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Montgomery Canal (on foot), spring 2005

Bank Lock
Bank Lock, on the navigable but disconnected section

Five-and-a-half days spent exploring the 56km of the Montgomery Canal, on the English/Welsh border.

Parts of the Montgomery Canal are derelict and others are in the process of restoration, but there is a continuous towpath so the best way to explore it is on foot. We based ourselves in a hotel in Oswestry, near the northern end of the canal, and made daily excursions by car and on foot. You miss the fun of boating but you can see a lot more walking, you can stop and look and you take many more photos. We covered about half of the length of the canal, actually about 53km of walking (as we had to walk out and back to the car), sampling each section and the transitions.

We found the canal to be in six sections, going from north to south:

  1. A fully-restored navigable section connected to the English canal system (Frankton Junct to Maesbury br 82, 8 locks, 11km);
  2. A de-watered section (to Llanymynech, 6km);
  3. A section restored but not navigable except by small portable craft (to Arddleen br 103, 2 locks, 7km);
  4. A fully-restored, navigable but disconnected section, with a few boats on it (to Berriew br 129, 11 locks, 19.5km);
  5. A section restored but not navigable except by small portable craft (to Aberbechan br 153, 3 locks, 8.5km);
  6. A dry and derelict section, partly filled in and built over (to Newtown, 3 derelict locks, 4km).
The wet but non-navigable sections are generally cut off by lowered road bridges. The dry sections have these plus some official or unofficial crossings over the bed.

Diary extract:

Sun 2005-05-01 {18647}
To Oswestry, the Wynnstay Hotel, right in the middle of the town, with adequate car park. Unload, then out to Frankton Junc & walk to aqueduct & back. Sunshine and warm. About 4 boats going down in the afternoon session. Still the same Colin the lock-keeper. Spent some time sitting by the Perry aqueduct, very peaceful, birds twittering, insects buzzing, the very occasional boat, engine full on, crawling along; can't they see?
Mon 2005-05-02 {18648}
Bank holiday. Sunshine and showers, warm; shorts all day. Leave car in public car park at Queens Head at ~9h, then walk along past end of navigation at Maesbury then along dry bit as far as Crickheath Wharf. Some of the dry bit looking like a canal, but in other places big trees growing from the bed. Very few people about. One bridge in the dry section rebuilt and waiting for water; guide says navigation expected to there by 2006 but no sign of it (br 83, Redwith). Lunch on the way back at the Navigation Inn at Maesbury. This a restaurant, but "bistro" at lunchtime, which means like a pub but with excellent home-made food; run by two blokes. Rained on only on the way back from here to Queens Head. Today ~13.5km.
Tue 2005-05-03 {18649}
AM mostly sunshine, aft sun & showers. To Llanymynech & park in public car park by the Dolphin Inn. Section just E of here dewatered & towpath shut for work on restoring a wharf. Walk along the other way as far as br 96 site, taking in the two restored locks. Section is in water, but not open for navigation, tho' there was one boat tied up in the town. Now in Wales. Towpath soggy, so back via the roads. Follow the diversion past the de-watered section to the E up to a disused and deckless railway bridge. This is past the end of the section in water, E from here (about 500m E of br 92) the bed is dry up to br 82 where we saw it yesterday. Over the canal bed (a pipe culvert keeps the bed-level footpath crossing dry) & into the heritage area, looking into lime kilns & at a huge chimney. This got us back to br 92 & lunch in the Dolphin, we the only customers 12->13h. Aft on to br 104 (small area by br that we parked on), & then walk S past restored and active locks to Bank lock just after br 109. This is the section that has been restored to navigation & it looks the part, except for some stretches where the surface is completely weed-covered, even with plants growing on the surface. The rain started on the way back. Did a quick dash to br 103 site, the limit of navigation: a culvert under the A483 with a winding hole. Later drove up to look at this spot, & also to site of br 102, an even gloomier culverting under the same A483, Today 14.2km.
Wed 2005-05-04 {18650}
Started dull, but later some sunshine; cooler; no rain (yet). To br 115 Buttington Wharf, where there is a small, muddy car park. Walk thro' Welshpool to Belan Lower lock at br 121. At brs 117 and 120 the canal has been diverted thro' modern minimalist concrete box tunnels to bypass lowered original crossings. Br 117 has no towpath, & the route to walk is not clear at first sight over the road junction. Welshpool quite well done, little dock with jetties, but no boats. Reverse walk back, diverting onto roads in places to avoid a rather muddy towpath. Approx 10km. Back in car to Welshpool & lunch at the Royal Oak Hotel (another Best Western like the Wynnstay) - excellent ploughmans and sandwiches, & not expensive. Walk to Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway, but only runs weekends and bank holidays. Then to Powis Castle, but that's closed also, can just drive thro' grounds and photo the outside. So further on in car to find the southern limit of the disconnected navigable section at Refail br 129, which is lowered. Winding hole here cut into the garden of a house. Also stops to look at Berriew aqueduct & Long Bridge (128). Back by a zig-zag route, inc some of the hillside single-track roads above Belan & many of the bridges we walked under yest.
Thu 2005-05-05 {18651}
Election day. Dull & sunny by turns, rained but not on us. To Abermule & walk to Brynderwyn lock & br 146. Br 147 has a wall between towpath and canal, & is next to a similarly-painted but much bigger bridge over the Severn with letters proudly saying it is the second iron bridge in the county of Montgomery, from 1852, but visible only to a few fishermen on the river, & then hard to see for the trees. Then to explore the southern end, starting at Becahn Brook aqueduct. Br 151 is a fixed swing bridge by lots of new housing just starting to invade this rural area. Walk S from here to find limit of water at br 153 & derelict lock next to it, tree-grown and fenced off, with a rotting keeper's cottage. Then dry bed to br 154 & another lock, also derelict, but not so tree-grown. Bed is smooth kept grass. From here the line is traceable but lost in parts alongside a foot path. Br 155 stands (just) in a fenced-off area. S of here just looked from the car. Lunch at Abermule Hotel, soup homemade leek & potato, & sandwiches, good, we the only customers up to 13h at least. Aft to br 112 & go S to br 115 & N to br 111 & Pool Quay lock, well-kept as they all seem to be on the navigable section. Today 10km. Total so far 52.5km, on a 56km canal, so leaving out the derelict end and with out-&-back we must have walked half of it.
Fri 2005-05-06 {18652}
To Chirk Bank, & walk over aqueduct & thro' tunnel. Cutting a bit muddy, so back over tunnel via road into Chirk, then back on canal the other way to br 18. Moving boats make this canal different, plus paved and ringed mooring places near the pubs. Much cooler today, tho' still some sun. Frustrated in our intention of lunching at the Bridge Inn by its not opening till 18h in the week, so drive into Llangollen. Lunch then inevitably at the Bridge End Inn. Then a little walk up to the new marina & down to br 44, this span being the range of the new mooring charge: free for max 4h before 16h, else 5L per day. This includes water and electricity at every mooring (linear and marina).
Sat 2005-05-07 {18653}
Dolfor Lock Bridge 155
Dolfor Lock, on the derelict southern end Bridge 155, a little south of Dolfor Lock

©nib 2005-05-07..2006-01-08

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