Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal in Torfaen
What we know today as the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal is actually two old canal systems which were joined together over 200 years ago.
In 1796, the Monmouthshire Canal was opened running from Pontnewynydd (current Torfaen) to the docks at Newport. The Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal was dug at a similar time and ran from Brecon to Newbridge on Usk. In 1812, both canal systems were joined at Pontymoile (current Torfaen).
In the context of South Wales, the ‘Mon and Brec’ Canal is of considerable architectural, historic, scenic and environmental value. The canal completely revolutionised industrial transportation and it enabled unprecedented industrial growth in the local area. The canal was used to ship raw materials and finished products to market, before the introduction of railways. It played a massive contribution to the industrial transformation of this part of South Wales from an agricultural to industrial powerhouse.
The Torfaen section today
Sadly, much of the original canal in Torfaen has now been culverted through pipes, had roads built over and has been left in disrepair. It has however, been designated as a ‘Conservation Area’ which reflects its cultural and historical significance in the Borough. The canal enters Torfaen in the north close to Mamhilad, weaving through the borough before entering Newport close to Malpas.
Although boats cannot not cruise the canal beyond Five Locks, Cwmbran, the tow path (the footpath running alongside the channel of water) does remain and continues through Cwmbran, following the old route of the canal. This is an important route used by local people who enjoy the peace and quiet the canal offers. It acts as a ‘green corridor’ through urban Cwmbran, which means it provides an unbroken link of natural space which wildlife will travel along. The wildlife living in and alongside the canal also adds to its value to the people who love this unique place.
What you can do
Though no longer a working freight transport route, the Canal has found a new life as a recreational resource for pleasure craft and the towpath is popular for cycling, walking, horse riding and angling. The canal is navigable by boats up to Five Locks basin in Cwmbran where there are moorings and nearby local shops. There is free parking at Five Locks and can be used as an excellent base to start your exploration of the canal and Cwmbran town.
Another great base to start exploring the canal is at the basin at Pontymoile. Junction cottage was home of the toll keeper whose job it was to look after the locks, keep the waterways clear and levy a toll on the barges passing through. There is ample free parking.
Discover more about the Pontymoile Basin here.
Another wonderful site to visit is the restoration site at Ty Coch. Here MBACT have worked with volunteers to restore several lock gates as well as maintain a beautiful and peaceful area to sit close to the canal. More information is available at https://mbact.org.uk/regeneration/ty-coch-waterworks-project/
The Canal is a haven for wildlife in all seasons, notably herons, ducks and moorhens but also many hedgerow birds. Walking the tow path, you to see and hear a great range of song bird. Trees and hedges line the canal which wildlife will use to travel along, making the canal really important for ecological connectivity.
Volunteering opportunities on the Canal
Throughout the year, volunteers continue to work hard to look after the canal in Torfaen, undertaking litter picks, habitat management, and other valuable maintenance tasks, as well as running brilliant events and workshops. If you would be interested in joining in with canal volunteering, check out the four brilliant groups below:
‘Pontymoile Task Force’ - Volunteering around Pontymoile Basin
Hannah Cubie, Community Links Coordinator for Canal and River Trust (CRT) leads a weekly volunteer group the ‘Pontymoile Task Force’ usually on a Thursday afternoon, undertaking tasks to look after Pontymoile Basin and canal tow path. For more information and to find out about other volunteering opportunities with CRT contact Hannah Cubie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bridge 46 to Five Locks Canal Group - Volunteering around Five Locks Basin up to ‘Bridge 46’
The Bridge 46 to Five Locks Canal Group hold a volunteer work party once a month usually on a Sunday morning. They also arrange events to celebrate the canal and demonstrate its value, as well as campaigning for the canal throughout the year. For more information you can contact the group via the Bridge 46 to Five Locks Canal Group Facebook page
Torfaen Canal Volunteer Group - Volunteering between Five Locks Basin and Ty Coch
Torfaen Canal Volunteer Group were formed in September 2006 and usually meet one Sunday morning each month at canal locations in Cwmbran, mainly Pontnewydd, Cwmbran Retail Park and Two Locks. Activities include litter picks and vegetation management. For more information contact the group Secretary, Hugh Woodford, at email@example.com
Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canal Trust - Volunteering at Ty Coch Restoration site
Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canal Trust (MBACT) drives for the sustainable restoration of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal and have been managing the canal restoration site at Ty Coch for at least 5 years. The group usually meets on a Saturday and tasks include habitat management and maintenance of the restored lock structures. For more information and to find out about other opportunities visit https://mbact.org.uk/volunteering-opportunities
Future and restoration
More information about the canal including plans for restoration, can be found on the Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canals Trust website.
Last Modified: 15/06/2023
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