If you’re looking for a short quirky walk in Gloucestershire how about visiting a ship’s graveyard? We spent an hour discovering the Purton hulks, one of my British bucket list items, on the way home from an overnight stay at St Briavels Castle YHA.
Summer days are made for picnics. Whether you’re looking for somewhere to take the kids, a peaceful river bank or a hill with a view there are plenty of great picnic spots in Oxfordshire. Scroll down to find my favourites!
If the canal path from Bath to Bradford-on-Avon had its own theme tune it would consist of bicycle bells and whirring tyres; to say it’s a popular cycling route is an understatement. Indeed, if you’ve arrived here from my UK bucket list link you’re probably expecting to read about our cycle ride beside the canal. But, for various reasons, we ended up walking instead; read on to find out how we got on.
After the success of our short break to Lille a while back I was keen to explore other destinations accessible via Eurostar. Ghent fitted the bill perfectly; a Belgian city just a couple of hours from London.
I’ve driven through Llangollen many times whilst en route to the mountains in Snowdonia. But it was only during a visit to the town last autumn that I discovered what fantastic family friendly walks we’ve missed out on.
Llangollen has a number of attractions dotted around the town and local area. This circular walk covers many of them but it’s easy to add in others such as Valle Crucis Abbey, Llangollen Railway or Motor Museum and make a full day out.
Coed Hyrddyn – Velvet Hill
As we were staying in a holiday cottage at the foot of Velvet Hill it made sense for us to start our walk here, with a trip to the top of the hill.
It was good to start with a brisk uphill walk; these days my knees much prefer going up than down. Although a damp day, with a touch of drizzle, this didn’t detract from the views out towards Llantysilio.
From the summit of Velvet Hill it was downhill all the way to Horseshoe Falls. Don’t get too excited by the name. This is not a thundering waterfall but a semi-circular weir designed by Thomas Telford. Of course, it is impressive in an industrial heritage way, but personally I prefer the natural alternative.
Nowadays the Falls appear to be the starting point for an entirely different activity, presumably never envisaged by Thomas Telford. White water rafting along the River Dee into Llangollen. We walked past several groups of rafters still on dry land and kept hoping to see them on the rapids later on but no such luck. Perhaps they chickened out.
You may notice Mr Telford’s name pops up a lot in these parts. Head over to my post about Pontcysyllte Aqueduct to see another of his masterpieces.
From the Falls we walked towards Llangollen, bordered either side by the River Dee and Llangollen Canal.
The Chain Bridge, a footbridge over the River Dee, reopened in 2015. We didn’t need to cross it on our walking route but it would have been a shame to miss out so we diverted through the hotel terrace to do so. On the far bank there’s an information board which shows what the bridge looked like pre-restoration. Wow. That would have been an exciting crossing!
We followed the canal towpath into Llangollen. Opened in 1805 to transport slate and to feed the Shropshire Union Canal it’s much narrower than our local canal. In some spots it was only wide enough for one boat, although there are plenty of passing places. Horse drawn boat trips are popular along this stretch, they’re certainly the way to travel if you want a slow relaxing trip.
We passed a lot of canoeists as we walked. I was intrigued by one man wading in the water beside his canoe rather than actually sitting in it. I’m sure he had a perfectly valid reason but I didn’t think to ask him why!
Castell Dinas Brân
The canal took us directly into Llangollen where we stopped for a coffee break and to view the birds and animals in the taxidermy shop. I wonder if they do much business?
From Llangollen town centre we crossed back over the canal and walked up the hill to Castell Dinas Brân. I’d been eyeing this up since we’d arrived the previous day. The ruined medieval castle sits imposingly atop a hill overlooking Llangollen. I rather like the English translation – the crow’s fortress, or crow castle.
After a short sharp walk up we mooched around the ruins for a while, enjoying the views over to the limestone escarpment of Trevor Rocks. The castle only had a brief working life, destroyed by Edward I’s troops just a few decades after it was built. It once featured a gatehouse, keep, hall, D shaped tower and a courtyard but only ruins remain nowadays. Given its exposed location it’s pretty impressive that even these are left.
From the castle we walked down to join the Clwydian Way. This circular route covers 120 miles of Welsh countryside and was created as part of the millennium celebrations.
Our route took us through beech woods and along bracken lined paths, back towards our holiday cottage. There was time for a short break and photo stop at a handily placed viewpoint.
We could have extended our afternoon by popping into the Cistercian Valle Crucis Abbey. I actually feel rather guilty about not visiting. But there was a tea room, next door at the Abbey Farm caravan site. And I really needed a cup of coffee!
If you’ve enjoyed this post you might also like to read about the short break I enjoyed, walking the Llantysilio hills and Trevor Rocks escarpments.
- Our walk was approximately 7 miles. Much of it is flat easy walking but there are a couple of steeper sections up Velvet Hill and Castell Dinas Brân.
Thomas Telford was one heck of a busy man. In between designing bridges, roads, churches and tunnels he also found time for the magnificent Pontcysyllte (and Chirk) Aqueducts.
We visited Pontcysyllte Aqueduct as part of a longer walk. I cannot recommend the walk. Particularly the section past a landfill site, walking beside a 50mph road. Lorries whizzing past. Whipping up leaves and dust. Instead I’m just going to tempt you with the highlights, the canal and the aqueduct.
I have a love-hate relationship with canals. On a grey winter’s day they can be deserted and pretty dreary. But at other times they’re magical.
We visited in late October when autumn was busy turning the leaves yellow and orange. Reflecting the colours in the canal. Plenty of boats chugging along the still waters. Walkers and dogs parading the banks.
Approaching the aqueduct we came across these ducks all in a line. Which got me thinking. I wonder what they make of it. Do they ever paddle across?
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the longest and highest in Great Britain, is an impressive beast. Built between 1795-1805 it carries the canal 38 metres over the Dee Valley, linking the villages of Froncysyllte and Trevor. Someone, presumably a marketing guru, has named it the ‘stream in the sky’. Not technically correct but a great description; easier to pronounce too.
If we’d timed our visit better we could have taken a narrowboat ride across the aqueduct. Regular trips allow you to experience the scary side of the structure, with just a few centimetres of iron trough to stop you going over the edge. Although I’m sure no boat has ever sailed off it.
Instead we just walked. The path can easily fit two people side by side. But most people naturally gravitate to the handrail side. Which results in a moment of nervousness when you meet someone in the middle. Be polite and risk slipping in the canal? Or stick rigidly to the railings?
I stopped to enjoy the view and take a few photographs halfway over. Ignoring the sewage works. Focussing on the swirling River Dee far below. Watching birds fly beneath me. And checking that my son hadn’t gone for a paddle.
The aqueduct and part of Llangollen canal achieved Unseco World Heritage status in 2009, a worthy tribute to Thomas Telford’s vision. Could you imagine it being built nowadays? It would be festooned with barriers and safety nets. And I’m sure the mortar wouldn’t have been made with ox blood!
At the far end we stopped for lunch, before continuing our walk down the steps and alongside the River Dee. Turning round every so often to marvel once more. The further away you get the more it looks like boats and people are crossing the canal with no protection at all.
The walk across isn’t for everyone. But it’s easy to appreciate Telford’s engineering mastermind from plenty of vantage points without stepping foot on it. Well worth visiting!
- I’d suggest parking at Ty Mawr Country Park and walking beside the River Dee to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. There are great views as you approach, although you’ll need to climb a few stairs to access the aqueduct itself.
- The towpath and canal are occassionally closed for maintenance. Check further details in advance of your visit on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct website.