TOTAL LOCKS: 12
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 4 HOURS (25 HOURS IN TOTAL)
With only a handful of locks, this is utterly lazy water. But don’t be fooled by the tranquillity, the tumultuous scenery is a heart stopper. The route twists under canopies of leaves and then, with an innocent bend in the water, it will thrust you into the sort of sublime panorama that only Wales can do. Revel in its peace, sweeping views and beautiful remoteness.
Goytre Wharf (the name means ‘place in the woods’) has some of the best preserved limekilns, now Grade II-listed, used to create lime from coal & limestone. On the edge of Blaenavon Industrial Landscape UNESCO World Heritage Site, the canal and wharf once teemed with canal boats being loaded with the finished product. Turn north out of the marina to follow the tree-lined canal as it hugs the hillside before views over the River Usk valley open up to the east.
At the height of the Industrial Revolution, iron and coal were transported from Blaenavon’s ironworks along horse-operated tram roads down to the canal, and stored in canalside warehouses before being loaded onto canal boats. Blaenavon was once one of the world's most important producers of iron, coal and steel, and the wharves and canal at both Llanfoist and Govilon form part of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site. The leafy oasis of Llanfoist Wharf is where the World Heritage Site meets the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. It’s hard to imagine this historic wharf was once a flurry of activity, and this canal a busy export route to Newport. If you cross beneath the canal, it’s possible to follow tram road tracks up into the hills and join the circular Iron Mountain Trail around major areas of the World Heritage Site.
Lines of moored boats indicate your arrival at Govilon and Bailey’s Warehouse at the former terminus of another tram road from Nantyglo Ironworks. A wooded stretch leads towards Gilwern where the main A465 ‘Heads of the Valleys’ road noisily encroaches, though peace is restored as you approach this busy village, with its boatyard and pubs.
Boats surround the historic buildings and limekilns at Llangattock Wharf, where limestone was brought down by tram road from the quarries above then loaded onto canal boats. The pretty market town of Crickhowell (described as the ‘glittering jewel in the vale’) is easy to reach from here – for sightseeing, places to eat or shopping, follow the path from bridge 116 or 117 through Llangattock across a field to reach the main road and river bridges. It’s then a short hop over the River Usk across the stone-arched bridge. The bridge is Grade I-listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument – there’s been a bridge on this site since medieval times and it is claimed as the longest stone-arched bridge in Wales. Unusually it has 12 arches on one side and 13 on the other (a quirk created in the 1820s by combining two of the arches on the upstream side into one!)
The leafy route continues to Llangynidr. The glorious setting of this lock flight with its well-placed pub makes it light work, then the views disappear briefly as the canal enters the short Ashford Tunnel (375yds/343m long) and you arrive in Talybont-on-Usk. The Brecon Beacons today are synonymous with the outdoors and Talybont is a busy village filled with walkers, cyclists and sightseers yet, behind the scenes, this canal keeps secrets of a different past. Towards the edge of the village, a model tram and display board tell the story of how limestone and coal was quarried up in the hills above Talybont, then brought down to the canal on an 8-mile tram road. The rock was put into burning hot limekilns to be broken down into quicklime, and then transferred to barrels to be loaded onto waiting narrowboats. Brinore Tramroad heads up into the hills above bridge 143, by the White Hart pub.
Look out for rusting diamond-shaped signposts (some now painted black & white) peeping over many of the stone bridges. A world without cars seems inconceivable today, yet of course canals preceded our carbon-burning noise polluters. With the arrival of the motor car, new pressure was put on canal bridges originally constructed for foot passengers or horse & cart. These signs warned drivers of these new-fangled motors to be aware of the weight limit (up to 5 tons!)
Several lift bridges mark the way as you head towards Pencelli, then the canal swoops round to Ty Newydd. Much of this canal partly shelters under a canopy of trees, but just when you think the views couldn’t possibly get any better, they do. Overlooked by the National Park’s highest peak, Pen y Fan, this is a place to soak up unrivalled Welsh views.
The four-arched Brynich Aqueduct, built by the engineer Thomas Dadford, elegantly carries the canal over the River Usk below, and a sharp turn leads to pretty Brynich Lock. The River Usk and the mountains are visible now to the left of the canal, and a conveniently placed bench turns its back on the canal, facing one of the best views on the canal network.
Brecon is the outdoor capital of Wales for cycling, hiking, scrambling, kayaking, caving, pony trekking and more. A short walk from the Canal Basin by Theatr Brycheiniog, this historic market town and its cathedral, museum and shops are lively with walkers, cyclists and boaters. Once you have had your fill of exploring, your return journey to Goytre Wharf is once again full of delight.
Max: 5 People
Max: 8 People