Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal

Setting off

As an avid narrowboat holiday couple, my husband David and I decided to try the Monmouthshire & Brecon canal in Wales

Because of work commitments we only had a short weekend free to fit our trip in,  so decided to pick our boat up Saturday morning and see how far we could get by mid-afternoon,  then cruise back on Sunday morning. 

We thought if we liked it, we’d come back for a longer trip another time!

We set off from Worcestershire at 8am and got to Goytre Wharf, the home of Red Line Boats. We were greeted by the receptionist who  recommended that we buy a specialist guidebook for the canal titled ‘The Mon & Brec Guide’ written by John Norris and edited by Phil Hughes.

It’s sold in the marina and apparently countless customers have commented that the book is brilliant. It features loads of information about pubs, tricky bridges to get through, the tunnel, and of course the locks.

It also tells you where you can stop for water, provisions etc. 

The locks

We were then taken through a lock demonstration by another helpful administrator. You might think you know all about locks, but they are operated slightly differently on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal (known locally as the ‘Mon and Brec Canal) – the gates at the bottom of the lock are always left open. 

We were told that this is because the walls of the locks aren’t strong enough to hold a lock full of water for long periods of time, so the locks are always left empty, and you have to remember to make sure the bottom paddles are open before you leave.

Lock demonstration finished; we were shown to our boat which had been moored up for us already facing the way we wanted to go (towards Brecon). We were guided ‘round our boatso we knew all the technical stuff about water, gas, diesel, battery charge etc. Then we were off!

One of the things we’d heard about the Mon & Brec Canal is that it’s very shallow, and no matter how experienced you are, you will get stuck from time to time. The marina had told us to try to keep to the centre of the canal as much as possible.

Canal history

This canal and the surrounding scenery are truly beautiful; the canal meanders around many twists and turns, so take your time so that you can relax and enjoy it! On the west side of the canal are steep wooded hills, and on the east, there are stunning views across the valley to Sugar Loaf Mountain - the southernmost peak of the Black Mountains at tall.

If you are at all interested in the history of this stand-alone canal, it was originally made for transporting coal and iron and was two canals; the ‘Monmouthshire’ and the ‘Brecknock and Abergavenny’. Both were started in the 1790’s, and coal traffic rose from in 1796 to 150,000 tonnes in 1809.

The arrival of the railways led to the canals being gradually closed in the latter half of the century and early 20th century, and the canals were formally abandoned in 1962. A few years later, National Parks legislation led to restoration of the canal as part of the Brecon Beacons National Park, and reopening started in 1970. There are now 35 miles of navigable ‘Monmouthshire and Brecon’ Canal.

Govilon to Gilwern

A peaceful cruise through more beautiful countryside brought us to the middle of Govilon, and it had only taken us three and half hours, so we decided to carry on to Gilwern and turn the boat there.

Upon arriving at Gilwern, there is a winding hole at the site of . due to the shallowness of the canal, but after much to-ing and fro-ing we got ourselves ‘round and headed back to the Gilwern Visitor Moorings south of Bridge 103, where you can moor for up to 48 hours.  

It was only another hour after Govilon to Gilwern, but after having travelled up the canal to turn the boat and then coming back down, we finally finished mooring up at about 4.15pm.

It was still a gorgeous sunny afternoon, so we walked down into the village to explore possible eating opportunities for the evening. Gilwern is a sleepy village with a couple of shops, a couple of pubs, a chip shop, a village hall and not too much else around. We decided to return later and try the Beaufort Arms for our evening meal.

Our meal at the Beaufort Arms was lovely, good wholesome ‘pub grub’.  Afterwards, we relaxed, luxuriating in the greenery and birdsong.

Returning home

We set off home Sunday morning, after Bridge 93, there was a stretch of canal with a beautiful canopy of trees overhead and views of bright sunshine over the Welsh fields and valleys. 

Upon regretfully handing our boat back at Goytre Wharf, we were told to visit LLangattock which leads down to the town of Crickhowell, where there is a medieval stone bridge, remains of a Norman castle and a selection of pubs and cafes. 

Definitely a trip for next time!


Marina: Goytre Boat: Swallow |  Blog written by Cherry, Booking Office, Worcester.

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