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THE NAME Pontcysyllte is Welsh, its nearest English pronunciation “Pońt-ker-suck-tay.” The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is an architecture wonder along the Llangollen Canal. Some more Welsh: Llangollen is, sort of, “Thl’an-gothl’n,” with those thl’s given some explosive force. The Welsh town of Llangollen is 190 miles northwest of London, just inside the England/Wales border; the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, 5 miles east of town.
In use since 1805, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct was engineered and built by Thomas Telford, known for his bridges and roads throughout England, and William Jessop, the canal engineer of the pair.
The aqueduct takes the canal across the valley of the River Dee at a height of 126 ft. Its trough is 11 ft. wide and 1007 ft. in length, made of flanged cast-iron panels. These are bolted together, their joints sealed with a mixture of Welsh flannel, white lead and iron particles. The trough rides on cast-iron arches supported by 19 hollow piers of brick, the structure’s mortar originally being of lime, water and ox blood. Once every five years, the aqueduct’s “plug is pulled.” It’s sealed off at either end and drained for inspection and maintenance.
Unlike bridges, aqueducts carry a constant vertical load. By virtue of Archimedes’ Principle, the mass of any boat upon it pushes an equal mass of water off the aqueduct.
Narrowboats have been the means of canal travel, their dimensions dictated by width of the canals and length of their locks. (Some leeway may be gained by angling the craft diagonally in a lock.) Today, typical British narrowboats are 6 ft. 10 in. wide, their lengths from 30 to 60 ft. Originally important for the transport of cargo in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, narrowboats are primarily pleasure craft today.
Riding a narrowboat across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct—or equally harrowing to some, walking its towpath—is akin to traveling on a cloud above the lush green countryside.
About 11 miles of the Llangollen Canal are in regular use. Along its length are restaurants, pubs, a visitor centre and other attractions. See http://www.pontcysyllte-aqueduct.co.uk. And remember, it’s, sort of, “Pońt-ker-suck-tay” and “Thl’n-gothl’n.” Also, in a pub, “cheers!” is “iechyd da!” Try “i-hýa-id dah!” and I believe the landlord will get your drift. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012