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Monmouthshire and Brecon, summer 1995

it's all pretty
Everywhere on this canal is picturesque

A 1-week trip on the Mon and Brec Canal, from Castle Boats at Gilwern. Total 55 miles and 12 locks.

Diary extracts:

Sat 1995-08-26
Arrive boatyard at Gilwern at about 14h10. Boat ready, so we get on, but away only after their lunch. Basic going over boat, main concern being low speeds and the shallowness and narrowness of the canal. Boat has V-bottom to let it get closer to the sides than normal narrowboat, but it therefore also rolls more. Caldecot Castle, 45ft. Boat nice inside, but gas fire. 3-cyl canal-water cooled diesel, steers well, but idle on the engine control is horizontal, which takes some getting used to. Start 15h45 and run until "Windy Corner", just beyond br 109, at 16h45. Exactly 2.0 miles, there's a useful mileage chart in the back of the guide they flogged us, which beats using the map measure, although there's a lot of overlap and at 1:25000 I can scale it directly. Peaceful, lots of scenery already. Walk before dinner, then just sit in peace. 12V point is a special 2-inclined-pin thingy combined with the TV aerial socket, but can get to convenient bulkhead light with croc clips.
Sun 1995-08-27
Start 09h10, much earlier than most others except the Sunday-let Castle boat that moored just above us, so had the water to ourselves for a bit. Confusion at Llangattock, where a boat was being pulled off the mud by another, while 2 others milled around. Stop for lunch at br 131 for shop in Coed-yr-yrys, for the coffee and washing-up liquid we forgot. Another Castle (Chepstow) came in behind us and moored to our spike, and tied to the top of the spike so that it levered it out of its hole. Lunch stop 12h10 to 13h30, then into the locks. Not too bad, though the extra 2.5ft width of the lock makes jumping on and off a bit edgy on the wrong side. Have to leave bottom gates open to prevent leakage if no-one around; but there mostly was someone in front or behind. Crew at bottom about to tackle their first lock. Not too bad with only 2. I nearly did one on my own, while Caff did the one behind, using the ladders up the sides of the chambers. Water 10 mins just above the 2nd lock. Tunnel as well, then eve stop at 17h00 just beyond bridge 143, on a new bit of towpath with mooring rings. Had this to ourselves until after 19h, when the rest arrived in convoy. Walk along part of old Bryn Oer tramroad and back via footpath over the fields. Grounded several times. Jam at far end of tunnel as one was aground across the canal. Tunnel very low in centre, crouch down and peer along the cabin top. Eve to "Star" (lots of real ales, crowded). "Harlech", one of the electrics, arrived in complete darkness at gone 21h, looking for its charging point.
Mon 1995-08-28
Bank holiday. Convenient shop and phone below the embankment (Orange is very patchy here). One of the Goytre Wharf (red) boats backed out of its mooring, winded, and headed back south. Start 09h45, through the electric liftbridge and the three hydraulic ones (of which one was up), stopping at 11h15 by the Royal Oak, before br 154. Pub open, but no food and (almost) no beer, only keg Whitbread. Just a quick pint, then lunch on the boat. Good close mooring against a high bank. Harlech joins us an hour later. No facilities here except phone and post box. Re-start 12h45, through the last liftbridge, then continuous running and through the last lock to Brecon. Limited mooring here, but enough so far (we arrived 16h00). Trip boat "Dragonfly" operates along here, about 9.5ft beam using all the lock width, but difficult to pass in the narrow bit just outside Brecon. 'Brecon Castle' here before us and on the charge point. Walk into the town, for shopping. Lots of tourists. Dry, intermittent sunshine, an atypical bank holiday. Mooring is before br 166, beyond that is currently only for trip boat and turning, but there is a new stone arch bridge being constructed which will extend the canal a little further towards Brecon. Eve to Brecon Balti and Tandoori, a tiny place. Food OK, quick, not very hot. By the time we got back, "Brecon" had moved to the water point, "Harlech" had arrived and gone on the charger, and "Chepstow" had disappeared. Walk down to the river before dinner.
Tue 1995-08-29
To the shop at 08h15, most of the hire boats gone by then. Start 09h30, after water (at br 166), turn and set off back. Quiet at first, then lots coming the other way, including Willow Wren hotel boats at the lock, could be congestion at Brecon tonight. Lunch stop 12h15 at "Royal Oak" again (br 154). He's got some beer in now, "Brew 69" from a micro-brewery in Hereford, 5%. 2 of these and ready for a snooze this afternoon. This pub closed for 18 months, young chap trying to make it go again, with large loan to pay off. We the only ones there, though one other couple saw the "no food" sign and went away again. Lunch on boat after pub. Start again 13h45. Br 149 up this time, so one less lift-bridge to do. Stop back at Talybont at 15h00. Walk down to tunnel and listen to boat passing through and also see it at ventilation shaft. Eve to the "Star" again, but much less crowded tonight, had Brains SA, Felinfoel Double Dragon and Freeminers Best. Saw "Raglan", a Sunday start, here at the charging point tonight, no sign of Harlech or Brecon, the Saturday start electrics.
Wed 1995-08-30
Boat responds rapidly to the helm, but there's something odd about it. It doesn't seem to bite the water as well as a normal narrowboat and the "pivot-point" is further forward - the boat doesn't move as you expect. In tunnels and narrow channels I always seem to end up on the left-hand wall and occasionally scrape bridge holes that I thought I was well-aligned to. Hit the outside bank twice on the same bend yesterday, between the single lock and the Usk aqueduct. Start 09h55, into the tunnel and on to the locks. Had the first two to ourselves, passed in the third, and followed through the last two, passing again in the last one. Stop for lunch at 13h00 just beyond the last lock. Lunch in the Coach and Horses (pub/restaurant, skate with capers). Start again 14h25, 10 min water stop after br 131, then to Llangattock (after br 115) at 17h10. 4 boats here for the night, inc the Beacon boat "Hobby" we've been shadowing most of the time. Passed 2 of the Sunday boats now (Beaumaris and Raglan), but lost sight of the other Saturday Castle boats. Walk up the old tramroad to see the remains of stone sleepers and the first of two inclined planes, and later to beyond br 113, where the previous course of the canal before the present cutting is visible though inaccessible. Previous loop abandoned in 1803 after a breach.
Thu 1995-08-31
Walk into Llangattock, but shop opens only at 08h15. Start 08h10, slipping away quietly, though most of the others are awake at least. 'Brecon' on charge at the boatyard, boatyard owner also on board it, so perhaps something's wrong, or they've gone early. Excellent views from the bit just S of Gilwern. Arrive at Govilon at 10h30. Moor just beyond br 98, walk along dismantled railway (red dots on map; permissive route). Visitors arrived around 12h, then for lunch to Bridgend Inn (as the Lion was shut). Good lunch, though the service (bar and food, all by the landlord) a little unenthusiastic. At least one other boat crew here as well. Push boat across for water, then visitors depart and we set off again 15h00. This less-used stretch is very shallow and only one boat wide in places. The steering is very unreliable, if you get over a shallow bit the boat just goes straight for the bank, whatever you do with the tiller. There's also nearly nowhere safe to come in to the bank along this bit, so we're really forced to go on and turn at Goytre Wharf, though even here there's little, and we end up backing up a little after turning in the short arm and mooring a good half-metre out from the towpath. This at 19h10. Peace - our second night away from civilisation (there is one house with a light on visible in the distance).
Fri 1995-09-01
Set off 09h05, back homewards. Pass a Red Line boat almost immediately, setting off to explore the lone reaches, apart from this quiet for a couple of hours, until we passed "Harlech" having a quick look S of base. Brief lunch stop on boat 11h40..12h25, at the scenic spot just after br 93, looking out over the valley, over Abergavenny to the mountains behind. After lunch, boats in profusion, Red Line Saturdays turning back, their Sundays idling, Beacon Friday boats with enthusiastic new hirers chasing south (Beacon Hobby now with a new crew). Stop at 14h30 at Gilwern, a little before br 103. A bit of boat cleaning and packing, a procession of boats passing us. A walk here, and later to the Navigation Inn, which served us a pretty average steak-in-ale pie and chips. The Pedigree was better. Chepstow must have gone S of Goytre, but it was back here tonight and in the same pub. Harlech is back on charge at base. Brecon was only out 4 days this week with a Dutch crew on a short let. Perhaps on this trip we should count groundings and polings off corners rather than locks.
Sat 1995-09-02
Back to the boatyard, a quick potter 08h10 to 08h20. Open, and ready to receive us. Chepstow arrived just after us. They got down to Birdpool bridge, a little south of Goytre. Given a card to complain to BW about the shallowness of the S reaches. The electric charging points are all owned by Castle boats and are for their own use - they pay for the power. BW was if anything obstructive to the use of electric boats, asking a site rental for the cabinets.
	lunch	eve	mi	locks	lift br	water	hours
Sat	-	br109	2.00	0	0	-	1.00
Sun	br131	br143*	9.56	5	0	L65	6.33
Mon	br154*	br166+	7.02	1	4	-	4.75
Tue	br154*	br143*	7.22	1	3	(br166)	4.00
Wed	br132*	br115	8.33	5	0	br131	5.67
Thu	br98*	Goytre	12.07	0	0	(br98)	6.50
Fri	br93	br103*	8.67	0	0	-	4.66
Sat	-	-	0.17	0	0	-	0.17
* pubs + Indian		55.04	12	7	20min	33.08

Allowing 10 mins per lock and nothing for lift bridges gives average
cruising speed of 1.8 mi/h.

©nib 2003-03-22..2006-04-17

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