As the landscape surrounding Snowdonia in the county of Gwynedd’s slate landscape becomes the UK’s newest Unesco world heritage site, it reminds us of how lucky we were to be awarded our very own world heritage site back in 2009. The prestigious global status – already enjoyed by sites such as the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu in Peru, and the Grand Canyon in the US was awarded to our very own Pontcysyllte Aqueduct & Canal World Heritage Site. ‘Pontcysyllte’ pronounced Pont – ker – sulth – tay, is the Welsh name for ‘the bridge that connects’ . Unesco described Pontcysyllte Aqueduct & Canal World Heritage Site as ‘a masterpiece of creative genius’. The first 11 miles of the Llangollen Canal is an outstanding piece of industrial engineering heritage comprising of embankments, tunnels, viaducts and aqueducts, including the stunning Pontcysyllte Aqueduct itself and 31 other listed structures. The whole length of the site has also been designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument of National Importance, and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The world heritage site covers three counties extending from the Horseshoe Falls west of Llangollen (Denbighshire) through the county of Wrexham to Gledrid Bridge to the east of Chirk Bank (Shropshire). The outstanding universal value of this 11-mile stretch of innovative engineering is the way it was built to complement the stunning scenery of the Dee Valley while serving the demands of the Industrial Revolution.
The start of the site is located on the River Dee, near to Llantysilio, the Horsehoe Falls is a true masterpiece of Thomas Telford Engineering. He designed this weir to draw water from the River Dee in to the canal, and it became a stunning addition to the landscape. At 460ft (140M) long, it’s a sight to behold. It is just a 3km walk from the town of Llangollen, or if timetable allows catch the magnificent steam train from Llangollen. Get off at Berwyn Station and in around 10 minutes, enjoy the idyllic scene that awaits you at the Horseshoe Falls.
From Berwyn Station you can also see the Chain Bridge Hotel so named after the unique bridge spanning the River Dee. Accessible by foot and restored and reopened to the public during 2015, the Chain Bridge is a must see. Built in 1817 by local entrepreneur Exuperiur Pickering to transport coal and limestone to the A5 and the upper Dee valley, the bridge provided a strong link between the Llangollen railway and the canal and is a perfect way to cross the River Dee. To visit, jump off the train at Berwyn station, or reach it via a walk along the canal from Llangollen. Its yet another perfect photo opportunity along this world heritage site.
But the jewel in the crown of this world heritage site is undoubtedly is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct one of the most astonishing feats of engineering from the Industrial Revolution. Pontcysyllte, meaning ‘the bridge that connects’, carries the canal majestically over the raging River Dee below.
Designed by Thomas Telford and Williams Jessop and constructed by John Simpson (stonework) and William Hazledine (ironwork), the aqueduct was completed in 1805, and is a result of some bold civil engineering solutions. A cast iron trough suspended 126 feet above the river, supported iron arched ribs, carried on 18 hollowed masonry pillars.
The beautiful Llangollen Canal twists its way through the beautiful Welsh hills and across the spectacular Dee Valley making it a top choice for boaters and family visits alike. There are 5 companies, based within the 11 mile World Heritage Site, which offer boat trips or hire canal boats for you to travel along the canal and across Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. You can find out more about them here.
Llangollen wharf is a popular attraction in picturesque town of Llangollen, and a wonderful way to experience the World Heritage Site. Llangollen Wharf offers you the chance to experience a horse-drawn boat trip along the canal from the heart of Llangollen, whether it be a 45-minute trip, or a two-hour leisurely saunter up to the Horseshoe Falls in Llantysilio, a lovely experience for any age. Whilst you’re at Llangollen Wharf, a visit to the Wharf Tea Room is a must – a traditional tea room serving breakfasts, light lunches, afternoon tea and cakes. The canal towpath has recently had a set of new slips ways built to allow canoes, paddleboards and other craft to safely enter the water, but it’s also great for dog walkers and cyclist and the section of Sustrans cycle Route 85 between Llangollen to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is popular with families.
If you are visiting the world heritage site for a day trip or staying for a few days, it’s easy by car, train or bus. Situated here in North East Wales and as a general guide, you can get there via the M53 or M56 from the North West, and the M54 from the Midlands. There are three car parks signposted off the A539. Drivers are advised not to park at the Froncysyllte Basin just off the A5.
We are really excited to welcome you back to visit this year – all we ask if you would do this safely and respect the communities along the 11 mile site. Please take only memories and leave only your footprints behind.
Blog written by Denbighshire County Council Tourism Department as part of the Destination Management Plan 2021.