A tale of two ducts: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Cefn Bychan Viaduct

A ‘Letter from Sarah’ here with a slight difference. She’s put all the structure together, taken and selected all the photographs and will be the main writer. But I went on the day out in North Wales too, so we’re going to sit and write together. My occasional contributions in italics.


So… with one thing and another it’s been a while since me and Ronnie have had a day out together. Me being up in Knoydart, off in my kayak, and of course, Ronnie not being well from early August, have all meant that we’ve simply not had the time or wellness until now to pack our day bags and go off exploring.

I’ve suggested that we come to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct today, out of sheer curiosity. (For those of you not fluent in Welsh, a helpful sign tells us, ‘Pontcysyllte’ is prounounced Pont-ker-sulth-tay.)

We arrive at Trevor Basin, not far from Llangollen.

It’s the day the clocks have gone back so we’re a bit disoriented. And after an early start from home we eat much of our packed lunch as soon as we arrive. Though our watches are telling us it’s only 11am our bodies know full well it’s lunchtime.

We arrive here without a plan (for once), but knowing it’s a World Heritage Site expect good signage and obvious things laid out. Well it’s not really like that. While it’s clearly been a big centre for brick, coal, iron and general industry the signage is a bit of a mess and much isn’t explained at all.

But it’s a golden autumn day and we’re determined to enjoy ourselves, so off we go across the River Dee on the highest navigable aqueduct on Earth.

We’re very high up now, on a narrow path, and I’m glad it’s not windy.

What she actually says is ‘Hold on to your sphincter!’

So just as well there’s a sewage farm handily placed underneath us.

Arsing about aside, it is truly impressive. And we’ve seen some aqueducts this year on the Leeds Liverpool Canal.

So we decide to keep walking and see what we find. Handily, I have an OS map.

I suggest, from the map, that we walk to the railway viaduct marked on it. We immediately begin to wonder which is bigger.

I’ve seen this one from the road years ago and always had assumed it was the world famous canal thing.

We observe interesting variations on canal bridge types from our great experience.

I’m already bored.

Looking back at the aqueduct. The metal trough on the stone piers. Truly a great engineering feat by Mr Telford.

A few limekilns later this is the last bridge as we leave the canal.

I’m done with canals now.

From the road we can see along the railway viaduct.

Looks a bit longer than the canal thing to me?

Autumn in the Dee Valley is looking great this year.

Now, a wildflower interlude from the roadside hedges.

Rosehips, clematis and valerian.

Looks like a lodge to a knob-house. But gratifyingly it’s now the entrance to a landfill site.

Here we are at Newbridge, where Ronnie immediately looks down and spots what’s left of the old bridge. And here is said ‘old bridge’ with the aqueduct towering behind it. (Photo source: CADW)

Another gate house thing. This has obviously been a wealthy place in the past.

Anyway, about those two ducts, some statistics.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was completed in 1805. It is 307m (1,007ft) long, with 19 arches, (126ft) 39m high. It is the longest navigable aqueduct in the UK.

Cefn Bychan Viaduct was completed in 1848. It is 460m (1,508ft) long, comprising 19 arches of 18.2m (60ft) span, rising 46m (147ft) above the river.

So the show off copycat railway one is a clear winner, but cheated by being built afterwards.

And here is the cheat. With a train on it. The Competition Judge celebrates his own decision.

At Ty Mawr Country Park, most of which is securely closed this Sunday, we stop for lunch part 2.

Happy together.

Then meander happily around in the afternoon sunshine.

It is a beautiful place. Don’t let my sarkiness put you off.

From our own map we expect to be able to get through to the bank of the Dee to return to the Aqueduct. But with a chemical works and the sewage farm in the way all the lanes are gated, so we return to where we started through a housing estate.

To their own surprise this route brings our modern day Scott and Shackleton to where we thought it might.

I do have more Kendal Mint Cake if we run into survival problems at this stage.

Back where we started at the Trevor Basin for a cup of tea.

And an Eccles Cake, moist.

When the aqueduct was built the canal company had great hopes. This stump is where their hopes floundered.

And, being the clocks change day, evening starts setting not much after 3pm.

So we leave the Trevor Basin and the engineering marvels we’ve seen today.

And take us both for an ice cream at Parkgate on our way home.

As is only proper.

Goodnight all.

Our day out, a handy aerial map, by Sarah.


Join the Conversation


  1. A moist Eccles cake. And ice cream. You two know how to make a person deeply envious. Ronnie, I think I am inferring you are a wee bit tired of canals now??? ;-)
    OK, my diversion for the day over, back to work.

  2. Lovely photos Ronnie and Sarah. As a child I was taken a on horse drawn boat ride along the Llangollen Canal which I have always remembered. We had travelled by train on a day excursion from West Derby Station now part of the loop line cycle path, however 8 hours in Llangollen was a bit too long! Perhaps if you’re fed up with canals you could do a loop line blog, it goes from here in Halewood all the way to Southport

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