Chirk Aqueduct – Gateway Piece
This Canal Etching marks the start of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, awarded in 2009. The 18 kilometres of canal from here (Gledrid Bridge) across Chirk Embankment, over the Chirk and Pontcysllte Aqueducts, and through the two tunnels to the Horseshoe Falls beyond Llangollen is a spectacular example of canal engineering in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The English Welsh border follows the old line of the river below the Chirk Aqueduct.
The World Heritage Site citation states: “The canal as a whole has been recognised for its successful combination of rigorous engineering with sensitivity to a dramatic and highly valued landscape.” The embankments, cuttings, tunnels and aqueducts in the stretch between here and Trevor represent an outstanding example of how canals of this period cut through the landscape in a more or less straight line. Earlier canal builders would take the line of least resistance and follow the contours of the landscape.
If you walk along the towpath northwards from the etching towards the Aqueduct, you will very soon be on the monumental Chirk embankment. At the time of its construction it was probably the largest earthwork in Europe, made entirely by hand. Gangs of ‘navvies’, short for navigators, used picks, shovels, barrows and planks to move and shape the soil.
Perhaps the best way of appreciating the enormity of the embankment and getting a good view of both canal and railway aqueducts is to follow Telford’s London to Holyhead road that drops steeply below the embankment to cross the river Ceiriog before curving up into Chirk itself.
“At the time of its construction it was probably the largest earthwork in Europe, made entirely by hand. Gangs of ‘navvies’, short for navigators, used picks, shovels, barrows and planks to move and shape the soil.”
If you turn away from the World Heritage Site and look south, beyond the Poachers Pocket Pub, and just beyond the bend in the canal, the remains of the Gledrid Wharf can be seen as hummocks in the field. This was the terminus of the Glyn Valley Tramway between 1871 and 1888. Slates and granite came from quarries further up the Ceiriog Valley to be loaded onto narrow boats to supply the growing towns and cities of England. Before this it had been used as a coal wharf serving local collieries. Chirk was a rural coal mining community from the seventeenth century until the last mine in the area closed in the late 1960s.