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8 reasons why you should visit the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

PUBLISHED: 10:51 09 September 2016 | UPDATED: 10:51 09 September 2016

The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, near Llanover, Monmouthshire | Michael Kilner, Flickr CC 2.0

The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, near Llanover, Monmouthshire | Michael Kilner, Flickr CC 2.0

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Snaking past picturesque woods, farmland and the mountains of the Brecon Beacons National Park, there are few waterways more idyllic and tranquil than the Mon & Brec. No wonder it is regularly voted one of the prettiest canals in the UK

Once two industrial canals transporting coal, iron ore and limestone, the 35-mile-long Mon & Brec now feels cut off from civilisation.

Its route, between Brecon and Pontymoile Basins, offers a unique way to experience the countryside of South Wales, whether you’re looking for peace and quiet, a little adventure or some sightseeing.

With Canalathon – a canoeing, cycling and hiking endurance challenge – returning to Mon & Brec this Saturday, what better time to explore the reasons that make this such a wonderful waterway?

Goytre Wharf | Cold War Warrior, Flickr CC 2.0Goytre Wharf | Cold War Warrior, Flickr CC 2.0

1) Goytre Wharf

It is easy to while away a whole day at Goytre Wharf, one of the busier spots on the Mon & Brec not far from Pontymoile Basin. There is a marina and visitor centre, where several companies hire out either narrowboats for your voyage or, if you’re already set, canoes and bicycles.

If you’d prefer to explore Goytre Wharf itself, there are a number of walks along the towpath or into the surrounding woodland. Keep an eye out for the bronze statues of workers at the old limekilns, a link to the area’s 200-year industrial heritage. Then you can sit back with a cup of tea and cake, or something more filling, at the café.

Talybont Reservoir, a short walk from the Mon & Brec | Paul & Kelly, Flickr CC 2.0Talybont Reservoir, a short walk from the Mon & Brec | Paul & Kelly, Flickr CC 2.0

2) Walking trails

As the canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park, there is no shortage of trails leading to some stunning views or landmarks. Even just staying on the 35 miles of towpath will provide a host of photo opportunities and picnic spots.

A popular and easy circular walk starts at Talybont-on-Usk and takes the Dinore Tramway to Talybont Reservoir. It is around four miles long and should take a couple of hours. For those seeking a greater challenge, the Brecon Basin at the northern end of the Mon & Brec is the start of the Taff Trail, a 55-mile hike or cycle to Cardiff.

Wildlife watchers are kept busy on the canal | Mark Moreton, Flickr CC 2.0Wildlife watchers are kept busy on the canal | Mark Moreton, Flickr CC 2.0

3) Wildlife watching

The Mon & Brec is a quiet, rural canal so it should come as no surprise that it brings out the wildlife watcher in all. It is very possible you can go days without seeing many other people, but you will always be surrounded by nature.

Just some of the wildlife living on or near the canal includes swans, herons, mallards, moorhens, reed warblers, kingfishers, dragonflies and marsh fritillary butterflies, while buzzards and red kites fly above. If you’re lucky, you may spot frogs, water voles, newts, otters and even a rare species of bat.

Typical, you wait for a lock and then five come at once! | velodenz, Flickr CC 2.0Typical, you wait for a lock and then five come at once! | velodenz, Flickr CC 2.0

4) Llangynidr locks

Locks won’t take up much of your time on the Mon & Brec because the majority of the canal doesn’t have any, leaving you to relax. At the beautiful spot of Llangynidr, however, five locks come all at once.

Either before you start or as a reward at the end, there’s a lovely pub called the Coach & Horses by the bottom lock. Llangynidr also makes for a good place to set off deeper into the park, as Talybont Reservoir and Tretower Court and Castle are nearby.

5) Pubs and restaurants

The Coach & Horses isn’t the only place to enjoy a waterside tipple. The Mon & Brec boasts several pubs cafes and restaurants where you can get a cup of tea/pint of beer/glass of wine (delete as applicable).

The most notable establishment is The Star Inn, Talybont-on-Usk, which has been named CAMRA’s Brecknockshire Pub of the Year seven times in a row thanks to its delicious menu and charming beer garden. The village has another traditional pub, The White Hart Inn, and friendly restaurant, The Travellers Rest. Look out for The Royal Oak in Pencelli too.

The breathtaking landscape at Llangattock Escarpment | Russell Powell, Flickr CC 2.0The breathtaking landscape at Llangattock Escarpment | Russell Powell, Flickr CC 2.0

6) Llangattock Escarpment

When you pass through the village of Llangattock, you’re near one of the best views in the Brecon Beacons National Park – Llangattock Escarpment. These imposing limestone cliffs were quarried during the 19th century, leaving a scarred yet striking landscape with views of the Brecons to the north, Sugar Loaf Mountain and the towns of Crickhowell and Abergavenny.

If you trek to Llangattock Escarpment, you may see people carrying harnesses, ropes and lights heading to the extensive network of caves, which have entrances pockmarked over the limestone. Watch your step and only enter if you know what you’re doing and have the right equipment.

7) Abergavenny market

There are plenty of towns and villages to stop at, but the regular markets will give you reason to spend time in Abergavenny. The 19th-century hall in the centre of the town hosts a number of markets and fairs throughout the month and a popular Food Festival every year (17-18 September in 2016).

A general market takes place every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday and a flea market every Wednesday. On the second Thursdays and Saturdays of the month, the hall is jammed with arts and crafts, being replaced by antiques on the third Sunday. Finally, there is a lively farmers market on the fourth Thursday. The browsers among you will be in your element.

8) Brecon Basin

Either at the beginning of close of your voyage on the Mon & Brec is the town of Brecon, with its pretty basin for mooring. It may make sense to start a trip here because Brecon is where boats can be hired, but make time to enjoy the place before moving on.

Overlooking the Brecon Basin is an impressive theatre – check the website to see what’s on – which has its own café, Tipple ‘n’ Tiffin. It’s the ideal spot for a quiet drink while you watch the ducks on the water. If you go exploring into Brecon, you can’t miss the castle (now a hotel) and cathedral.

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