Saturday, 20 July 2013

#HolidayPostcards My Favourite Holiday Memories from the Llangollen Canal in Wales

Travelsupermarket are looking for stories of favourite holiday stories for their #HolidayPostcards competition and for me, it was easy to use what my holiday was, but the hardest part was choosing which particular holiday stood out the most. 

My favourite holidays are when we go on my parent's canal boat here in the UK. We've had lots of fun over the years, but as my family grows the more cramped the boat becomes and sadly I fear that when the baby makes an appearance, we won't be able to go again as there is just no room for all of us. Something which will upset the children and the rest of us. Hubby and I enjoy going as much as they do and my parents love having us with them!

The one holiday I would have to choose though, is the one from September/October 2006, when hubby and I, along with our then 3yr old son and 18mth daughter, joined my parents on their canal boat "Sunseeker". Despite my being 6 months pregnant with my 3rd child, we had a fabulous time as we travelled along the Llangollen and Montgomery Canals. 

Sunseeker canal boat on the Llangollen canal
My late, beautiful dog Megan sunbathing beside Sunseeker the boat

We had a lovely time and it was a great family holiday. I love how relaxed canal boat holidays are as you tootle along at 3-4mph, through beautiful scenery that you don't often see because it is so rural. 

The Llangollen canal, in my opinion, is one of the best canal systems in the UK and my favourite (and I've been on a few different ones). 

The Llangollen Canal starts just north of Nantwich where it leaves the Shropshire canal in rural Cheshire before entering Wales. It is 41 miles long and takes at least three days to cruise along the length of the canal to Llangollen, even more during busier times. 

Map of the Llangollen canal
Map of the Llangollen Canal

On the canal you can find, not just one but two impressive aqueducts. First you have the beautiful and impressive Chirk Aqueduct, which on any other canal would be a famous addition, but sadly as it's on the Llangollen canal, it is overshadowed by the more famous Aquaduct. Chirk Aqueduct has a railway viaduct running alongside alongside and a tunnel at one end, the Aqueduct was built in 1801 and the Viaduct in 1848.

Really Rachel Chirk Aqueduct Viaduct and tunnel
Chirk Aqueduct, Viaduct and tunnel at the end of the aqueduct
Next you reach the outstanding and impressive Pontcysyllte Aqueduct which was awarded a World Heritage Site Status in 2009. Pontcysyllte means "the bridge that connects" and consists of 18 piers, each 126ft high and 19 arches each with a 45ft span. The aqueduct is 1,007ft long and 126ft high with the River Dee running beneath it. The first stone was laid in July 1795 and it was completed in 1805, using only local stone. Each of the slender masonry piers are partly hallow and taper at the summit, this is to keep the aqueduct as light as possible because of the weight of all the water in the trough. The mortar was made of oxen blood, lime and water and the aqueduct holds 1.5 million litres of water in an iron trough that measures 11ft 10in wide and 5ft 3ins deep and takes two hours to drain. 

Really Rachel Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
In September 2006, we joined my parents as we chugged along the canal. Chirk Aqueduct and viaduct was impressive and I asked my dad if the railway was still working or whether it was part of the now disused Llangollen railway from Ruabon to Barmouth. He thought it was disused  and about 5 minutes later he was proved wrong when we watched a train pass, all of us waving madly and I was so excited to see a train I completely forgot to grab the camera! At the end of Chirk Aqueduct, heading towards Llangollen is an extra excitement as you hit Chirk tunnel!

Really Rachel Chirk Aqueduct Viaduct and Tunnel
Crossing the Chirk Aqueduct whilst looking out for trains
Before long you arrive at the world famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Hubby took one look at the Aqueduct, especially the fact that there is no railing on the canal side, and refused to travel by boat. Instead he walked whilst the rest of us travelled in style, single-file in a queue. I had a death grip on the children, apart from the moment when I took their picture!

Really Rachel brave children on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
My brave children weren't scared at all on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Really Rachel Crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
Slowly crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Really Rachel Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
Granddad steering the boat with Megan the dog

Really Rachel Scared daddy walking the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
Daddy was too scared to travel on the boat and walked instead

Really Rachel Looking down whilst crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
Look how high we were
Soon we arrived in the village of Llangollen, which by road is only about an hour and a half away from home. In fact, many years ago you used to be able to catch a train in Llangollen and travel to our home along the old Ruabon to Barmouth line, which sadly fell victim to Beechings Axe in 1968. Hubby told my son all about how his taid (taid is Welsh for grandfather, hubby's dad) and how he used to drive the train along this line! Llangollen railway is now on the site of the old railway line, a volunteer run steam railway which reopened in 1975 and has slowly been extended. Sadly we have yet to take the children on the Llangollen Railway, although I plan to soon. 

Really Rachel Daddy and his boy at Llangollen railway station
Daddy and his boy at Llangollen Railway station

Really Rachel Foxcote Manor at the Llangollen Railway
With Foxcote Manor at the Llangollen Railway
A train like taid used to drive

Really Rachel looking at the drivers plate at Llangollen Railway
This is where taid used to drive the train all the way home
The Marina in Llangollen was lovely and modern, having opened in 2004 in hopes to ease congestion on the busy Llangollen canal and we were lucky enough to find a birth which even gave us electricity and because we weren't running on battery power my dad wasn't as energy concious as he usually was! 

The marina is the end of the navigable part of the canal, although you can take a horse drawn trip (the traditional method of moving the boat) up to the famous Horseshoe Falls. Horseshoe falls is where the canal begins, a man-made weir, shaped like a horseshoe and a beautiful spot.

Horseshoe Falls at Llangollen
Horseshoe Falls at Llangollen
After we left Llangollen, we travelled back over the Pontcysyllte and Chirk Aqueducts and back towards Ellesmere and the junction onto the Montgomery canal. The Montgomery canal holds a special place in my dad's heart as he has helped with the restoration of this neglected canal, which is still largely closed to navigation after it's official abandonment in 1944. The canal is split into two parts, but slowly the gap between them is closing as the canal is slowly restored. From Ellesmere you can travel 7 miles through 6 locks and in the middle there is an isolated 17 mile stretch through Welshpool. The whole route is quiet and peaceful, which makes a lovely change after the busy and popular Llangollen Canal, because access to the canal is controlled by the lock keeper at Welsh Frankton who only allows a certain amount of boats on the length at any time. However, walkers already have access to the towpath all the way to the canals terminus at Newtown, whilst volunteer working parties, such as the ones my dad likes to go on, continue to work towards full restoration for boats, but for now Gronwen Wharf is the current terminus.  

Montgomery Canal showing navigable and non-navigable sections
Montgomery Canal (blue is the navigable sections)
Ironically, as we travelled along the Montgomery canal, we passed the pub where we had gone out for a meal with my parents for my dad's birthday 5yrs earlier. The reason it sticks in my head is because it was that night that hubby asked my dad's permission to marry me (after a few glasses of liquid courage and thankfully before we watched the movie Meet the Parents!). It also made it even more incredible, that the day we passed the pub, was actually our 2nd Wedding Anniversary! We did go out to celebrate that evening, but at a different put a little further down the canal named the Queen's Head near Oswestry, which was where we moored for the night! 

Really Rachel daddy and his babies on the Montgomery Canal
Daddy and his babies on the Montgomery Canal

Really Rachel happy boy on the Montgomery Canal
The boy enjoying his ride along the Montgomery Canal
Whilst we travelled down the Montgomery Canal, my son was thrilled to be allowed to help (under supervision and lots of help) to operate the locks, which he was thrilled about and made him feel so grown up! It also gave him lots to tell his playschool about when he got home! We also made sure to explain to him the dangers of locks, as years ago, lots of children who lived aboard canal boats as their parents travelled up and down the country delivering cargo, would drown at the locks as it is the most dangerous place on the canals.

Really Rachel Helpful boy opening the paddles to fill the lock
Helpful boy opening the paddles to fill the lock

Really Rachel Helpful boy opening the lock gates to let the boat in
Opening the heavy lock gates to let the boat in
One afternoon we had a small mishap when my daughter dropped her juice cup into the canal, and because it was full of juice it quickly dropped below the surface! Supervised by both children, daddy quickly grabbed the fishing net from the roof of the boat and caught the one and only thing he caught all holiday. Her juice cup!

Really Rachel Daddy fishing for something special
Daddy fishing but what is he fishing for?

Really Rachel Daddy catching a juice cup
YAY He found it! He caught daughter's juice cup!
All in all it was a wonderful holiday and one that will be remembered for many more years to come. We've been on several other holidays on Sunseeker and both the younger girls, as well as my older son and daughter, enjoy the holidays as much as we do! In fact my 3yr old is always asking to go "Back on boat. Do locks!" Her smile on this picture taken last October on the Oxford Canal shows how much she enjoyed herself!

Really Rachel Happy baby enjoying her canal boat holiday
Happy baby! Enjoying her holiday on the canal!
This post is my entry into the TravelSupermarket's #HolidayPostcards competition, detailing my most favourite holiday memories. The winning blog post will be lucky enough to win £1,000 towards their next holiday. If I were to win I would hire a bigger canal boat so that hubby and I, our five children including the new baby, and my parents, could have another holiday on the canal. I would hire Muddy Waters, a specially designed family canal boat from Oxfordshire Narrowboats for a two week holiday travelling on the Thames and seeing how far we could get before having to turn back and maybe even reaching London! 


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