July 21, 2010
The Narrow Passage
OK when they say narrow boat, they mean narrow! We arrived at the Llangollen Canal and boarded our hotel/transport for the next couple of nights, which is a boat about 50 feet long by about 9 feet wide. Manuevering a boat that is 5times as long at it is wide along a canal, which is only about 10 feet wide in some places, took some getting used to, but once we got the hang of it, it was loads of fun!
The canal was originally used to haul cargo, and later drinking water, from the River Dee to a resevoir, but today it mostly transports visitors through the majesctic countryside of Wales. The canal passes under bridges, through tunnels and locks, past sheep filled fields, along one very high aqueduct, under one very old draw bridge and past one very pungent chocolate factory (unfortunately closed to the public). Along the way there are plenty of pubs at which to dock or the boats have on-board kitchens to make your own meals. The kids loved feeding ducks, riding on the roof of the boat and operating the locks and drawbridge.
Just past the Maestermyn Marine (where we rented the boat) docks, we reached our first lock. The lock is almost precisely equal to the size of the boat. It has two gates. We tie up along the canal and the kids race with the lock crank to the gates. The technology is simple, but genius. Open gate, drive boat in, close gate. Open panels in front gate to let water in from above, boat raises. When water level is even with the raised part of the canal, open forward gates and drive out. The kids were workaholics with the hand cranks, they even helped other boats in and out of the locks.
After we made it past the second lock, we passed through two tunnels, one of which had to have been 1/4 mile long. The tunnel opening was not much bigger than the boats and there were no lights inside. It brings a whole new reality to the phrase "light at the end of the tunnel". We turned our front light on so that boats coming the other way knew that there was a boat in the tunnel (only one boat could fit at a time) and the kids sat on the roof (ducked over) making howling ghost sounds and giving us status reports. (They had a much better view than we did as the steering was done from the back of the boat).
We ended our day traversing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Built in 1805 to carry the canal over the River Dee, the aqueduct is about 1000 feet long and soars over 100 feet above the river valley below. Oh, and did I mention it's only about 12 feet wide? To one side is a narrow walking path and on the other side only about 6 inches of iron separates you from the precarious drop to the river bed below! My fear of heights was well tested on the drive over the aqueduct, but the views were incredible...the dark river cutting past lush trees backed by rolling green fields dotted with fluffy white sheep. You could see our shadow following along on the grssy fields below.
After spending the night docked in a town just past the aqueduct where we watched a World Cup game and stayed up late chatting with the owner of the pub who was dressed up as Ginger Spice (she had just come from performing at a charity event), we headed back up the canal and, with much reluctance, said our final goodbyes to Wales.
The trip to Wales was a remarkable and unexpected journey that will stay with us for a great time. Learning history, both natural (in caves, fossils and coastlines) and man-made (in the mines, Roman ruins and castles) and discovering the new Wales, which is green in every way (eco travel to the max!) and filled with adventure (mountain climbing, coasteering, ropes courses, hiking, horseback riding, skiing and more!) and warm, welcoming people. To all we met along the way, a big "Diolch" for all of your help, insight, laughs and passion. We look forward to our return someday. And for all who followed our journey on-line, thanks for tuning in! Watch for the epsiodes to air around the world, including PBS this coming year in the U.S. and stay updated on Wales and other destinations by visiting us online at