Canal Holiday Cruising Notes from Chirk Marina
CRUISING EAST - Part 1.
(See also Part 2 & CRUISING WEST )
Within half a day cruising west from Chirk Marina, destinations HINDFORD BRIDGE or ELLESMERE
These two trips, which are a little less than 7 miles or a little over 12 miles respectively give you the option of reaching a point where cruising the Montgomery Canal the next day is feasible, or instead cruising down the Llangollen Canal without diversion. Both follow the same route to Hindford Bridge, a stretch which will take three hours and take in two locks, so a gentle introduction with a convivial pub at the end if time is short. Those with more time or not wanting to explore the Montgomery may wish to continue to the charming market town of Ellesmere with its many attractions. The additional cruising will take a further 2 ¼ hours making a journey time of 5 ¼ hours if that delightful town is your objective. At busy periods be prepared for these times to be longer, if for example, you have to wait at the aqueduct.
Your cruise east from Chirk Marina, which lies between two tunnels, takes you first along side the railway and thence into a deeply wooded cutting before entering the northern portal of Chirk Tunnel. There are good moorings here for those who, on the way back might be tempted to explore Chirk Castle to the west of the canal, built to subjugate the Welsh in the reign of Edward the First. The last native Prince, Llewellyn was murdered by the efforts of the original inhabitants of the castle, the Mortimers. The castle is open to visitors and throughout the season though only on Saturdays and Sundays in October.
Alternatively, on the return leg, a very pleasant final day may await those who elect to take the train in to Chester and explore its ancient walls and old worlde shops. There is a convenient service from ChirkStation, just below the tunnel and the journey takes a mere 29 minutes.
Most holidaymakers will however want to enjoy their boat first, and the 459 yard Chirk tunnel is the ideal fanfare for the fun to follow. The bore isn’t wide enough for two boats to pass. Make sure therefore there is no headlight in the distant darkness before you enter the tunnel and check to see that yours is on! Unusually, the tunnel has a towpath.
At Chirk Bank, you can stop and enjoy a pint in the warm and friendly Bridge Inn, which has a real fire in the autumn months and fine views of the Chirk Aqueduct, all year. Known as the last pub in England, it offers meals all day, every day. A little further on at Rhosweil there is a small store and the canal passes through a cutting. Just before St Martins was Ifton Colliery, which had a famous silver band and brought coal down to the canal along the railway to a small bridge just after Rhosweil
Directly after the tunnel is the aqueduct at Chirk, built in 1801, from stout masonry with a cast iron trough in which the water is carried. Alongside this runs the mainline railway on its own viaduct, the two crossing the river Ceiriog 70 feet below. The midpoint of this aqueduct marks the border between Wales and England, once across you are in the English Marches, formerly wild borderlands and now a tranquil haven
At the small border village of St Martins Moor, which has a Methodist chapel and a Wharf. From this wharf a pleasant circular walk is possible taking in part of Wat’s Dyke – a new heritage trail which mostly follows this ancient earthwork into Flintshire over some 61 miles of border countryside. Although it not possible to visit Henlle Hall, the former home of the Lovett family and the subject of a terrible fire in 2009, the Hall itself is visible in the grounds of Henlle Park, around which the canal will skirt. Return to the wharf over Preeshenlle Bridge along Wat’s Dyke, over a disused railway and then back to St Martins Moor. It’s hard to imagine that this pleasant rural idyll was once a hive of industry.
This is pleasant countryside, gradually getting less hilly, a fact soon demonstrated by the two New Marton Locks, the last you will encounter on your journey to Ellesmere. A little further distant is the tiny hamlet of Hindford, still with its own pub, the Jack Mytton Inn. The story of Mad Jack Mytton is worth researching over a pint or a meal at this attractive hostelry and for those planning to explore the Montgomery Canal the next day, this is a good place to stop as there are good moorings below the pub
Those who elect to cruise on beyond Hindford Bridge toward Ellesmere will shortly find the canal crosses the now disused and dismantled Ellesmere to Oswestry railway line. Further on still is Maestermyn Marine, with a boatyard, moorings and chandlery selling provisions and gifts.
After Maestermyn is Frankton Junction, at the northern extremity of the Montgomery Canal. This will be of passing interest to those continuing onto Ellesmere, but those interested in exploring it on the return leg should follow the notes which appear further below.
Leaving Frankton the canal passes through rolling farmland toward Ellesmere Yard. Expect this stretch to take you about an hour. Beyond Frankton, lies the scattered village of Welsh Frankton on rising ground to the north, with a church, chapel and both a Grange and a Hall, until Ellesmere is reached, via a short arm which deviates from the main line to the town wharf. This town is real gem with its own basin surrounded by the old industrial buildings typical of a once busy canal wharf and a handy new superstore. The boat can be winded (turned) here, and there are moorings along the arm leading back to the main line. From the basin it’s a short walk into the town where provisions can be bought or a meal enjoyed at one of the many pubs and restaurants. The town is well worth a visit with is narrow streets of half timbered houses, a medieval church and old castle earthworks.
Within a day's cruising east from Chirk Marina, Destination The Montgomery Canal and MAESBURY MARSH
If you have stayed the first night at Chirk, or cruised on to the Jack Mytton at Hindford Bridge, Maesbury Marsh, the furthest extent to which you can explore on the Montgomery, is, lock opening times permitting, within an easy day’s cruise.
Following the cruising notes to Frankton Junction, you will need to time you arrival to coincide with the lock keeper on duty. The staff at Chirk Marina will be happy to confirm these times, but during 2012 they were open from Tuesday 27th March 2012 until Wednesday 31st October 2012, but bookings were required for passage through the locks. The Lock opening times 12 noon until 2pm, 7 days per week including Bank holidays. You can book any time before 10am on the day of passage and that can be done by phoning the C&RT Northwich Office on 01606 723800. Anyone wishing to cruise this stretch should note there are no passages available without a booking or outside these hours.
The Montgomery Canal is a hidden treasure which remains the subject of restoration work to return the full navigation to public use, an initiative Hire a Canalboat both applauds and supports. That objective is still some way off but the navigable section is interesting, pretty and well worth the diversion.
There is the former Weston Branch just beyond the last Frankton Lock, and at Rednal a one-time canal basin, now disused, with old canalside warehouses at adjacent Heath Houses. The limit of navigation presently is Gronwyn Wharf, just beyond the interesting and delightful village of Maesbury Marsh. Wind here and return to the village where there is a friendly canal-side pub, the aptly named Navigation which incorporates an eighteenth century canal warehouse. A variety of fare local and more cosmopolitan is served and there is a Jazz night too. If you are here n a Sunday why not visit the curious corrugated iron church, a rare survivor of a style once common in previously isolated communities of this kind.
From Maesbury Marsh, hardy souls will find it’s possible to walk along the towpath to the adjacent towns of Pant and Llanmynech, the latter having once been important for the quarrying and processing of limestone. The former quarries are now part of a beautiful nature reserve and both it and the surrounding Llanmynech heritage area are well worth exploring.
>>> Continue to Part 2. >>>
(See also CRUISING WEST)
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All distances and times are approximate. The timings do not take account of cruising conditions which are variable and be aware delays can and will occur. It is your responsibility to return your holiday narrowboat before or at the time specified in your agreement(s) with the Company.