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Friday 1st March 2013

Chirk and Pontcysyltte Aqueducts

Dinas Bran Castell, near Llangollen

then at 19.45

Cymru Alliance

CEFN DRUIDS 4 (Owen 29 Blenkinsop 39 Jones 50 Hesp 75)

RHYDYMWYN 2 (Drazdauskas 67 Reynolds 87)

Att 177

Entry £5

Programme £2

Team Sheet FREE

Tea £1

I think I’ve mentioned in a previous article how I find borders fascinating, with the elements of both sides usually in evidence. This part of the world seems to be the exception that proves the rule.

Once you cross the River Dee past Oswestry, you are unquestionably in Wales, the only debate is whether you are in the Mid, or the Northern part! In fact it seems that the cross-border influence seems more evident on the English side with Oswestry having a Welsh identity (in Welsh it’s Croesoswallt) and other settlements such as Gobowen having Welsh names.

Perhaps is points to the success, or otherwise of the two nations’ armies in settling where the border lies! On a footballing level, UEFA recognise Oswestry is a Welsh Town, even though it’s on the English side of the border. This quirk, which came about to recognise Oswestry’s tradition of participation in the Welsh game, is how current side The New Saints, who swallowed up the old Oswestry Town club, manage to complete as Welsh despite being based near Gobowen, still very much in England!

The industrial revolution reached the area in the form of the Shropshire Union canal in 1806. Wales’ mountains are not especially conducive to a form of transport that requires a level path, but Scottish civil engineering genius Thomas Telford proved up to the task. The Chirk and Pontcysyltte aqueducts even 200 years after their construction, still dominate the landscape, and the views both of, and from them are spectacular. I managed a first at Chirk, walking from Wales to England and back along the towpath, 70 feet in the air!

Despite being built by the same designer there are some differences between the two structures. At Pontscyllte the barges float in an iron trough, whilst at Chirk the base is made of conjoined iron plates, but the sides are made of stone. At Chirk, the railway bridge, designed by Henry Robertson rises above the aqueduct. It’s design is similar, and the decision was made to place it higher up when it was built in 1846 to show the railway’s pre-eminence over the outmoded canals. As a pair of bridges they are awe-inspiring.

Leaving Llangollen, and turning off the road to Bettws-y-Coed, the road rises steeply to Castell Dinas Bran, or if you’d prefer the English, Castle of the City of Crows. It’s an Iron Age Hill fort, built around 600 BC, and rebuilt by Gruffydd II ap Madog in stone around 1260. Being in border country it was a defensive measure against the English, and seems to have been part of a series of castles used to secure the area, Powys, as a buffer zone between England and the Welsh ruler Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, whose heartland was Gwynedd, to the North-West. Eventually the castle was damaged and taken by the English, and was handed to John de Warenne, who opted to build a new castle at Holt, near Chester, so Dinas Bran was left as a ruin.

The views are spectacular if rather inaccessible. I’d suggest a pair of walking boots when visiting, and if you are less than fit, the view from the valley, north of Llangollen is more than acceptable.

Cefn-Mawr, or Great Ridge sits in the middle of the whole area. It’s actually a series of villages, Cefn Mawr, Cefn-bychan (“little ridge”), Acrefair, Penybryn, Newbridge, Plasmadoc and Rhosymedre. Formally heavily industrialised, it was the industry that made it the cradle of the oldest football club in Wales. Plasmadoc FC formed in 1869, adding the Druids suffix when a number of local sides were subsumed 3 years later. They moved grounds regularly before settling in Rhosymedre as the Rhosymedre Druids, before merging with Cefn Albion in 1992 and moving to Albion’s ground in Plas Kynaston Lane. The merged team took on the black and white colours of the original Plasmadoc side.

The merger was succesful and the Ancients after winning the Cymru Alliance in 1999, took their place in the League of Wales, now the Welsh Premier. They were never serious title contenders, but two factors saw them relegated. Firstly the Welsh Premier opted to reduce its numbers from 16 to 12, and secondly the more stringent ground grading was more or less impossible to achieve at Plas Kynaston, and the club were relegated in 2010.

It’s not often that a supermarket can be a club’s salvation, but Tesco have been handy to the club. Plas Kynaston was sold to become a superstore, and there was sufficient money to both build a ground that was better than the one they had, and still put money in the bank. The move in August 2010 saw the club moved to the site of a disused quarry at one of its previous homes, Rhosymedre. The new stadium is referred to as “The Rock,” as the rock face on the far side is a striking feature, and one I’ve not seen in the UK. The facilities are a vast improvement on Plas Kynaston, with just a small floodlight upgrade needed for the WPL licence. That elevation is unlikely to happen this season with Rhyl running away at the top of the table. That said Rhyl’s finances haven’t been the most solid in recent years, so the Ancients aren’t giving up hope just yet.

This victory will no doubt have helped, although Wrexham-based Rhydymwyn made them work for it, and their two goals should point to the Ancients considering their defending. Nevertheless it was a highly enjoyable visit to a notably friendly visit, and I for one look forward to seeing the Ancients gracing the top flight of Welsh football soon.