“One of many pleasantest issues on the planet goes a journey,” wrote the essayist, William Hazlitt, “however I prefer to go on my own.”
Hazlitt was 19 when he first met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in January 1798. The poet was impressed by the earnest youth and invited him to go to Nether Stowey in Somerset, the place he was working with William Wordsworth on what would develop into the Lyrical Ballads, the founding textual content of English Romanticism.
In preparation for this illustrious go to, the younger Hazlitt determined to provoke himself “within the mysteries of pure surroundings” and set off, on his 20th birthday (April 10th) to stroll across the picturesque Vale of Llangollen. As he walked, he declaimed traces from Coleridge’s Ode on the Departing 12 months:
O Albion! O my mom Isle!Thy valleys, honest as Eden’s bowers,Glitter inexperienced with sunny showers
“That valley was to me (in a way) the cradle of a brand new existence,” he wrote later. “How proud, how glad I used to be, to stroll alongside the excessive highway that commanded the scrumptious prospect, repeating the traces which I’ve simply quoted from Mr Coleridge’s poems!”
This 21-mile round route follows Hazlitt’s footsteps round Llangollen, and is dotted with scenic “ruins, aqueducts, [and] photos”. I walked it over two days with my 1970 Penguin version of his Chosen Writings for firm: I began and completed at Chirk railway station and stayed in a single day at Llangollen.
A couple of yards west of the Chirk station, drop right down to the canal towpath and stroll away from Chirk Tunnel by hovering beech woods. The Llangollen Canal is the preferred cruising canal within the nation, with puttering narrowboats nosing alongside at lower than strolling tempo.
Go Chirk Marina on the left and creep by the Whitehouses Tunnel. When the canal curves left you’ll begin to glimpse the valley far beneath, as you strategy the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
1. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
This extraordinary construction was below building when Hazlitt walked previous in 1798. At 38 metres, it’s now the very best navigable aqueduct on the planet, and the oldest in Britain.
It was designed by the engineer Thomas Telford as a part of the Ellesmere Canal, an bold venture to attach the River Severn at Shrewsbury with the River Mersey at Ellesmere Port. The scheme was deserted quickly after the aqueduct was accomplished, however Telford’s feat of engineering is nonetheless staggering: his canal drops a mere 50 centimetres over the course of 11 miles.
To honour his achievement, the complete space was declared a world heritage website in 2009.
On the far aspect, cross the winding gap over the footbridge and observe the department canal west, in the direction of Llangollen. Preserve to the righthand aspect of the canal and, beside the second bridge, flip proper on to the Offa’s Dyke Path.
The trail squeezes beneath a dismantled railway line, and wiggles away from the village of Trevor earlier than heading up by the atmospheric pine woods surrounding the 18th-century Trevor Corridor.
After a protracted, nicely signposted climb between the timber, you burst into the open and there’s a spectacular view, with the dramatic Castell Dinas Brân instantly forward.
“You come upon the valley,” wrote Hazlitt, “which opens like an amphitheatre, broad, barren hills rising in majestic state on both aspect.”
Comply with the highway in the direction of the citadel, with the sheer Eglwyseg escarpment to the suitable, till you’ll be able to flip left and observe the steep steps as much as the ruins.
2. Castell Dinas Brân
Identified domestically as Crow Fort, this as soon as mighty palace was constructed within the 1260s by Gruffudd II ap Madoc, Prince of Powys Fadog (Decrease Powys), on the positioning of an iron age hill fort. It survived only some years: in 1277 it was besieged by the English and the citadel’s Welsh defenders burned it to the bottom earlier than fleeing. Brân, which suggests ‘“crow”, is the identify of a large of Welsh legend: Brân the Blessed was a supernatural prince, whose decapitated, speaking head is claimed to have protected the realm from invasion. He’s the Fisher King of Arthurian legend, and Dinas Brân would be the location of Fort Corbenic, dwelling of the Holy Grail.
Descend on the opposite aspect of the hill and observe the trail till you get to a three-way signpost. Right here there’s a selection: flip left and shortcut straight to Llangollen, or proper alongside a path that skirts the sting of the hill.
Comply with this path because it drops previous a picket crow and take the left flip signed to Dinbren. Flip proper while you hit the highway and proper once more on the highway signed to World’s Finish. Flip instantly left on to the Clwydian Approach.
After spending some rudimentary crimson seats this nice grassy path slopes right down to a signpost. Flip arduous left, signed to Valley Crucis Abbey.
Comply with the trail throughout a big open discipline, looking for an virtually invisible right-hand turning, over a metallic stile, signed to Velvet Hill.
Take this precipitous path till it reaches a highway. Right here it’s value a brief detour proper to examine the Pillar of Eliseg.
3. Pillar of Eliseg
This weathered stump, which has stood right here for greater than a thousand years, was as soon as the shaft of an ideal Celtic cross. It was arrange by Cyngen ap Cadell, Prince of Powys, within the ninth century, in honour of his nice grandfather Elisedd ap Gwylog. The inscription, now unattainable to learn, traces their royal bloodline again to the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus. The cross gave its identify to Valle Crucis Abbey close by, based in 1201. This thriving Cistercian group was one of many first to be dissolved within the 16th century, however its crumbling partitions are nonetheless open to guests.
Retrace your steps and cross the stile on to the slopes of Velvet Hill. Comply with the steep path by the bracken and straight up a grassy monitor. Cease for a breather and admire the view of Valle Crucis Abbey.
Arrive at a velvety sward of rabbit-nibbled grass, with vistas of the Llantysilio Mountains to the west and again to Castell Dinas Brân. Flip left and observe the knobbly ridge and descend to the glowing River Dee.
When the trail emerges on to a highway, observe the turning signed to Corwen, then take a left-hand footpath right down to the canal.
You attain the towpath behind the Chainbridge Lodge. Right here it’s value a brief detour proper to see the well-known Horseshoe Falls.
4. Horseshoe Falls
This elegant weir was designed by Telford, to create a pool that feeds the canal system, and it now serves one other operate, as a result of the canal provides contemporary ingesting water to the world round Nantwich. Hazlitt would possibly nicely have visited this idyllic spot, earlier than the weir was put in.
“I flip to thee in thought, O sylvan Dee,” he wrote; “[. . .] thou shalt at all times be to me the river of Paradise, the place I’ll drink of the waters of life freely!”
Return the identical approach and pop alongside the lodge terrace to see the chain bridge. This was the brainchild of an area entrepreneur referred to as Exuperius Pickering, who used it to keep away from paying tolls.
Proceed alongside the towpath in the direction of Llangollen. The canal passes the Worldwide Pavilion, dwelling of the Worldwide Musical Eisteddfod that has taken place right here each July since 1947.
Take the trail earlier than the Wharf Tea Room, which leads right down to Llangollen Bridge, one of many Seven Wonders of Wales, and the centre of the city.
“How wonderful it’s,” writes Hazlitt, “to enter some outdated city, walled and turreted, simply on the strategy of night-fall.”
Llangollen is an enthralling market city, set within the nook of the valley. It’s named after St Collen of Glastonbury, a seventh-century monk who established a settlement there. When Hazlitt visited, he spent the night studying a novel by Jean-Jacques Rousseau “over a bottle of sherry and a chilly rooster”.
I like to recommend staying at Gales Lodge and Wine Bar on Bridge Road (doubles £85), an institution that Hazlitt knew because the Lion Inn. When you eat, why not learn extracts from Rousseau’s Reveries of a Solitary Walker?
Within the morning, stroll up Fort Road and take the left-hand department of Hill Road, which weaves southeast in the direction of Plas Newydd.
6. Plas Newydd
This eccentric, half-timbered, chocolate field of a home was as soon as dwelling to the “Girls of Llangollen”. Girl Eleanor Charlotte Butler and Sarah Ponsonby have been younger Irish girls who defied their aristocratic households by working away and establishing dwelling collectively in Llangollen in 1780, the place they lived for greater than 50 years.
They wearing males’s cravats and high hats, shared a mattress, lined each inch of their partitions with carved oak, and have become a somewhat unlikely vacationer attraction, receiving visits from the Duke of Wellington, Sir Walter Scott, Josiah Wedgwood and lots of others. Hazlitt could nicely have visited them for tea; William Wordsworth actually did. He wrote a sonnet about their “low-roofed Cot”, describing them as:
Sisters in love, a love allowed to climb
Even on this earth, above the attain of Time!
Depart Plas Newydd and switch proper down Butlers Hill. Cross the brook and switch up Brook Road. Take an unmarked ramp on the left and curve up the steep highway till you attain a footpath on the suitable.
Take this path and cease to look at the helpful board, which maps the paths by Pen-y-Coed. Preserve taking left-hand turns till you might be on a broad path that descends gently beside a dry-stone wall and emerges on to a highway.
Flip proper alongside this highway, passing the 19th-century Tyn Dwr Corridor in your left. It curves round till it meets a crossroads.
Ignore the left-hand footpath signal and head up the rubble monitor straight forward. After a strenuous climb, take the left-hand fork and observe this monitor because it curves across the hillside. The Vale of Llangollen step by step disappears behind as Shropshire spreads out forward.
When the trail meets a highway junction, take the highway straight forward and observe it down by woodland to a T-junction, then flip left. After half a mile the highway turns sharply left, however proceed straight forward, on a Nationwide Belief path that results in Chirk Fort.
7. Chirk Fort
This medieval fortress was in-built 1295. It guards the doorway to the Ceiriog valley and was a part of a line of defense of English castles constructed alongside the Welsh Marches. In the present day it’s owned by the Nationwide Belief, although non-members can use the permissive paths that cross the property.
The citadel itself has spectacular staterooms and inside decorations that span seven centuries. One spotlight is a stretch of picket water pipe that when shaped a part of the New River system, masterminded by Sir Hugh Myddelton, the first Baronet. This municipal venture introduced contemporary ingesting water from the River Lea to London in 1613. It’s additionally value strolling previous some well-preserved remnants of Offa’s Dyke to go to the “Oak on the Gate of the Lifeless”, a thousand-year-old tree that marks the positioning of the bloody Battle of Crogan.
Take the highway that skirts the north aspect of the citadel and, when it turns left, cross the stile instantly forward and proceed previous the woods in your proper.
After two kissing gates, the trail forks: take the left-hand possibility, throughout the sector, which leads right down to a highway.
At this level, you would make a brief detour proper to see the spectacularly floriated wrought-iron gates commissioned for Chirk Fort in 1712. Both approach, take the footpath virtually instantly over the highway, which leads throughout a discipline and proper, by the woods beside the canal, till you attain the north finish of Chirk tunnel once more.
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