The Brecon & Abergavenny section of the canal we were gliding through is set amongst the most beautiful scenery in Britain. It was hand-dug through southwest Wales in 1792 with the sole purpose of transporting limestone, iron and coal from the mountains down to Newport harbour. Little did investors realise that railways would replace them. The results of all their efforts would soon lie fallow, as villages with romantic sounding names like Pontypool and Llanfrynach slumbered on much as they always had.
Nature Reclaims Its Own
British Waterways restored the canal in 1970 after a century of neglect, with the help of volunteers who were prepared to muck in and dig out the blockages. It has become a wonderful nature trail as well as a lovely canal system. Within its 35-mile length are a wide and interesting diversity of trees, plants and wildlife. Add in seasonal changes and you have a truly spectacular stretch of inland waterway to compare to the best anywhere.
Back to Boating
We found everything we could possibly need except for food and refreshments on our ‘County Fare’ four-berth longboat that looked a treat dressed out in maroon paint with brass embellishments. It was spotlessly clean with a new feeling about it, and we even had bed linen, cutlery, crockery and glassware. Add in the wet-weather gear, the hair dryer and the television and you have the full picture. We knew the on-board generator delivered cyclical 240v, so we left behind many electronic gadgets we previously thought we could never be without.
South to Ashford Tunnel
We decided to take a short spin downstream to explore the 375 yard / 330 meter Ashford Tunnel where the canal goes underground so the water remains level. There was no towpath for carthorses to tow the original barges through the Ashford Tunnel, so in those days boatmen pushed with their feet as if they were pedaling upside down.
Our little diesel engine just doof-doofed us through the slightly musty stone tube that is the Ashford Tunnel. After that, we u-turned and headed back to Talybont to continue our journey north that would take us through four locks and the Brynich Aqueduct, all amazing feats of engineering.
North to Lanfrynach and Fish and Chips
The weather was cool and inclined to be damp, but that was okay as we had the early summer countryside almost to ourselves. Having selected a suitable mooring point we glided gently towards the bank, tied up securely and strolled a short distance along the towpath to the nearest village and a nice country pub.
It was Friday night and the place was packed out. We ordered battered cod and chips to take away with us and enjoyed a beer or two while we waited. Then we returned to our floating palace and dined like kings. So ended the first day of our narrowboat voyage down the Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canal, with a peaceful night and happy dreams of drifting through the Ashford Tunnel waiting for us.