Crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in High Winds, “It’s Horrible”


“I don’t want to go at all, I want to go back, it’s horrible”.

Whilst my outer bravado was exuding British ‘fine day for it’ attitude, my inner anxiety couldn’t help but agree with the lady berating her husband on this narrow piece of metal, 39 metres up from the valley floor.

Fortunately, I was getting no such feedback, as my family had taken the clever tactic of staying in the car, under the guise of a toddler having tired legs, but they may well have had a sixth sense of what was to come.

This highwire-esque foolishness served no purpose other than to say I’d done it – ticking off another UNESCO World Heritage Site off my list (the 79th, before you ask – and I know you were about to).

And by the very nature of things, crossing a valley from one side, meant getting to the other involved turning back round and doing it all over again.

Outstanding news.

But I survived to tap this article in to my laptop, and even got some bara brith as a reward.

Here’s my tale – alongside some practical and factual information about visiting the site.

Visitor’s Tips

GETTING HERE & PARKING

Pontcysyllte is in north Wales, near Wrexham. To park where we did use this location, or for the other side search ‘Trevor Basin Visitor Centre’.

OPENING
HOURS & Timing

The aqueduct is open 24/7, the visitor centre is open 1000-1600 7 days a week.
You need around an hour here if you just walk over and grab some lunch.

FACILITIES

There are toilets at the northern end of the aqueduct at the visitor centre.

REFRESHMENTS

We headed to this delightful tearoom in an old chapel and enjoyed toasted sandwiches and traditional bara brith.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Great photos can be taken either end of the aqueduct, or from the Pontcysyllte Old Bridge.

TOURS

Cruise across the ‘stream in the sky’ on a narrowboat from Trevor or take a 2hr instructor led canoe trip.

About Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (pronounced Pont – ker – sulth – tay) is a place so well-named it makes one feel like they’ve made a spelling mistake – twice (yes, aqueduct really does have an ‘e’ in it, I now know better), and one so well-made it got inscribed on the UNESCO Heritage list in 2009.

After a decade of construction, it opened in 1805, with its 18 tremendous stone archways propping up a cast iron trough to carry the Llangollen Canal and its barges full of industrial revolution coal and iron 307 metres across the River Dee. It is the highest longest aqueduct in the UK and the highest canal aqueduct anywhere in the UK.

Thomas Telford

sign dedicated to thomas telford at pontcysyllte aqueduct

Designed by Thomas Telford and completed under his careful supervision, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was a wonder of its time and remains so today. Telford, often referred to as the “Colossus of Roads”, was renowned for his pioneering use of new materials and engineering techniques. At Pontcysyllte, his innovative use of cast iron for the trough was groundbreaking. This allowed the aqueduct to not only support the weight of the canal water, but also to withstand the same rigours of the harsh Welsh weather that I was experiencing today.

The need for the aqueduct stemmed from the industrial activity in North Wales during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The region was rich in natural resources like coal and iron ore, vital for powering the Industrial Revolution. However, transporting these materials was a significant challenge due to the rugged terrain and limited transportation infrastructure.

The construction of the Llangollen Canal, of which the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is a part, was conceived as a solution to these logistical issues. It was designed to connect the ironworks and collieries of North Wales with the major cities like Chester and eventually to the sea, vastly improving the efficiency of material transport and boosting the local economy.

The aqueduct itself was a bold solution to one of the canal’s most significant obstacles: the deep valley of the River Dee. Telford’s design not only solved this problem, but did so with such elegance and durability that it turned a functional piece of infrastructure into a tourist attraction.

Parking & Approach

small bridge near pontcysyllte aqueduct
The little bridge near the car park.

We parked up on the south side of the aqueduct, at this little car park, which doesn’t seem to be the usual place, as most reports I’ve read see people using the other side of the valley as there is a visitor centre at Trevor.

Still, it worked, the car parking was free, there was a nice little canal bridge to photograph, and it was less than a kilometre to reach the entrance of the aqueduct.

canal with narrow boats
The canal path on the walk to the aqueduct.

What’s odd about the approach is that there’s nothing really to tell you it’s coming. The canal just continues, no gates, no locks, just the same flat water that I’d walked alongside for the last 10 minutes or so.

people walking along a canal to pontcysyllte aqueduct
The first sign of the aqueduct is the grass dissapearing on the left of the canal.

A small commemorative plaque is just before the start, with a slight widening of the path which allows for some photos of the huge archways, in who’s engineering I was about to put my faith.

aqueduct with multiple arches and metal baricade
The view before crossing.

Crossing the aqueduct

What struck me most as I made my first pass of the aqueduct was not so much what was there, but what was missing.

I reflected after our trip to Southeast Asia that common sense should take precedence of safety in some instances, I was surprised to see no barrier on the western side of the bridge.

Whilst the two-and-a-bit metre canal served as a decent gap for us pedestrians, I imagine that holds little comfort to those navigating their boats across.

the view from the top of pontcysyllte aqueduct
Path -> canal -> 39 metre drop!

Thankfully the wind was also coming from the west, and blowing me towards the metal fence rather than into, but not so thankfully we’d timed our visit with the back end of storm Kathleen, and the 60km/h gusts were buffeting me around like a stone in a blender.

Around the halfway point is when I met the couple from the introduction, her clinging to the fence, him only just starting to realise how long he would be paying for making her cross (we bumped into them at a tearoom later in the day, and she had not quite left it in the past by then).

Unfortunately, her strong grip meant I had to move out from the fence, closer to the canal, and with the inconsistent wind, my leans to combat the gusts almost resulted in me experiencing this crossing in a rather more aquatic way than intended.

The wind eased off enough in the middle for me to take some time to appreciate the surroundings.

In one direction, the Dee Viaduct and rolling hills, in the other some houses pocketed amongst the trees, and a view down to the old Pontcysyllte Bridge, which was just about holding its own against the swollen river.

The Far Side (Trevor)

plaque at trevor of pontcysyllte aqueduct

I was happy to reach the far side, and from here found another plaque about the aqueduct, detailing its 18 stone arches and the £47,000 original cost to get it built.

It was also a chance to get some more great photos of the great pillars of the aqueduct, and the metal troughs that hold up this ‘canal in the sky’.

pontcysyllte aqueduct from trevor side
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct from the Trevor side.

At Trevor, there is a small visitor centre, and if you walk a little further, a pub and the fantastic Chapel Tearoom, which we drove to for toasted sandwiches, hot chocolate, coffee and bara brith after I got back to the car.

Narrow boat Crossing

Thankfully, I had some distractions on the return crossing, as one of the narrow boats that takes visitors on tours from Trevor was making its way across.

canal boat crossing pontcysyllte aqueduct
A wouldn’t fancy syanding on the back of that boat so close to that drop!

This gave me a good excuse to kneel and take photos, though I didn’t think it was acceptable to crawl to the safety of the far side, as much as I wanted to.

Photos From The Valley

Thankful to be back in the car, we set off to find the Pontcysyllte Old Bridge, which I’d seen from the crossing and looked perfect for getting shots of the aqueduct in all her intimidating glory.

on the old bridge at pontcysyllte aqueduct
The Old Bridge at Pontcysyllte.

We parked up the other side, and I walked back onto the bridge, where there were a few pedestrian passing places I could jump into to get shots.

I thought there would be more places to get photos of the aqueduct from the valley floor, but this bridge seemed to be the only one, so I was glad we made the stop off.

view from the old bridge of pontcysyllte aqueduct
A sillhoetted Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

On reviewing Google when I got back, most of the images seem to be taken from drones, so this must be the best place.

To help you get more of an idea of the site, this drone footage is fantastic.

Finished Up

I hope you enjoyed this article and found some of it useful.

In short:

  • Park at either Trevor or the car park I’ve noted above.
  • You will need an hour or so to walk the aqueduct or take a tour.
  • Visit the local tearoom or pub for great food.

If you are looking for more to do in Wales, check out our main page for Wales travel guides.

Don’t forget to leave a comment below on your experience of visiting the area.

Or see all our destination guides here.

the reeves family picture

AUTHOR – BEN REEVE

Reeves Roam, is a first-hand travel blog. The Reeves have lived in the UK, South Africa and Australia and have travelled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia.

Booking your trip via the links on this page earns us a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

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Thanks – Ben, Becca and Gracie

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JennyH
1 month ago

Has anyone tried crossing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on foot? Is it as thrilling as it seems? Ben Reeve’s description makes it sound like a bucket-list experience!

Mark_the_Spark
1 month ago

that shot of the aqueduct you mentioned getting after the return trip sounds epic. got any tips for the best time of day to catch the light right?

TrevorNoBoat
1 month ago

Great, now everyone’s gonna wanna come see our little aqueduct. Just what we needed, more tourists.

Sarah_92
1 month ago

I visited the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct last summer, and it was absolutely breathtaking! I highly recommend the narrow boat tour; it adds so much to the experience.

HistoryBuff_1771
1 month ago

For those curious, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1805, is a marvel of engineering from the industrial revolution, well deserving its UNESCO status.

CuriousCat
1 month ago

Does the aqueduct still have an operational purpose, or is it solely a tourist attraction now?

Engineer_Eddie
1 month ago

It’s still in use today, mainly for narrowboats. Remarkable how these old structures still serve a purpose.

NatTheNomad
1 month ago

Hit up the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct last spring on my UK trip. The view from the top is unreal. Makes you appreciate the little things and the big engineering feats!