Waking up on a boat, on most days, is splendid. If you’ve moored in the right spot you will have the sun begging to shine through a curtain, a splashing of hungry ducks will be pecking expectantly at the hatch and there will not be a 36 metre high aqueduct some miles in front of you.
Today was not that day. Tomorrow wouldn’t be either- not if you don’t cross it today! So cross it we must! The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct knows you must cross it- if you want to see all the beauty that Llangollen holds and it really does try it’s best to be accommodating- you really have to cross this unpronounceable bridge.
This aqueduct is the highest canal aqueduct in the world and the longest in Great Britain, because of this, it is a massive tourist draw. People flow to this site- not just for those of us lucky enough to be on boats- but giddy people in canoes- pedestrians. It is clear that the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct wants everyone to enjoy it’s majesty. Therefore, it has a footpath that makes the crossing over the River Dee and the Vale of Llangollen a delight for walkers and my favourite- dog walkers.
I’m using words like ‘delight’ and ‘enjoy’ because I am naturally quite an optimistic person. However, for those scared of heights (or in my case ‘scared of bridges’) the Pontcysyllte will require a little more than just optimism.
Approaching the aqueduct it is best to not know that the 18 arched stones actually taper as they reach the top and are largely hollow. This Grade 1 listed building and World Heritage Site holds it’s own in grandeur even when compared with other World Heritage Sites like Stone Hedge. Completed by 1805 the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct took ten years to design and build. Yet, it can be appreciated via boat in under ten minutes.
Would I recommend the boat journey over the Pontcysyllte? Yes, I would. As a person who suffers from a fear of heights I definitely never thought I’d be able to be outside on the stern as we crossed the aqueduct. Yet, as the view approached I found it somewhat helpful to stay focused on enjoying the moment and not letting any negative doubts or fears into my mind. That’s where being an optimist does come in handy.
Have you been on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct? What is your top tip for avoiding the vertigo? Please share your comments below.
The Chirk Aqueduct is like a big bridge, but worse, a bridge with water flowing on it. The thing is, I like bridges the same way that Alice (my cat) likes car rides. It’s best for me if they come as a surprise. Even better if I’m bribed to attend. Positively awesome when someone else does the driving (then I can sit with my head in my hands and quietly rock). In my mind I know bridges and aqueducts are a necessity. My good friend NBH has teased me many a time about my very real fear- even commenting in one of his vlogs that I might want to ‘put on a pair of heels and walk past the kitchen sink’ to get over my fear! Heartless, it’s equal to me telling Alice to put on some driving goggles and go make a mix tape for road trips.
The Ashby Canal (or Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal) was opened in 1804 with the primary purpose of moving coal. It never reached the town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch and was referred to as the Moira Cut. It starts at Marston Junction on the Coventry Canal.
The Ashby Canal was originally 30 miles long, from Marston Junction to Wadlands Wharf, just outside Moira. Two sections can be navigated – the 22 mile lock free section terminating in Snarestone, and the 1.5 mile restored section between Donisthorpe and Moira. The latter is home to just two boats – a trip boat operated out of Moira Furnace Museum, and a work boat “Firefly”.
When you arrive at Bridge 44 will signal the start of a special section of the Ashby Canal. It is designated as a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) as it is home to rare dragonfly and water voles. The Canal and River Trust have a sign at Bridge 44 (Carlton Bridge) asking boaters to respect the natural habitat. Consequently, this means you should reduce speed, moor only in designated mooring spots and restrict the disposal of grey water into the canal. The SSSI section finishes just north of Snarestone so the public moorings at the end of the canal are exempt from these restrictions.
Ashby Canal Restoration
The Ashby Canal Association (ACA), founded in 1966, is working to restore the closed sections of the Ashby Canal. Most noteworthy, they celebrated the opening of the restored section in 2001. This is a beautiful section of canal complete with a new lock at Moira. In 2016, they achieved even more restoration success with the re-opening of Bridge 61. Consequently, this added an additional section of navigable canal, complete with winding hole for boats of around 50ft. Furthermore, other parts of the restoration present more challenges as some sections were completely filled meaning a new route is required to connect the restored section to the main canal.
Are you based near the Ashby Canal? If so, the ACA are always looking for new volunteers to help with fundraising and restoration activities. Their website has more information on how to get involved.
Walk to the end of the Ashby Canal
The ACA have published a map enabling walkers to follow the path of the restoration from Snarestone to Moira. This is available from the ACA shop at the current terminus. The walk is around 6 miles and includes canal bed, fields and Heritage Trail. If you prefer to cycle, most of the journey from Measham to Moira is on Cycle Track. It is possible to cycle from Snarestone to Measham via road then join National Cycle Track No 63.
We completed the walk in two parts. The first day, we followed the original route of the Ashby Canal from Snarestone to Measham. This section of the walk was about 2 miles long. The majority was off road so some sections may not be suitable for all walkers. It was a pretty walk although it did cause us to question our map reading ability! Measham was worth a visit for us – our primary goal was to buy groceries! There are several cafes there and even a museum. We also enjoyed some sandwiches sat next to the sundial. Unfortunately the museum was closed so we were unable to take a look around.
The second section of the walk – from Measham to Moira – was longer at 4 miles but all on public footpath. On the second day of our walk, we bypassed the first section of the walk by taking the road from Snarestone. This took around 40 minutes. It was mid-week and we didn’t think the roads were very busy, making it an easy journey.
The route follows the Heritage Trail which is along the route of the old Ashby and Nuneaton Joint Railway Line. This was a pretty walk away from the road. We also got to see some beautiful old railway bridges.
The end of the walk is through the Donisthorpe Woodland Park. This on its own is worth a visit – it is 20 hectares of national forrest land, including over 3 miles of concrete walking paths. We think it is a great place for a walk or picnic!
The Ashby Canal offers 22 miles of peaceful lock free cruising through the Leicestershire countryside. As the canal was originally built for horse drawn boats which only unloaded at specific wharfs, it can be difficult to find mooring spots due to shallow sides. There is also lots of greenery between the towpath and the water left tall to encourage wildlife. For these reasons, we recommend following a printed guide which will direct you to designated mooring spots.
For boaters, facilities are varied. There are two rubbish points – one at Sutton Cheney Wharf (Bridge 34) and one at the terminus. On the other hand, we have noticed many water points along the canal and by many, we have counted 4 which seemed like a lot!
Food shops few and far between along the canal unless you are prepared to take a long walk into town. Although you will find plenty of pubs, many of which serve food. There are a few farm shops along the way that are worth checking out. In some cases, it is necessary to get there early to avoid disappointment! These should be listed in your guide.
If history is of interest, you can easily access the site of the Battle of Bosworth. The visitors centre is easy to access from Sutton Cheney Wharf or the old railway bridge 34a. There is also a steam train that runs between Shakerstone and Shenton along the Battlefield Line.
Have you visited the Ashby Canal? Let us know in the comments section!