The British love of messing about in boats takes on a whole new dimension at the Llangollen canal in North Wales. In this area that’s popular with visitors thanks to its lush green countryside and historic castles, one place – quite literally – stands above all others. Pontcysyllte aqueduct – known as the “Stream in the Sky” – is more than just another Victorian edifice.
Pontcysyllte is both the longest aqueduct in Great Britain and the highest canal aqueduct in the world – and it’s still in daily use today.
About the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Llangollen Canal
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is part of a canal system connecting the lowlands of England with the rugged Welsh hills. The Llangollen Canal, which includes the aqueduct, runs from Cheshire in Northwest England to Llangollen in Wales.
From the early days of the Industrial Revolution, horse-drawn canal barges carried coal, iron, slate, and limestone from Welsh mines to coastal ports for export and to English industrial towns and cities. Once road and rail transport became cheaper and quicker than the canals, they were abandoned before being transformed into a beautiful leisure network
How long did the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct take to build?
The stone and cast iron Pontcysyllte Aqueduct took 10 years to design, build and test – from 1795 to 1805. It finally opened on 17th November 1805 after 6 months of testing to make sure there were no leaks!
In total, 18 massive, tapering pillars support the 126ft high aqueduct, which has 19 arches, each with a 45ft span. Water is carried over the aqueduct in a trough made from cast iron plates. The trough is just under 12ft wide and is 5ft 3in deep. It’s a true marvel of early Victorian engineering.
Why was Pontcysllte Aqueduct Built?
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was designed to carry the newly constructed Llangollen canal over the River Dee, providing a navigable connection between England and Wales, and connecting the rivers Severn, Dee, and Mersey.
Who Built the Aqueduct?
The aqueduct is the masterpiece of famed Scottish civil engineer Thomas Telford (1757-1834) whose projects also included the Caledonian Canal, the Menai Suspension Bridge, the incredible Neptunes Staircase in Banavie, Scotland, and The Iron Bridge – the world’s first iron bridge. Telford was so influential that he was made the first president of the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1820.
Two other eminent Victorians were key to the success of the project:
- Consulting engineer: William Jessop (23 January 1745 – 18 November 1814)
- Structural engineer: William Hazeldine (6 April 1763 – 26 October 1840)
Gaining UNESCO World Heritage Status
In recognition of the feat of civil engineering employed in designing and building the aqueduct, the Grade 1 listed structure and the Llangollen Canal were awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in June 2009. The World Heritage site includes Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Chirk Aqueduct and Viaduct, tunnels, cuttings, and 11 miles of the Llangollen canal, running from Gledrid Bridge near Rhoswiel to the incredible Horseshoe Falls.
A masterpiece of creative geniusUNESCO
Fun Facts About Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
- The mortar used to build the aqueduct was made of oxen blood, lime, and water
- The aqueduct carries 1.5 million litres of water, and takes 2 hours to drain
- Otters are regularly spotted in the Llangollen canal – but not on the aqueduct itself
Where is Pontcysyllte?
The aqueduct is located in the beautiful Vale of Glamorgan in North East Wales, about an hour away from Liverpool and Manchester, and 2 hours from Birmingham.
Location: Station Rd, Trevor, Llangollen LL20 7TY
How to get to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Most visitors choose to drive to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Llangollen Canal; however, there are sustainable travel options too – if you have a little more time to spare.
By Public Transport: Chirk and Ruabon are the nearest train stations, while local buses serve the area from Llangollen and Wrexham. (You’ll need a taxi from Ruabon to Llangollen).
Before you book a taxi – check out these taxi safety tips.
By Foot: The aqueduct is a 4-mile walk from Llangollen and is about 3 miles from Chirk.
By Car: Most visitors drive to Pontcysyllte aqueduct. and parking is both plentiful and well signposted. Dedicated parking for disabled blue badge and permit holders is very close to the aqueduct.
- The main Pontcysyllte car park is near Cefn Mawr (LL14 3SG)
- The dedicated car park for disabled blue badge and permit holders is off Station Road (LL20 7TY)
- There’s also an overspill car park at Wimbourne Gate, Queens Street, Cefn Mawr (LL14 3NP)
Where to Stay Near Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Wales
If you’re planning to stay a few days to explore the local area, Llangollen and Chirk are the most convenient places to stay. Here are some of the best options for you:
Moreton Hall Hotel in Chirk is just 6 miles away from the aqueduct.
Just 10 miles away, you’ll find Sweeney Hall Hotel in Oswestry which is a real find!
The Best Things to Do at Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Llangollen Canal
There are plenty of things to see and do here – these are the most popular:
1. Walk Along The Aqueduct
The Pontcysyllte aqueduct is 1,007ft long, which doesn’t sound very far, but the incredible height is what makes this walk along a narrow towpath so thrilling. The canal towpath itself is mounted above the water, with sturdy railings to prevent any accidents (and to hold onto if you suffer from vertigo).
The ultimate view is from the centre of the aqueduct, high above the River Dee and the valley over 100ft below. I was proud I managed to conquer my fear and walk Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (even though my knees were knocking the whole time).
A couple of safety tips:
- If you’re travelling with small people – hold on tight to them when crossing the aqueduct
- Be aware that the towpath is two way – pedestrians, wheelchairs, buggies and bikes (cyclists must dismount though)
You’ll also have a good view of another Telford masterpiece – the double aqueduct at Chirk is well worth a visit too.
2. Pontcysyllte aqueduct boat trips
The best way to experience the Llangollen Canal is on a narrowboat trip. If you have plenty of time, it takes about 3 days to travel the whole 46 miles of the canal, which includes 21 locks.
Alternatively, boat companies at Llangollen Wharf and at Pontcysyllte Aqueduct offer short trips – both horse-drawn and motorised.
Find all of the options for boat trips from Llangollen and from Pontcysyllte here.
3. Paddle across the Aqueduct in a Canoe
One of the most exciting ways to experience the Llangollen Canal and to cross the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is by canoe. Find more details here about the organised trips that you can book.
You can also take a paddleboard along the Llangollen Canal but will have to dismount to cross the aqueduct.
4. Walk Down the Valley to the River Dee
After a lofty crossing of the aqueduct, wander down (a lot of steps) to the banks of the River Dee for a completely different perspective of the area and the aqueduct. It’s a very pleasant walk, but remember all those steps need to be climbed back up again!
There are clearly marked walking trails on both sides of the river, and it only takes about 10 minutes to reach a spot with an outstanding view of the Pontcysyllte aqueduct. From so far below, it almost looks as if the narrowboats crossing the aqueduct are flying!
5. Check Out The View from the Old Bridge
Downstream from the aqueduct, there’s a narrow (single lane) bridge on the B5434 road which crosses the River Dee – moments from the Trevor Basin car park. There’s no formal parking at this point, but you can park safely on the (steep) hill down to the bridge, before walking across the bridge to take in the view upstream towards the aqueduct.
6. Explore the Llangollen Canal
There are several stunning walks along the Llangollen canal – even if you’re not much of a walker normally. There are bus stops along the way, and plenty of benches to sit and watch narrowboats pass by. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot herons too. Pubs along the route include the Telford Arms and the Cornmill at Llangollen, and you will find cafes at both ends of the canal between Pontcysyllte aqueduct and Llangollen.
- The level, easy walk to the Horsehoe Falls will take between 30 mins and 1 hour. depending on your pace.
- A gentle walk from the town of Langollen towards the viaduct (4 miles) will take about 1 hour – you can either make it a circular walk, or catch a bus back from the Trevor basin.
- From Pontcysyllte aqueduct there’s also a lovely 4-mile walk to Chirk Aqueduct, through two amazing, but very dark tunnels – remember to pack a torch! Alternatively, hire a bicycle at Trevor and it’s a very pleasant 1 to 1 1/2 hour round trip. Note that you have to dismount to cross the Pontcysyllte aqueduct.
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct FAQs
How do you pronounce Pontcysyllte?
Pontcysyllte is a Welsh word that means “the bridge that connects”. It’s pronounced pont – ker – sulth – the, but it’s also known locally as “Ponty”.
Is the Aqueduct one way?
The aqueduct is two-way – both for narrowboats and for pedestrians.
How often is the aqueduct drained for maintenance?
Every five years both ends of the aqueduct are closed. A plug in one of the highest spans is opened to drain the canal water, to allow inspection and maintenance of the trough. It takes at least 3 seconds for the water plume to reach the River Dee, 111 feet below. The trough was last emptied in 2019, so the next time to see this spectacle will be in 2024..
More things to do and see in the local area
- Discover Chirk: Visit Chirk Castle, Chirk Aqueduct, and Chirk Viaduct.
- Climb to the summit of the ruined medieval Castell Dinas Bran
- Visit the bewitching Roman City of Chester to see its city walls, Roman amphitheatre, and 1,000 year old cathedral
- Potter around Llangollen – home of the internationally renowned original Eisteddfod festival
- Try white water rafting with this tour down the epic rapids (Serpent’s Tail and Town Falls) on the River Dee
We loved visiting Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the Llangollen Canal. If you’re looking for something a little different to do on a trip to Wales, don’t miss this special place.
Pin for Later – Visiting Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Main image: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (Adobe)