Day out: Horseshoe Falls, Denbighshire

Picnic in a meadow by the River Dee in Wales as kingfishers zip over the rushing waters

Horseshoe falls river bend

From its source in the southern uplands of Snowdonia, the River Dee flows into legendary Llyn Tegid and meanders below the Berwyn mountains to the Vale of Llangollen.

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At Llantysilio, just before the valley narrows, the river is partly diverted at Horseshoe Falls to form the beginning of the Shropshire Canal. 

Horseshoe Falls waterfall in river
The distinctive curve of Horseshoe Falls, designed by Thomas Telford in the early 19th century, allows 12 million gallons of water to enter the Llangollen Canal daily ©Getty
Getty

Designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1808, this remarkable 140m-long horseshoe-shaped weir enhances the beauty of the surrounding landscape. The gently sloping meadow beside it, with its enchanting views, makes a perfect spot for a picnic. Across the river, green fields dotted with mature broadleaved trees nestle below partly wooded hills that merge into moorland.

Mawddach Estuary, Wales

Towpath stroll

The Horseshoe Falls and its adjoining meadow, along with 17km of canal, comprise the Pontcysyllte World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO in 2009. One of the most enjoyable ways to visit the falls is by following the canal towpath from Llangollen, a walk of just over three kilometres.

From the bridge spanning the River Dee, walk uphill to Llangollen Wharf and turn left along the towpath to pass the International Musical Eisteddfod Pavilion, a motor museum and the Chainbridge Hotel. Just beyond a couple of picnic tables, you will cross the channel, which draws 12 million gallons of water from the River Dee into the canal daily.

Kingfisher on river
Kingfisher ©Getty
Getty, Tim Graham

Water life

The River Dee is inhabited by otters and water voles, while salmon and sea trout spawn in the upper reaches. You may spot the flash of a kingfisher leaving its perch, or in spring hear the ‘tic tic’ call of the pied flycatcher, especially if you follow the path up to Llantysilio Church. This beautifully sited building features a medieval roof and a plaque commemorating the visit of poet Robert Browning in the autumn of 1886.

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At the church, continue up to the lychgate and bear right along the top of the field to the far corner and a gate – which gives access to more picnic tables – then turn downhill back to the falls while enjoying sweeping views of the surrounding scene.