Vertiginous view of Chirk Aqueduct - oil painting by Rob Pointon via robpointon.co.uk

Vertiginous view of Chirk Aqueduct – oil painting by Rob Pointon via robpointon.co.uk

The aqueduct and railway viaduct at Chirk cross over the River Ceiriog as it makes its way towards the Dee, and mark the gateway to the valley. A lot of people stop and walk across the aqueduct and marvel at the view, but few realise that the aqueduct is kind of a “hub” for a number of short circular walks.

The Reluctant Walker and I have done several of these loops over the past few weekends, taking advantage of the unexpected spells of sunshine in amongst the rain, hail and snow. There are three really nice loops around the aqueduct, each giving you a slightly different picture of the canal, the railway and the landscape and sights on either side of the Ceiriog.

All these walks can be found on OS Explorer 240: Oswestry/Croesoswallt

1. Chirk Bank – Aqueduct – Pontfaen – The Bridge (about 2 miles)

Park at the canal-side carpark at Chirk Bank and walk towards Chirk, over the aqueduct, and then up to the roundabout and look-out above the tunnel that leads towards Chirk railway station. From here walk down the hill, on the pavement alongside the B4500, and then turn left into the field below the aqueduct at the newly-repaired Pontfaen Bridge. The footpath from here follows the line of the Ceiriog, and you walk back underneath the aqueduct, which gives you a fantastic view of the massive stone piers overhead. The footpath leads to a small gate at the far end of the field, up onto the Chirk-Gledrid road near The Bridge pub (known locally as “The Trap”). From here, a short hill leads past the pub and up the canal embankment to the carpark.

2. Chirk Bank – The Poacher’s Pocket – Oaklands Road (about 1 mile)

There’s another, slightly shorter walk from the Chirk Bank carpark that’s a good loop on fairly flat ground. Start from the carpark but head in the opposite direction – crossing over the road at Chirk Bank and following the towpath towards The Poacher’s Pocket pub. Leave the towpath here and walk over the canal bridge – this is Oaklands Road. Follow this lane back into the village of Chirk Bank. When you reach the Weston Rhyn road, turn right, and the road will take you over the canal bridge and back to the car park.

3. Chirk Bank – Pontfaen – Chirk Castle Gates – Aqueduct (about 2 1/2 miles)

From Chirk Bank canalside carpark, walk away from the canal towards Weston Rhyn. About 100 yards from the canal bridge, there’s a gate and a footpath leading right. The path passes between the houses and over the field beyond into the small line of trees above the canal. To your left is Oaklands Hall, and there’s the remains of a Norman motte and bailey here in the field. From here the footpath crosses the railway trackStop and look both ways, obviously, but also take a moment to appreciate the view down the railway line and out over the viaduct. On the other side of the track, follow the path as it winds down through the woods and along the lane to Pontfaen Bridge. Cross the bridge and turn right, along the B4500 as it heads towards Chirk. About half-way up the hill, cross the B-road and take the footpath up through the woods. The track leads past Lady Margaret caravan park, and joins the road by the spectacular Chirk Castle Gates. Turn right at the gates, and head down to the train station. If you have a torch with you (or have been eating your carrots!), you can cross the road before the railway station and head back to the aqueduct via the long canal tunnel. If you left your torch at home, cross the bridge over the railway track and turn right at the mini-roundabout. The road leads back to the look-out over the aqueduct (and from here, you can nip over to the new Caffi Wylfa if you’re in need of reviving with a cup of tea and some excellent cake). Walk down to the towpath and follow it over the aqueduct and back up to the carpark at Chirk Bank.

The aqueduct and viaduct at Chirk are not just gateways to the Ceiriog Valley, they’re also gateways to the Pontcysyllte World Heritage Site. From Chirk, the World Heritage Site extends all the way along the towpath and canal through Trevor Basin and Llangollen to the Horseshoe Falls. It’s a stunning scenic and historic site, worth exploring if you’re spending any time in the area – and these short loops are a good way to get started!

Nant Bridge, Bersham - at the edge of Nant Mill Woods, along the Clywedog Trail.

Nant Bridge, Bersham – at the edge of Nant Mill Woods, along the Clywedog Trail.

On the outskirts of Wrexham as you head towards Oswestry, the bypass crosses over the River Clywedog. Just below that crossing are the remains of Bersham Ironworks. The ironworks stand at the edge of a long strip of woodland that runs alongside the river, and also stand on the route of the Clywedog Trail, a series of linked footpaths that run from Erddig Country House to Minera Lead Mines.

As it was one of our usual rain-soaked days, and as we were all somewhat pressed for time, we didn’t do the full nine-mile round trip, but just a short three mile loop. We parked next to the attractive weir at Caeau Bridge, opposite St. Mary’s Church. From there (the carpark was locked, but there was ample room in the layby entrance) we followed the riverside path through Plas Power Woods up to Nant Bridge, and then back down the road in the reverse direction. It wasn’t a very long walk, the woods were veiled in rain and mist, and much of the path was muddy underfoot – but it was still a nice enough, and would be extremely pretty in the spring and summer. It was obviously very popular with local walkers (and dogs), which was good to see. Both Plas Power Woods and Nant Mill Wood (beyond Nant Mill Bridge) are maintained by the Woodlands Trust, which clearly host  a number of educational and school activities in the forest.

Bersham Ironworks marks the beginning of a series of industrial sites along the Clywedog River as it heads northwest up towards Llandegla. Beyond Nant Bridge, footpaths take you on towards the Minera Lead Mines and the Minera Limeworks. Beyond the quarries at the edge of the limeworks, paths wind their way towards Llandegla to the northwest, or back down south towards the Offa’s Dyke Path and the footpaths around Dinas Bran (walks which we covered in the first volume of our Walk Book). Later in the year, with better weather, we might well come back to the Clywedog Trail again, extending it into a longer walk to Minera and beyond.

Bersham: Plas Power Woods and Nant Mill Wood

3 miles

Good for dog-walking

Coed Cochion woods.

Coed Cochion woods.

I’ve been working on the second edition of the Hand Walk Book, updating the maps and expanding a few of the local walks. I wanted to have a few more illustrations from around Llanarmon D.C. in amongst the new pages, so I thought I might take advantage of the break in the weather and get out and do some sketching. I’ve been out with the Inside Out Art Group for sketching walks through the Ceiriog valley before. In fact, we sketched and walked from Ysgubor Draw by Ty Coch down to Hendre Quarry back in September.

Despite a bit of a chill in the air, at least it wasn’t raining. I did some sketching in the ground of St. Garmon’s, drawing both the church itself and the decorative circular “roses” carved into the slate headstones and tombs. I’ve always been interested in these circular, compass-drawn motifs – I used to see their American cousins on the side of barns in the States when I was a kid. From there, I walked up the hill to Ysgubor Draw, the picturesque barn on the hill above the village. From here, the footpath heads off past Tyn y Fedw along the line of the river towards Tregeiriog and Hendre Quarry – a walk Martin and I have done many times before, and a great walk for sketchers and photographers.

But I particularly wanted to go up and draw the old Glyn Valley Tramway wagon at Penybryn, so I walked across the river and up Heartbreak Hill to the farm. The old wagon’s in a fairly dilapidated state, but it’s one of the few that survive up here now. There used to be so many left over after the closure of the tramway. But it’s been almost a hundred years now since the tramway was closed, and time is wiping away even these last remnants. There was no shoot in place up the river, so I took the opportunity to finish my sketching day by walking down from Penybryn through the woods of Coed Cochion and over the river at Dolwen.

There are earthworks alongside the river at Dolwen, which I’m assuming are leets connected to eighteenth-century fulling mills. I know about the mills at Pandy and Castle Mills (hence the names) and the ones in Glyn Ceiriog that operated up into the twentieth century. But mills higher up the Ceiriog I don’t know a great deal about. Were there mills at Dolwen?

Jane Jones’ book doesn’t mention anything about them, neither does John Milner’s. Neville Hurdsman, in A History of the Parish of Chirk says: “As water mills proliferated in the 17th and 18th centuries, more mills were established on both sides of the Ceiriog. […] By the mid 18th century the activities of the fullers and dyers of Chirk had ended as the industry developed further up the valley…” (p. 163). Glyn Ceiriog, of course, became a centre for flannel production during the late-nineteenth century; does “further up the valley” perhaps indicate that some of that production was also carried out at sites like Dolwen? Or, if there are no records of fulling mills in the upper reaches of the Ceiriog, might these be the remains of agricultural corn mills? Or a flax mill like the one in the centre of Llanarmon?

Does anyone else know about mills further up the Ceiriog, either at Dolwen or Tuhwntir Afon?

Anyway, musings on mills along the Ceiriog aside, I wound my way home back along the road to Llanarmon, stopping only briefly to draw some sketches of the silver birches at the edge of the Fedw Sarfle. It was an excellent walk – a relief to be outside and not soaked to the skin for once!

St. Garmons – Ysgubor Draw – Penybryn – Dolwen

c. 3 ¾ miles

Frost up by Fynnon y Brenin.

Frost up by Fynnon y Brenin.

It’s been a long while since Martin and I were last out on a proper walk. Illness, holidays, weather and general lack of space on our respective calendars has meant that walks have been a bit thin on the ground over the past few months. To be honest, the weather has put a real downer on planning and enthusiasm. I don’t mind walking in the rain – even in the worst of it – but there’s nothing much to be gained in going up onto the moors when the mist is so thick and the clouds so low that you can’t appreciate the views. So while we have been out, we’ve tended to stick to routes that we know well and which have shielded us from the worst of the rain and wind.

But this past week we managed to catch the very best of the winter weather we’ve had these past few weeks: those few days of cold that coated all the hills around here with a thick blanket of hoar frost. We went out from The Hand at about eleven in the morning, intending to do a relatively short walk up Heartbreak Hill, past Pen-y-Bryn, up onto the moors and then down past Hafod Adams to the B-road and back to The Hand along the river. We’ve done that a couple times this past autumn – it’s our “default” walk: not too long, but with a good hill at either end and the chance to get away from the village and get up into the emptiness of the moors.

Having climbed up to the moors, however, the weather was so good that we decided not to drop down via Hafod Adams, but instead head the other way – along the ridge past Fynnon y Brenin and the edge of the Ceiriog Forest to the waterfalls up past Swch Cae Rhiw. The sun was out in force, and it was actually pretty warm as we headed off the main path and out over the heather. But in the shadows of Bryn Du, the hoar frost was still thick underfoot, veiling the moors around us in a thick, sparkling shroud of ice. Indeed, some of it was thick enough to disguise muddy puddles as clean drifts, booby-trapping parts of the route! We walked down the shaded side of the hills overlooking the Nantyr Estate (up for sale, should you be interested), and through the bottom part of the Ceiriog Forest along Bwlch y Dolydd – now felled in a wide sweep from the road out towards the stone sheepfold and memorial.

From there, it was back up into the sunshine along the line of the Nant Ysgallog as it tumbles in the series of falls known as the “Ceiriog Waterfalls”, down towards the junction with the Ceiriog River and back towards Llanarmon, home and the welcome roar of the coal fire in the bar. We hadn’t planned to walk quite so far (eight miles, almost exactly), but it felt good to be back out on the hills again. I can’t remember which walk this is in our current edition of Walks From the Hand, as I’ve lent my last copy to a friend.

And speaking of the walk book brings me to our latest piece of news, which is that Martin and I have definitely agreed that we will do a second volume this year, featuring more of our favourite walks and drives from The Hand. We’ve now finished the revisions to our current volume – now Walks From the Hand, Vol. I – and that’ll be printed up in two editions this year: the familiar spiral-bound, acetate-fronted edition suitable for taking out and about, and a slightly smarter-looking, souvenir edition – possibly in hardback. We’ll work on Volume II throughout this year and hopefully have it ready for Christmas 2013. Many thanks to everyone who bought copies of our first volume over the past two years – we’ve sold out two print-runs so far – and thanks also for the very useful comments and suggestions you’ve emailed in. Hopefully Volume II will be as much fun both for us to compile and for you to enjoy.


Afternoon Tea at the Fron Tea Rooms.

The Reluctant Walker and I were out again today – this time a bit closer to home. It was one of those rare autumn days – brilliant sunshine but still crisp and slightly cool. We drove up to Chirk and down along the A5 to the junction with the B5560 – the first left-hand road off the A5 as you head towards Llangollen, heading towards Newbridge. About 500 yards from the junction, the road bends and crosses over the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. Martin and I have done long, long walks along the towpath from Chirk many times, but shorter stretches make lovely walks in their own right.

So the Reluctant Walker and I parked just off the B-road, in a layby along the towpath. The B-road crosses over the bridge here – bridge number 27W. Under the bridge, the towpath heads towards Chirk, but we headed in the other direction – towards Froncysyllte. The canal was busy – narrow boats, cruisers and even a trio of kayaks. Overhead, a biplane buzzed over the borderlands, heading towards Snowdonia. The path, too, was fairly busy – walkers and cyclists, families and dog-walkers taking advantage of the beautiful afternoon sunshine.

This is a lovely corner of the Llangollen canal, and we took our time as we headed towards Froncysyllte. We passed through Tan-y-Cut woods, and across the line of Offa’s Dyke as it crosses the canal. As we neared Fron itself, we passed by the remains of the old Froncysyllte limekilns and the wharfs and railway lines that linked the canal to the quarries above the A5.

At the Fron wharf, the Reluctant Walker and I paused on the wooden pedestrian over-bridge to watch the narrow-boats raising and lowering the car-bridge over the canal – and then crossed over the canal and made our way to the Fron House Tea Rooms just above the canal. From the sun-dappled garden, we sat and watched the boats pass back and forth along the canal, with a full pot of tea and a slice each of some of the best cake we’d ever tasted – a slice of coconut and lime cake for the Reluctant Walker, and a slice of heavenly treacle tart (baked – unless I’m much mistaken – with a dollop of marmalade in the mixture and served with a thick spoonful of whipped cream) for myself. With their canal-side view and some of the best cakes you’re likely to find in the borderlands, the Fron House Tea Rooms are a real gem, and a great place to sit and watch the world go by.

Full of cake and tea, the Reluctant Walker and I retraced our steps back to the car and back home. Now we ambled – positively dawdled – along the towpath. We took photographs, admired the views over the Dee Valley, stopped to watch the ducks and the boats, nosed under the bridges and around the old railway tracks, taking the best part of an hour to get from Bridge 27W to the Fron Tea Rooms. But on the way back, we walked properly (though nowhere near as fast as Martin and I go), and it took us twenty minutes.

The Reluctant Walker liked the idea of a stroll along the towpath because it was flat – and being flat, these towpaths are also perfect for wheelchairs and walkers. And of course, if you’re in the mood for a slightly longer ramble, you can continue along the canal, over the Aqueduct – now a World Heritage Site – towards Trevor, and eventually towards Llangollen.

For the Reluctant Walker and I, this short stretch of the legs was enough. Back off home to mow the field and set up the new chicken shed. But we’ll be back to this corner of the Shropshire Union Canal before too long – if only for the at the Fron House Tea Room!



Length: Bridge 27W to Fron Wharf: 1 mile ; Fron Wharf to Trevor over the aqueduct: a further 3/4 miles

Map: Explorer 255

Fron House Tea Rooms: Tea – £1.60, Cakes – from £2.00

The Shropshire plain from the edge of Candy Woods – England as seen from the edge of Wales.

Today we went on an English walk – a circuit from Oswestry Racecourse down the hill towards the ruins of Castell Brogyntyn and back up again to the old racecourse. The walk makes an interesting contrast with the mountainous routes we’re more used to. 

Once again, we were lucky enough to hit a day of bright sunshine – warm, even hot, too. From the carpark at the edge of the racecourse we followed the path off the southern edge of the course and through the bottom of Candy Wood, under the shadow of the stone-and-earth embankment of Offa’s Dyke. The old plantation here now obscures the line of the dyke in parts, but the path leaves the shadow of the trees at the sheep walk, heading off east past an enormous old beech into the open fields.

From here, you can appreciate the difference between the Welsh walks we do and the English ones. Here, we look out over the broad sweep of the Shropshire plains – all wide, clear fields and rolling hills, with the blue arc of the sky unconfined by slate and granite peaks. It’s the kind of countryside that allows you to get a feel for the whole context of a walk – something that’s often not as easy to do, even in the Berwyns.

The path through the fields lead us past the remains of the fishponds and walled garden of Llanforda Hall below Llanforda Wood. A quick shelter in the copse beyond the walled garden and we were back out into the fields, joining Back Racecourse Lane and heading up the road past the reservoir below Oerley Hall. The house by the reservoir has a beautiful view out over the water, and once again, a fantastic panorama over the Shropshire plains.

It’s been about 2 1/2 miles so far, and Back Racecourse Lane leads back up to the racecourse – about another three-quarters of a mile or so. But we extended our walk by another 3 miles – heading first along the lane at the top of the Back Racecourse hill towards Underhill Cottagethen down Mount Road to the lane behind Brogyntyn Park and the ruins of Castell Brogyntyn – a typically small Norman marcher motte-and-bailey castle.

Here, we lost the open vistas and were closed in by the trees of the park, winding our way up the “no motorised vehicles” lane, up the steep slope of the hill past a tall beech wood and turning into the top edge of the racecourse once more. We arrived back at the car just as the sky began to turn cloudy and spit rain: perfect timing!

Back at The Hand, we took shelter in the bar as the grey clouds opened and the rain came down in stair-rods. Sitting by the fire, watching the rain coming down, Martin and I realised something: the autumn is closing in on us. If we don’t hurry up and do Snowdon fairly soon, we’ll start losing the late afternoon light.

Sounds like we’ll have to make our plans for Snowdon in the next few weeks…

Length: 5 1/2 miles (or 3 1/4 miles if you head back to the racecourse up Back Racecourse Lane)

Time: 3 hrs ( or 2 1/4 if you head back up Back Racecourse Lane)

Map: Explorer 240

Walking and drawing – a perfect combination.

Went on a great little sketching walk with a group of artists from the Inside Out Art Group – they’re the artists who’ve been exhibiting in the Dining Room at The Hand since 2008.

From Llanarmon D.C. to Hendre Quarry is about 2 1/4 miles country walk through river-side forests, across little streams, over bridges and through cattle fields – some of the best scenery in this end of the valley.

Starting from the Tithebarn Studios, where the Tithebarn Studios Group have an exhibition this month for Helfa Gelf, we walked from the centre of the village, up the hill leading out of the village past the Church of St. Garmon, with its Bronze Age burial mound and 2,000-year old yew trees. Leaving the road, we turned down the footpath that lead past the Old Ty Coch Barn, and through the bluebell woods of Coed Fedw. From the woods, the path lead through a sun-dappled pasture to a short lane leading to the village of Tregeiriog. Over the bridge to the other side of the River Ceiriog, then turning right at the bus shelter, we followed the road up the hill, past the Old Tregeiriog Cemetery, and down towards Pontricket Farm. There we left the road, following the tiny lane with its nine-foot high hedges on either side, back over the river, and up past Farthing Farm and into the quarry.

Hendre Quarry itself is a compact heritage landscape, full of old buildings, railway archaeology and evidence of the industries that once powered the Ceiriog valley. You follow the line of the old quarry tramway track down the hill to the entrance the quarry itself. The granite quarry is a truly impressive excavation into the hillside – totally hidden from view until you get down into it. From the quarry you can walk down past the crushing mill to the old gunpowder works, past the remains of the locomotive shed and the company offices. From the quarry, the Glyn Valley Tramway took the granite down to the Great Western Railway at Chirk and the Shropshire Union Canal at Gledrid (near where the roundabout is now).

Anyway, enough history – basically, this is all to hammer home that there’s tons of stuff to draw down at Hendre: ruined buildings, fantastic cliffs in the quarry, the rolling river with its ancient bridges – anything and everything an artist could wish for. Anyone coming to The Hand who likes to draw or paint – Hendre Quarry is a great place to go both for a walk and artistic inspiration. And if you’re interested in a guided art walk – either to the Quarry or further afield – just drop us a comment here at the blog and we’ll see if we can arrange something.

Length: 4 1/2 miles (2 1/4 miles one-way)

Time: 2hrs (walking time only)

Map: Explorer 255

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