LLANGOLLEN, just six miles from the English border, is the embodiment of a Welsh town, clasped tightly in the narrow Dee Valley where the river runs beneath the weighty, Gothic bridge. This was an important town long before the early Romantics arrived at the end of the eighteenth century. Turner came to paint the swollen river and the Cistercian ruin of Valle Crucis; John Ruskin found the town “entirely lovely in its gentle wildness”; and writer George Borrow made Llangollen his base for the early part of his 1854 tour detailed in Wild Wales. The rich and famous also came to visit the “Ladies of Llangollen” at Plas Newydd. But by this stage some of the town’s rural charm had been eaten up by the works of one of the century’s finest engineers, Thomas Telford, who squeezed both his London–Holyhead trunk road and the Llangollen Canal alongside the river.

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