So much to see and do.
As the canal’s 33 miles meanders and threads its secret way through the countryside, it is remarkable for such diversification of scenery and comparative isolation. Such variety of surroundings means that visitors never know what is going to appear around the next bend or behind the next bridge. Cool wooded glades contrast with camomile and poppies ablaze in the cornfields. Hump back bridges with their concave shape, frame open fields or blackberry hedge rows. The occasional fisherman sits on the bank. Nearby, a moorhen scuds along the water into the reeds and yellow flag iris. Sheep pasture the fields whilst cattle descend for a cool refreshing drink. And the beauty is that you find you actually have time to look at all this!
Canal cruising is for those who are in no hurry to get anywhere. After a period of tuition (by which time you’ll declare yourselves an expert!) you then settle down to a comfortable maximum speed of just 4 miles per hour as you glide through these quiet waters.
The towns and villages give much character to the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal. And what better place can you start from other than the Red Line base at Goytre? The name means a ‘place in the woods’ and a pleasant couple of hours could be spent there even before setting off. Its wharf and associated buildings were once used in supplying coal to the nearby Goytre Estate. Limekilns remain, as well as the aqueduct dating from 1812, and today the canal banks and marina is a popular mooring for pleasure boats.
Before proceeding towards Brecon, you may wish to pay a visit downstream to Pontymoile. This was once a place thriving with activity with its warehouses and neighbouring industry and is a convenient mooring for Pontypool Leisure Centre, sports facilities, swimming pool and dry ski run. The limit of navigation is a further 2.5 miles on through the Cwmbran tunnel at Five Locks Basin, convenient for Cwmbran shopping. However, should you wish to cruise up stream you will find yourself meandering through most delightful countryside. Sheep and old farm buildings dot the hillsides to your immediate left whilst pasture land falls away into a neatly arranged pattern of arable land to the right.
After passing the villages of Llanover and Llanellen, you will soon turn a bend into Llanfoist Wharf. An old warehouse remains and this was once the terminus for a tramroad that ran down the steep sides of the Blorenge Mountain. All is so peaceful and it is hard to imagine that fire burned not only in the furnaces at Blaenavon but also in the hearts of men in this area (now immortalised in Alexander Cordell’s ‘The Rape of the Fair Country’) For a few miles on, the Sugar Loaf and Skirrid are close companions. They overlook the town of Abergavenny, often called the Gateway to Wales.
Life bustles in the market by the old Town Hall and the nearby cattle market and, if you don’t pick up a bargain, at least you’ll know you’re sure to be entertained! The wharf at Govilon is now the headquarters of the Boat Club. Once fed by a tramroad from the ironworks of Crawshay Bailey, it was also the stopping point of a horse-drawn railway connecting Abergavenny and Hereford. Gilwern is at the bottom of the Clydach Gorge and many fine walks are possible here, where you can take in not just its natural beauty but also the richness of its industrial heritage. The Clydach Ironworks once supplied pig-iron to Gilwern Wharf via a tramway, the route of which can still be followed along the Clydach Valley through the tunnel which passes under the canal.
Still hugging the hillside, you’ll see the Vale of Usk become narrower and, if you approach Llangattock in early summer, you will be treated to a blaze of rhododendron bushes that line the bank at Llangattock Park. The wharf itself was another terminus of tramroads that carried limestone to its kilns from Llangattock Escarpment. The escarpment is well worth a morning’s walk and, being limestone, is a paradise for cavers. The escarpment is honeycombed and includes the 14 mile Agen Allwedd System. Here are fine views along the valley and Crickhowell with its 13-arch bridge. The town is only a short walk from Llangattock Wharf and is not to be missed. Your first lock is at Llangynidr, and here you soon realise that locking can be fun and they can be so easy to operate.
Pencelli was the site of a Norman castle and the canal was built through its midst. Thereon, as you draw nearer to the Beacons, you reach Brynich with its imposing four-arched aqueduct which takes the canal over the Usk. As you turn a bend, the painted lock cottage has the perfect backdrop with the mountain peaks of Pen-y-Fan.
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Red Line Boats is part of the ABC Leisure Group. (Click here to visit their website)