A tantalising tow path trail. This 9 mile walk along the Shropshire Way takes you through a fascinating hinterland, mainly along the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. The Cheshire plain begins to undulate in a speculative manner as the landscape prepares itself for the Welsh Hills.

Distance

9.3 miles

Terrain

Level, mostly canal towpath

Start from

Chirk Bank

Nearest to

Ellesmere, Oswestry

Parking

Chirk Bank

Map reference

Lat/Long: 52.9257873898, -3.055407896

OS: SJ291370

The route

Our path meets the Ceiriog and Maelor Ways at Chirk Bank, where the Chirk aqueduct and viaduct span the Ceiriog Valley. You will also see the working end of Ellesmere, no less interesting than its ‘lake district’ meres.

In between, the Shropshire Way crosses Wat’s Dyke Way at Preeshennle Bridge (no. 15) and goes past the canal boat marina at Welsh Frankton and the Narrow Boat Inn. It also passes the coal mining village of St Martin’s where production at the Ifton Pit continued right up until 1968. The six-mile signed St Martin’s Shropshire Way Circular Walk will take you on an interesting panoramic tour.

Every canal bridge has a number and many have names whose derivation tells of a time long gone – Pollett’s, Broom’s, Sarn, Coachman’s to name just a few. Hindford Bridge speaks for itself, being near the hamlet of Hindford and the Jack Mytton Pub with its canal-side gardens. This ‘watering hole’ is named after Mad Jack Mytton – a heavy drinking local squire who, in a lifetime of outrageous antics, once set fire to his shirt to cure a bout of hiccups.

Mystery hill

Between Lower Frankton and Onston with Ellesmere only a couple of miles to the east, the Shropshire Way short-cuts a meander of the Llangollen canal and rises through a rare undulating patch. Off the path lies a strange hill topped with trees marked on the map as 117 metres above sea level. It is nameless and no map indicates that it is historic. Yet the contours suggest the hand of Iron Age hillfort builders. They may only have added defensive slopes to a natural rise facing Wales and but surely there is more to this anonymous hill than meets the eye. We can only wonder at the nature of this unusual feature that the level-headed canal builders circuitously avoided.

Entering Ellesmere

Ellesmere Port derives its name from this small town in Shropshire which needed an import and export outlet at the end of its trade-generating canal. As you enter Ellesmere along the canal you will see the large house reputedly built for Thomas Telford – Britain’s supreme 19th century road, canal and bridge engineer. It stands near what has always been a major canal maintenance depot, now run by the new Canal and River Trust – formerly British Waterways. Ellesmere is fast becoming famous for its sculptures – one of the best is an upturned boat seen as you enter the short arm to the town’s wharf. Its tiled interior features photographs and text telling some interesting local tales.

Draining the canal

At some bridges you will notice vertical grooves in the stonework at water level. These facilitate the insertion of boards, sometimes stored nearby, to allow a short section of canal, as opposed to a whole length, to be drained for maintenance work.