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The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal is a small network of canals in South Wales. For most of its 35-mile length it runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park The "Mon and Brec" is actually two canals - the Monmouthshire Canal from Newport to Pontymoile Basin and the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal running from Pontymoile to Brecon.
The Monmouthshire Canal
This received its Act of Parliament in 1792. It originally ran from the docks in Newport to Pontnewynydd. Built in 1799, a series of 14 locks rise 160ft (49m) in just half a mile - the first part of a rise of a total of 447 feet through 42 locks. The maximum width for vessels was 9 foot 2 inches with a draught of three feet. There was a branch at Crindau which rose 358 feet through 32 locks to Crumlin (including the Cefn flight of Fourteen Locks). The engineer for this difficult and expensive route was Thomas Dadford jnr. It was opened to Pontnewynydd in 1796, and to Crumlin in 1799.
The Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal
This was first proposed in 1792 as a separate venture, also beginning at Newport. The Monmouthshire proprietors invited their potential competitors to join at Pont-y-Moel near Pontypool and share the navigation from there to Newport. From this junction, the Brecknock and Abergavenny ran through Llanfoist near Abergavenny and Talybont near Brecon.
The Act was passed in 1793 and was level to Llangynidr where there were five locks plus another at Brynich. Initially work concentrated on the railways and it was not until 1795 that Thomas Dadford was appointed as the engineer and construction began in earnest at Penpedairheol near Llangattock.
Work began in 1796 and by 1798, the canal was open from Gilwern, Monmouthshire to Llangynidr, Powys and much of the rest was in hand. However costs, as usual, were higher than expected and, in 1799, the engineer, Dadford, stated that further money was needed to complete the section from Clydach to Brecon. Benjamin Outram was called in to inspect the work and to advise on substituting a railway between Gilwern and Pont-y-Moel. Outram recommended several improvements, in particular the partial rebuilding of the Ashford Tunnel. He was also somewhat critical of the, then existing, railways.
The canal was completed to Brecon in 1800, but it was 1805 before it reached Abergavenny, when the committee concentrated on running the canal and railways so far opened. By 1809 the Monmouthshire Canal was threatening litigation about the uncompleted connection from Gilwern. William Crosley was appointed to complete the work which opened in 1812.
In 1798, the canal company agreed with Sir Richard Salusbury to build a line connecting his collieries to the head of the canal at Crumlin. It was not until 1800, however, that Outram was asked to survey the line. It was twin track and connected by means of an inclined plane to an existing line - the Beaufort Tramway - at Argoed. Outram was somewhat dismayed that they had not followed his designs to the letter, probably to save costs.
In 1800, the owners of Sirhowy Ironworks were granted permission to exploit the minerals under Bedwellty Common and build a tramroad to join the canal, with the erection of a works (which was later Tredegar Ironworks). They then extended the line to the River Usk near Newport, where it joined the canal. Since this bypassed much of the Monmouthshire Canal, running parallel to it, so the ironmasters agreed to connect to the canal at Risca. This however was rejected by the iron company shareholders and Outram was asked to survey a railway line from River Sirhowy to the River Usk near Pillgwenlly. Branches would be built to the limestone quarries at Trefil (the Trefil Tramroad) and another to the Union Ironworks at Rhymney. A major feature of the line was the 'Long Bridge' at Risca, 930 feet long with 32 arches each of 24 foot span averaging 28 feet high. The bridge was abandoned when the line was converted to standard gauge in 1865 (sold, it is said, for £1 per arch) and demolished in 1900.
Much of the canal towpath is easily walkable along the entire route. The Taff Trail cycle route, follows the canal for a few miles from Brecon, but the path next to it after that is not suitable for cyclists. Cyclists please remember that the canal was there before you, so please demount at bridgeholes, and when passing moored boats, children could be playing.
On 16 October 2007 part of the canal bank collapsed causing a number of houses to be evacuated. Eight people were rescued by local Fire and Emergency services, and the A4077 road between Crickhowell and Gilwern was closed, not due to reopen for several weeks. Two families have been provided with temporary accommodation, and twenty-three hire boats were also affected with cranes being brought in to help them back to their bases. Engineers are still assesing damage and the scale of repairs. Contractors Noel Fitzpatrick working for British Waterways had the road open within a week of the breach. Boat owners below the breach are complaining about low water levels. The canal has now been closed (as of the 5th November 2007) for a full geophysical study of the embankments. British Waterways announced (on 13th November) that the canal may be closed for over a year, after concerns were raised about leakage at other areas. Businesses on the canal have been informed that British Waterways does not expect the full length to be open before April 2009. At a meeting at Crickhowell on 20th December, British Waterways announced the preliminary results of the investigations: 90 plus leaks on the section from Talybont to Gilwern, less leakage on the stretch from Llanover to Goytre Wharf. The section from Brecon basin to Talybont should be cruisable from April 2008.
There are plans to reconnect the southern end of the canal to the River Usk by means of a marina in Crindau which would connect it to the rest of the British canal network. On 23 March 2007 it was confirmed that the Heritage Lottery Fund had provided a grant of £700,000 to restore the southern section. The £700,000 from the Heritage Lottery will help to fund regeneration of the first four locks from the top of the Fourteen Locks at High Cross, Newport with the first (Lock 21) completed by volunteers in 2003.
The Mon & Brec Canals Trust have now signed a lease to take over the Canal Centre at Fourteen Locks. An extension is currently being built to house tea rooms and offices. This will be a base for the Trust and its restoration work at the centre of the community.
The regeneration of the Cefn flight (Fourteen Locks) is a separate project from the main scheme, contractors will work down the flight, while a voluntary team led by the Mon & Brec Canals Trust and Waterway Recovery Group will work up from lock 3 on the Allt-yr-yn locks. As part of the Crindau gateway project Newport Council is pursuing the Canal basin project, this will link up to the above scheme by way of a newly-navigable Crindau Pill. This will create sustainabillity for the project.
Cwmbran to Newport to Cwmcarn
The regeneration Partnership of the Mon & Brec Canals Trust, Torfaen Council, Newport City Council, Caerphilly County Borough Council, the Forestry Commission and British Waterways won £250k from the Big Lottery Living Landmarks fund, this has enabled a full cost and engineering study to take place for the proposed community based regeneration of the waterway.