Llangollen, clustered around the River Dee, nestled in the Vale of Llangollen, and surrounded by hills is as scenic as it gets.
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It is best known today as the home of the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. For one week in July this village comes alive with dancers, singers, choirs and musicians from all over the world and the village of 3000 people swells to 120,000 as cultural competitions and celebrations dominate the scene.
The village takes its name from Sain Collen who founded it in the 7th century. Two hundred years ago it consisted mainly of a green and a street joined by one of the “Seven Wonders of Wales”, a four arched bridge, built in the 16th century on parts of a 13th century one. The river rushes through the village making the bridge a favourite place to stand and contemplate the beauties of the area while listening to the water roaring past.
Visitors are spoiled for choice as a 7 ˝ mile (12km) steam rail journey along the Dee Valley and past Horseshoe Falls provides a scenic trip in another direction.
Another favourite ride is aboard a horse drawn canal boat at the village wharf, location of the Canal Museum. This trip on a branch line of the Shropshire Union Canal provides a relaxing contemplation of the green hills and valleys as it follows the Vale of Llangollen. The famous Pontcysylite Aqueduct, supported by four iron arches, stands 121 feet in the sky above the River Dee dazzling the eye as boats seem to sail through the air. Built to carry traffic from the northern rim of the valley to the far side, this cast-iron trough is the longest and highest in Britain.
A black and white timbered house, Plas Newydd, the home of two eccentric Irish ladies, known as the Ladies of Llangollen, sits high on a hill looking over the village. Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsoby, who always dressed as men, lived in the house for 50 years, entertaining famous literary and political figures, including Sir Walter Scott and William Wordsworth. The beautiful grounds surrounding the home are now a public park.
Hill climbers might almost believe the crumbling ruins of the medieval Castell Dinas Bran, perched on another hilltop high above the town, were designed with a challenge in mind. Breathtaking views are the reward for the steep 750-foot climb. The 13th century castle, named for a Celtic god, is partly surrounded by the remnants of an Iron Age hill-fort and ditch. In the 18th century its status grew when it was considered a “romantic ruin”, and it became the most famous landmark in the Vale.
A stone’s throw from Llangollen, in a setting both romantic and stunning, the Gothic stone ruins of 13th century Valle Crucis Abbey beckon. The Cistercian abbey is the burial place (1236) of its founder, Madog ap Gruffudd Maelor, ancestor of Owain Glendwr. It was a rich abbey and a center of learning and literature. Unfortunately the abbots in the 15th century lived “high on the hog”, bringing disgrace to the abbey. By the time Henry the VIII dissolved the abbeys, there were only six monks left at Vale Crucis. Much of the abbey disappeared into the hands of thieves and homebuilders. However, many original features remain, including an almost intact vaulted Chapter House, the west front complete with a carved doorway and rose window, and the east front. The east end has flattened buttresses framing the windows.
Llangollen is truly an enchanted spot, a gateway to that country of enchantment, Wales.
Llangollen is on the A5.
Llangollen Tourist Information Centre
Tel. 01978 860 828
For more details, dates, booking tickets, etc. for the Llangollen International Music Festival: International Eisteddfod
Horse drawn boat trips run April through Sept
Tel. (0) 1978 860 702.
The Postal Museum
41 Castle St.
The Victorian School and School Museum
Hill St., Llangollen
Tel. (0) 1978 861 314 for opening times or check with the Llangollen Tourist Information Centre.
Note: Do not confuse this place with Plas Newydd on the Isle of Anglesey.
On the A539
Vale Crucis Abbey
B5103 from the A5 west of Llangollen or A542 from Ruthin.
Open third week April to third week Sept, 10-5; winter: open site
Under the care of Cadw
Images and text © by Barbara Ballard and Cadw