Pontcysyllte (pronounced Pont-ker-sulth-tay) Aqueduct is a marvel of design and source of awe. Located in north-eastern Wales, this area was rich in minerals, but engineers had the unenviable task of transporting them to remote markets. Built between 1795 and 1805 at the cost of £47,000 (£4,316,824 in today’s money), Thomas Telford and William Jessop overcame the challenges of this 11-mile stretch of the Llangollen Canal by designing this Grade I-listed structure.
In 2009, the area achieved UNESCO World Heritage status for its groundbreaking engineering design. It remains the highest canal aqueduct ever built. Read our guide to visiting the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Trevor Basin.
Travel Essentials – Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
By car: Car via M56 or M53 from the North West, and M54 from the Midlands. Follow signs for A539 (Ruabon interchange).
By bus: Bus 5 from Wrexham Town Centre and Ruabon Station.
Entry: Free to enjoy – licence is required to use the waterways.
Parking: Three car parks off the A539 (LL14 3SG, LL20 7TY, LL14 3NP). Do not park at the Froncysyllte Basin.
Quick facts about The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
- Britain’s longest at 300m (0.3kms) and highest aqueduct at 39m (128ft).
- It is 3.7m (12ft) wide with a depth of 1.6m (5.25 ft).
- Eight thousand attended the opening ceremony in 1805.
- It took over 500 men and 10 years to build the aqueduct.
- ‘Aqua’ is Latin for water, and ‘ducere’ means to lead.
- The aqueduct takes 3 to 4 hours to drain.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Trevor Basin
The closest parking is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct Car Park (LL14 3SG), a few minutes walk from the aqueduct. As this is open-air, campervans and larger vehicles are permitted. Heads towards the Visitor Map board for the short walk to the canal and aqueduct.
The car park, Visitor Centre, and Pontcysyllte Aqueduct area are collectively known as the Trevor Basin (Basin Trefor). The River Dee (Afon Dyfrdwy), 113km (70.2 mile) long, is one of the most famous salmon rivers in the world and flows underneath the aqueduct. The Llangollen Canal (Camlas Llangollen) at 74km (46 mile) with 21 locks flows across the top of the aqueduct. Several companies offer aqueduct tours and self-drive boat trips.
With the Visitor Centre on the left-hand side, a brick sculpture standing 2m (6.6ft) tall marks the start of the aqueduct. Carved from limestone, it represents labourers who built it and the rest of the canal by hand.
A short path leads to the aqueduct, originally built as an industrial development, quickly became known as a pleasant route to walk.
Although wide enough for two people to pass, exercise caution whilst walking along the 300m (0.3kms) towpath. Cyclists should dismount. There are far-reaching views across the lush Dee Valley from the aqueduct.
At the end of the aqueduct, the canal regains its width with narrowboats moored on either side. This section of the canal is ideal for canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.
On the banks of the River Dee
On the left-hand side, immediately after the aqueduct, a grass verge descends to the banks of the River Dee. One gets a sense of engineering precision and detail of the bridge’s construction. When standing beneath one of the 18 arches, the sheer size becomes apparent.
Several walking trails weave around the aqueduct’s base through Tıy Mawr, a 35-acre country park between the Cefn Viaduct and the Pontcycyllte Aqueduct.
The viaduct to aqueduct walk is 6.4km (4 mile) long and takes 2 hours at a leisurely pace with two sections of steps and no stiles. From further afield, one can appreciate the dominance and importance of the aqueduct.
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct provides an opportunity to cross the River Dee using the highest navigable aqueduct in the world. Pioneering in design, made of local stone and taking 19 years to build, the aqueduct and the 17.7km (11 mile) stretch of the Llangollen canal forms part of this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Perfect for paddlesports, fishing or walking with several boat trips on offer, a visit along with Chirk Aqueduct, a nearby historical landmark completed in 1801, makes an ideal day trip. Chirk Tunnel was the first canal in the UK to feature a towpath.
Safety is a consideration, and although a railing exists on one side, the other side lends itself to a sheer drop to the canal below. The experience is not for the faint-hearted. When paddleboarding across the aqueduct, either sit or kneel for safety purposes.
Draining the aqueduct happens every four years when a locked plug in the middle gets pulled. You might be lucky enough to visit and witness water washing over the side to the river.
Cabin Bags Only rating: 8/10
More information – The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct
Canal and River Trust – looking after 2,000 miles of waterways. Provide maps and helpful information.
British Canoeing – for those planning to kayak, canoe or SUP on the waterways.
Go Paddling – a wealth of useful paddling information.
Canoe Wales – if you plan on using Welsh waterways (not covered by a British Canoeing licence)