As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Clwydian Range & Dee Valley, Paul Bloomfield picks out a selection of local attractions in this glorious Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in north Wales.
The Clwydian Range and Dee Valley may be relatively unknown outside the UK but it has some pretty impressive world-class heritage sites within its borders. Most notable is Telford's Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which forms part of the Canal World Heritage Site – at 1000 feet long and 126 feet high, it's one of the most awe-inspiring engineering creations in the the world.
But that's not all: this hilly landscape has supported settlements of all shapes and sizes: there's a medieval fortress, a Cistercian monastery and umpteen prehistoric settlements to explore atop the region's peaks.
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal World Heritage Site, Clwydian Range and Dee Valley
Spanning the River Dee some forty metres high, Thomas Telford’s aqueduct was completed in 1805 and remains one of Wales’ most iconic pieces of civil engineering. You can walk the 1000 foot-long structure (look down if you dare), or take a leisurely boat ride across. The Canal World Heritage Site stretches for 11 miles in both directions and includes tunnels, castles, and pretty canal-side villages, all explored via the peaceful towpaths on foot or by bike. The fabulous Horseshoe Falls – a manmade weir, another Telford creation – is an awesome sight on a bright day. pontcysyllte-aqueduct.co.uk
Valle Crucis Abbey, Llangollen, Clwydian Range and Dee Valley
A wonderful abbey ruin surrounded by hills and close to the Eglwyseg River off the A542 from Ruthin. Founded in the 13th century, this was an abbey of some standing: according to Cadw (Welsh Government's historic environment service), in 1535 Valle Crucis Abbey was ranked the second richest Cistercian monastery after Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley. Although now a ruin, many original features remain, including the glorious west front and chapter house. cadw.gov.wales/visit/places-to-visit/valle-crucis-abbey
Castell Dinas Bran, Llangollen, Clwydian Range and Dee Valley
As you make the steep climb up to the foreboding medieval fortress, you can all too easily appreciate the struggle met by any would-be attackers: it’s a challenge to the top but worth the effort. Its name roughly translates as ‘Crow Castle’, and you certainly get a superb birds-eye view over the surrounding landscape. Incredibly, Dinas Bran’s 'working' life only lasted a couple of decades until it was destroyed by Edward I’s troops. These days the ruins offer inspiration to artists and writers and there’s plenty of information giving visitors an insight into the history of the castle and what life was like for those that inhabited it castlewales.com/dinas.html
Chirk Castle, Llangollen, Clwydian Range and Dee Valley
A magnificent 14th Century castle overlooking the Ceiriog valley south of Wrexham near the Welsh English border. Although still lived in, the estate is now owned by the National Trust - the state rooms include a 17th-century Long Gallery, grand 18th-century saloon with tapestries, and the restored East Range, containing the library and 1920s style Bow Room. The 480-acre estate has over 5 acres of manicured lawns, clipped yews, herbaceous borders, rose, shrub and rock gardens, and has also been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest as an important habitat for rare invertebrates, bats, fungi, and wild flowers. nationaltrust.org.uk/chirk-castle
Llangollen Wharf, Llangollen, Clwydian Range and Dee Valley
Soak up the beauty of the Llangollen Valley just as visitors would have in Telford’s heyday, on a horse-drawn canal boat. Or take a motorised aqueduct boat across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – the trip lasts for 2 hours. They also There’s also a 32-ft canal boat for hire which can accommodate 10 passengers. An enjoyable way to experience the heritage site, whatever the weather. horsedrawnboats.co.uk
Tŷ Mawr Country Park, Llangollen, Clwydian Range and Dee Valley
Situated by the dramatic Cefn Viaduct on the banks of the River Dee (five miles south of Wrexham in the village of Cefn Mawr), Tŷ Mawr is home to animals such as donkeys, pigs, goats, free-range ducks and chickens. The recently refurbished Barn is used for environmental education by school groups, and can also be hired for children's birthday parties, as well as meetings, conferences and local community events. The park has help from volunteers who clear vegetation as well as help with the animals and with conservation. Volunteer afternoons are held every Wednesday. There's more information at the visitor centre or telephone: 01978 822780. old.wrexham.gov.uk/english/leisure_tourism/TyMawrCountryPark.htm
For information on characterful places to stay, local food and drink, and nearby outdoor activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to the Clwydian Range & Dee Valley