simple matter to send someone on ahead to check the way is clear, but if you’re a solo boater … well, I don’t even want to consider how difficult it must be to reverse.
And then we got to Llangollen, an absolute jewel of a town nestled in the Dee Valley. Apparently it’s called after Collen ap Gwynnawg ap Clydawg ap Cowdra ap Caradog Freichfras ap Llyr Merim ap Yrth ap Cunedda Wledig. Try saying that after you’ve had a couple. Whatever the origins, Llangollen is charming, pretty, interesting, and well worth the trip. We moored up in Llangollen Basin for the permitted 48 hours.
In the unseasonably warm autumn sunshine, Martyn and I walked right up to the source of the canal at the Horseshoe Falls, beyond the limits of powered navigation. So we can now say we’ve navigated the entire length of the canal. We’re happy with our achievement.
When you cruise the canals you take the beautiful scenery and the fun of boating for granted. But one of the highlights of this trip has been meeting Jenny and Trevor. We first came across them at Grindley Brook locks, and have been travelling together almost since then. Two nicer people you couldn’t meet. They’ve done this trip before, and know all the perils and pitfalls, as well as the best places to moor. We’re enjoying their company immensely and while the weather holds the evening ritual of a couple of drinks on the towpath is a little treat we look forward to.