Date of Visit: 23rd June 2018
Competition: Pre-Season Friendly
Ground Number: 106
- Ground: Maes Bont / The Bont Field, Froncysyllte, Wrexham LL20 7RH
With the 2018 FIFA World Cup in full flow and enthralling us with exciting and memorable games played between the world’s best sides…and Saudi Arabia, as well as all the Welsh league clubs were deep into their summer break, I was not expecting to start back to groundhopping until at least the middle of July. However an opportunity for a potentially interesting groundhop appeared on Twitter in which I could not resist.
Cefn Mawr Rangers had alerted myself, and a few other local groundhoppers, on Twitter about a charity game they had organised for the fourth Saturday of June. The match would be a Cefn Mawr Rangers XI taking on a Robbie Pugh XI in a charity match in memory of Kim Pugh, with all the money raised on the afternoon going to the excellent charity of The UK Sepsis Trust – a very worth cause I think you’ll agree! However what made this game even more interesting was that the game was not being played at Cefn Mawr Rangers’ home ground of The Muga (which I visited previously in the year – the groundhop blog can be found here), but rather at the local ground of Maes Bont, former home of now defunct Welsh National League (Wrexham Area) side Acrefair Youth.
Now if you are aware of Welsh football grounds, you have knowledge about the Maes Bont ground and why it possesses an iconic status within lower league groundhopping circles. However if you are unaware of its fame, this is the ground that is positioned right next door to the World Heritage Site of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which provides one of the most amazing and unique backdrops to any football ground in the United Kingdom. So much so, top groundhopper, The Groundhog, uses a picture from the ground as his blogsite cover/banner picture!
With an opportunity to visit such a picturesque ground (which had sadly not been available since the demise of Acrefair Youth in December 2017, whom I had seen earlier in the 2017-18 season when they played Llangollen Town) now available, I could not let this good fortune pass me by. Therefore I would be starting my 2018-19 season earlier than initially scheduled, and travel south-eastwards towards the historic aqueduct at Pontcysyllte.
- Welsh Name: Traphont Ddŵr Pontcysyllte
- County: Wrexham County Borough
- Historical County: Denbighshire / Sir Ddinbych
- Completed: 1805
- Width: 3.7m (12 feet)
- Height: 38m (126 feet)
The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is a navigable aqueduct that carries the Llangollen Canal thirty-eight meters above the River Dee and over the Vale of Llangollen, located just east of Llangollen in north-east Wales. It links up the Llangollen parish villages of Froncysyllte at its southern end, with Trevor at its northen end. The structure took ten years to design and construct, costing around £47,000 (around £3,500,000 in today’s money) and was completed in 1805. Today it is considered a Grade I listed strucure and also a World Heritage Site, putting it on the same terms as The Taj Mahal, the Pyramids etc.
The bridge is 307 metres long, 3.7 metres wide and 1.6 metres deep – dimensions which can easily accomodate a fully laden working canal barge. It contains a cast iron trough which is supported 38 metres above the River Dee on eighteen pillars each spanning 16 metres in width. The trough itself was made from flanged pieces of locally crafted cast iron (obtained from the nearby Plas Kynaston Foundry in Cefn Mawr – near to Cefn Druids’ old ground used to be) which are bolted together. The joints are bedded with a combination of Welsh flannel and tar to ensure the joints are kept watertight and the trough can hold the water effectively.
The aqueduct was designed by the famous civil engineer Thomas Telford, with his work overseen by the more experience canal engineer William Jessop. Originally the aqueduct was meant to be an important section of a grand canal construction which would have commercially linked the River Severn, at Shrewsbury, to the Port of Liverpool on the River Mersey. Plans were in place to connect the canal up with the heavy industrial areas around Wrexham, before continuing towards Chester, and then onto the Mersey via the Ellesmere Canal. However as soon as the aqueduct was constructed, the required finance to complete the grand industrial waterway collapsed, rending the project cancelled and incomplete.
As a result of the grand project failing, Telford had to build an artificial weir just outside of the nearby town of Llangollen, known as the ‘Horseshoe Falls’ to ensure the water height within the canal and aqueduct was maintained at the right height by siphoning off water from the River Dee.
The aqueduct was a huge success and was still being used to transport goods up and down the canal right up to the First World War, despite the relentless growth of the railways, which ultimately killed the requirements of many other canals in the end. Although it was eventually closed to traffic by the end of the Second World War after a number of severe waterway breaches on several sections of the canal, it was still maintained in the post-war period as it was required to be a water feeder for the remainder of the Shropshire Union Canal.
With the rise of leisure boating in the latter half of the twentieth century, it has become a popular destination for holidaymakers wishing to explore the canals and the scenery of the locality via canal boat. It’s architectural and historical importance was recognised in 2009 when it was added to the World Heritage List by UNESCO.
Finally it’s unique (and sometimes hard to pronounce) Welsh name literally means ‘Cysyllte’s Bridge’, with ‘Cysyllte’ being the township of Cysyllte. It also provides the name for the village of Froncysyllte, which is located on the southern end of the aqueduct.
MAES BONT GROUNDHOP
- Distance Travelled: 32,7 miles
- Travel Time: 40 minutes
- Entrance: FREE
- Programme: N/A
Setting off from 94th Minute HQ at about 1:20pm, and with the excellent Totally Football Show’s World Cup podcasts being played in the car on route, the journey took about forty minutes before I arrived at the World Heritage Site at around 2pm.
Last time I visited the Aqueduct, it had a small car park which was conveniently next to the Llangollen Canal but would get filled up very quickly, especially during the summer months, making parking a bit of an annoying issue. However they have since built a new large car park just a short distance from the original car park (so big that coaches can park there now), and so I decided to park my car in that car park. An especially good idea considering there were plenty of spaces available.
Now you may be wondering, why didn’t I park at the ground itself? Well firstly, I wasn’t sure whether there was enough space to park my car there (as I found out, space was very limited so I made the right choice), and secondly I wanted a walk along the canal and across the Aqueduct before making my way down to the ground via the Froncysyllte side. The weather conditions for this afternoon were gloriously sunny, and the temperature was warm so a nice walk the canal would have been ideal – you have to full advantage of these rare Welsh summers folks!!
As expected for such a lovely day, it was really busy by the canal with a considerable number of people either walking along the canal path or chugging along on the water in the many beautifully painted canal boats. There were also a group of wetsuit-clad people who had just canoed along the canal and were assembling at the mooring station on the Trevor side of the aqueduct. Certainly the perfect day for ‘messing about’ on the water!
Now I must confess that although the walk along the Llangollen Canal is delightful and always worth visiting, I do not like walking over the aqueduct because I am petrified with heights. My knees are always a little bit wobbly when walking (rather briskly) over the thirty-eight metre high structure, probably because one of the sides does not have a barrier and makes it feel more “open” for my liking. However despite my acrophobia, I did appreciate the views from upon high, especially of the valley below and the majestic River Dee flowing below the structure. In addition, the aqueduct also provides an excellent view of the entire football pitch beside it – you could say it’s the best main stand in the whole of Wales haha.
From my lofty perch, I could see that the ground was already bustling with supporters and people looking to raise money for an excellent charity, which meant that kick off couldn’t be too far away. The only question that started to pop into my mind was “how am I going to get down there from here?”. There is an obvious and very quick route the pitch from aqueduct, but considering I wished to survive to actually watch the match, the longer route going right around was the best option. Therefore I continued to rapidly dart over the aqueduct before ambling alongside the canal as it continues towards Llangollen.
At the Froncysyllte mooring section, a short walk from the aqueduct, there is a very nice pub called The Aqueduct Inn. It has an outside, balcony section where people can sit outside and enjoy a cool beverage whilst watching personal and travel canal boats chug along the canal either going to or coming from the aqueduct. Whilst I was very tempted to just pop in for a quarter of hour for a quick drink and watch the world go by on the balcony, time was against me and I need to head down to the ground a bit sharpish. However should you have more time that I did, I would heatedly recommend you pop into the Aqueduct Inn for a couple of drinks, especially as they normally have some lovely local real ales on tap also!
The walk around took longer than I initially imagined and at one point I was unsure whether I was going the correct way when I was briskly walking along the country road. However after about five minutes of walking, the aqueduct reappeared on the far side and the entrance to the football ground soon appeared. Looking on the map afterwards, I had noticed it would have been quicker to get to the ground had I walked from the Trevor side of the canal, but then again, I would have hugely missed out on the (scary) views from the top of the aqueduct.
Entrance to the ground was free although it was expected that people would give a donation towards the charity they were raising money for. I put some money into the collection bucket whilst buying a strip of raffle tickets for a pound! I never ever win in these football raffles (or any competition for that matter) but again it was for a great cause so what the hey! Maybe one day I will finally win a raffle at a football ground…..
The ground itself is pretty standard for lower league Welsh football, with the ground having a changing rooms complex, complete with snack bar hatch attached on the end (although it wasn’t being used on this day as they had a mobile burger van and ice cream van parked up at the end of the ground). The changing rooms building is elevated above the pitch, along with the car park, with players having to walk down the slope to reach the excellent pitch below. Naturally there are no permanent floodlights, and there is permanent standing barriers on a few sides of the pitch. There is also no concrete path running around the perimeter of the pitch, so it could potentially become muddy to walk around in the winter months. However the ground’s shining glory is the unique and breathtaking backdrop of the aqueduct behind one of the ends. It’s that view which makes the ground such an iconic location for groundhoppers!
At the ground I met up with fellow groundhopper and blogging aficionado, Gareth Thomas, creator and producer of the excellent groundhopping blog Gareth’s Football Travels (an excellent blog which is certainly worth checking out!). Despite having spoken on social media many times, and arranging to meet up at this game, it was the first time I had actually met him face to face. I always enjoy meeting people from the groundhopping community and then sharing experiences of previous groundhops or recommending grounds to each other. As I expected, Gareth is a really decent bloke who is super passionate about football and groundhopping, and discovered we had shared experiences into how we ‘fell’ into groundhopping. He had also brought along his future inlaws’ beautiful and well-behaved sheepdog, who was happily lazing in the sunshine as the match progressed.
As you can imagine from a charity match, it was a casual affair and I didn’t keep much tabs on what was happening other that the scoreline if I am being honest, spending a majority of the game chatting to Gareth about groundhopping, the ongoing World Cup, and suggesting ideal pubs he should visit for his upcoming stag do in Chester.
From what I can remember from the match, Cefn Mawr Rangers (who had finished in third position in the 2017-18 WNL Division One season) took a three goal lead at half-time before adding another two in the second half. The Rob Pugh XI then scored three goals in the final ten minutes to threaten a potentially amazing comeback from occurring. Alas there would no fourth goal or a glorious equaliser on the cards as the game finished 5-3 to the Cefn Mawr team. At the end of the day, the result nor the performance on the pitch mattered. It was all about raising money for The UK Sepsis Trust and producing a good day for all involved – something which it certainly did for everyone! I certainly enjoyed the afternoon anyway!
POST MATCH & CONCLUSION
After the match Cefn Mawr Rangers announced that the game had raised nearly £1000 for The UK Sepsis Trust, which is an amazing amount of money accumulated from the match! Should you wish to add to their total and donate to The UK Sepsis Trust or simply want to know more about the charity, the links are below:
- Charity Page: https://sepsistrust.org/
- Making a Donation: https://sepsistrust.org/make-a-donation/
The afternoon at Maes Bont was fantastic and I was very glad to finally tick off the ground from the list, especially considering there will be no senior team playing there this upcoming season (as far as I am aware anyway)! The view from the pitch is fantastic and you can certainly understand why it is such a regularly photographed picture. Also it was brilliant to finally meet up with Gareth and have a good chat with him. Hopefully I will meet up with him again in the near future at other Welsh and English football grounds, and wish him and his partner all the very best in their upcoming wedding this summer!
An excellent day and the perfect start to the 2018-19 season! Let’s hope the season continues in the same vein of form!
Fantastic report as always, and thank you for the very kind words. Hope to see you at another ground soon.
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