A walk from Telford’s Horseshoe Falls to the outskirts of Llangollen

Photograph taken from the top of the path leading from the car park, looking down at the Horseshoe Falls

The Horseshoe Falls are just outside Llangollen, a remarkable and lovely feature developed by Thomas Telford as part of his solution for supplying the Llangollen canal with water.  As the name suggests, it is a semi-circle of falling water, actually a man-made weir, which combines human symmetry with the natural beauty of water.  It looked spectacular in the sun, more art than engineering.

I usually make my comments about accessibility for people with uncooperative legs at the end, but in case the above photo makes you think I have lost my mind to categorize it as suitable , this is because there are other ways to approach the falls than from the top of the hill, approaches that are completely on the flat along the canal towpath.  Bear with me; clarity will emerge 🙂

Map of the Horse Falls area. Source: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct website

I had not set out to do this walk yesterday (Friday), and was actually on my way back from Valle Crucis (open once again to the public, but closed Tuesday and Wednesday each week), and was not ready to go home, so decided to drive down the road to the car park for the Falls, which is clearly signposted, and do a short walk to find out what it was like with a view to returning for a longer walk on another day.  The car park is pay-and-display but it is only a pound for the entire day, payable by cash or by swiping your debit card.  There are also public toilets.  I imagine that it gets quite busy at the weekends.

It is a short walk from there up a very slight slope along a metalled path to the top of the hill, from which the valley unfolds below.  There is an information sign here too.

I covered the basics of the building of the canal on earlier my post about the fabulous Pontcysyllte aqueduct, which you can find here, so won’t repeat that on this post, but the Horseshoe Falls deserve an explanation in its own right.  To secure water from the Dee, which ultimately comes from Lake Tegid at Bala, Telford gained permission from the owner of the lake to take off water  from the Dee for the new canal. The water had to be diverted from the Dee into the Llangollen canal by means of a feeder channel, some 1.8 miles long.  The distinctively shaped weir helps create a pool of water that can be pumped into the feeder channel. 

This link between the river and the canal required the installation of a pumping station by the side of the pool below the weir.  It was replaced by a new  Meter House or “valve house” in 1947, which still stands.  A massive pipe, 20ft long and 3ft in diameter runs 8ft below the ground to supply the Dee water to the Llangollen canal feeder.  This flow is released and slowed by means of guillotine valves which are controlled from the valve house.  By using the water of the Dee as it fell from Snowndonia via Lake Tegid, over 11 million gallons of Dee water a day, is fed into the Llangollen canal, eventually emptying into Hurleston reservoir, just north of Nantwich, where the Llangollen Canal meets the Shropshire Union Canal and contributing to the greater canal network. It was completed in 1808.

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It is a short and not particularly steep walk down to the falls from the car park, and the hillside is, at the moment a sheer delight, with the slopes covered in giant buttercups, purple thistles and daisies, with a few blue speedwells dotted in amongst them.  Once down at the falls, you are at the source of the Llangollen canal, a remarkable thought.   The valve house for the canal is at your left, and the footpath runs both left (east) and right (west).

I cannot yet comment on the footpath heading west, but if you head left, towards Llangollen, you find yourself immediately on a wide, level path, the towpath, which runs deliciously between the canal on your left and the Dee on the right.  The canal is very narrow at this stage, just a feeder, and not navigable.  The Dee too changes character, from a wide, deep run of uninterrupted river to fast, impressive rapids channelling itself through large slabs of natural rock.  Although the towpath runs above the level of the Dee, there are paths down to the river, and people were sunbathing on the huge slabs and paddling in the water.

The sound of the river coursing over the rocks is glorious, and a fabulous contrast to the peaceful, mirror-surfaced channel of canal that runs along the base of a solid wall of local rock, infiltrated by all sorts of rock-loving plant species and overhung by trees.  The canal widens as it goes, but remains un-navigable because, even where the canal is sufficiently wide and deep, there is no winding point (an indent where narrow-boats can turn around.  Long, sinuous weeds signal the direction of flow in the apparently motionless water, and fish, swimming against the current, hold a stationary position.  With the sun on it, when not mirroring the vegetation and sky above, it appears gold and velvet brown.  There are bridges all the way along, some modern and metal, but there are also traditional stone canal bridges, clearly numbered, with ramps for horses.  There is also an impressively substantial bridge spanning both the canal and the river.

One bridge is a delightful exception, and very unexpected.  The Chain Bridge Hotel contains within its Dee frontage, access to a small but perfect suspension bridge that provides access from the tow path to the railway station on the other side of the river, and some height above.   There is a small car park at the hotel, which can be used by the public.  I didn’t stop for a for a drink or a bite to eat, but the views from the terrace, over the bridge and the Dee rapids, are excellent.  This would probably be a good place to start and end your walk (particularly if the food is any good) if your legs like things simple, because the whole walk is on the flat.

I didn’t go much further because it was already getting rather late and I had other things to do.  I suppose I must have walked for about half an hour, with breaks to take photos, and then turned and walked back. Another way of tackling the walk would be to start in Llangollen and walk out towards the Horseshoe Falls.  This would be a much longer walk, and one for another day,  and again on the flat all the way along the towpath.  I am looking forward to it.

I went some way past the Motor Museum, which was to the right and below the level of the towpath.  The walk was particularly good on a day like yesterday, with hot sun and a light breeze.  At this time of year, with leaves on the trees, the towpath is in dappled shade, perfectly warm but not too hot.

Here are the rest of the photos:
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