GREAT CANAL WALKS: WALES

Boaters will need to wait for restora­tion to be com­pleted but, in the mean­time, walk­ers can al­ready en­joy the whole of the Mont­gomery Canal right through to the ter­mi­nus in the heart of Wales –

Canal Boat - - This Month - TEXT AND PIC­TURES BY MARTIN LUDGATE

Come with us along the Mont­gomery. Boats might have to wait but walk­ers can do the whole thing

For this month’s walk, we leave the nav­i­ga­ble net­work be­hind and ex­plore what looks set to one day be a pop­u­lar cruis­ing route – but for now re­mains a derelict canal un­der restora­tion.

Not that you’d think it when you ar­rive at the start of the walk: Welsh­pool Town Lock is in good or­der, the canal is nav­i­gated reg­u­larly by the dis­abledac­cess trip-boats from Heul­wen Trust, and ca­noeists and oth­ers in small craft en­joy the wa­ter.

If you have time, visit the Powys­land Mu­seum in the old canal ware­house be­fore head­ing south along the tow­path. Just be­yond the lock, a short length of nar­row gauge rail­way track set in the path serves as a re­minder that this was once an in­dus­trial wa­ter­way, with many such links to the quar­ries which pro­vided much of its trade.

Leav­ing the town be­hind, the canal is soon run­ning along a splen­did ru­ral val­ley side, char­ac­ter­is­tic of much of its route, with views of dis­tant moun­tains both ahead and be­hind. Boats turn sharp right where the canal has been di­verted un­der a new main road bridge, but walk­ers have the op­tion of con­tin­u­ing straight ahead along a length of canal now pre­served as a na­ture re­serve be­fore the two routes re­unite. The canal climbs through the two Be­lan locks (note the un­usual pad­dle gear), the hill­side to the right steep­ens, and the main road keeps its dis­tance to the left as you pass Brithdir (with its con­ve­nient canal­side pub) to reach Ber­riew. Here, the canal bridges the River Rhiw on a four-arch aqueduct – it’s well worth climb­ing down to the river­side track for a proper view of it.

Four and a half miles from Welsh­pool, this is the first op­tion to end your walk and catch a bus back to the start. In fact, for a ru­ral canal, the whole of this walk is well-served by pub­lic trans­port, with

‘The canal is soon run­ning along a splen­did ru­ral val­ley side, char­ac­ter­is­tic of much of its route, with views of dis­tant moun­tains’

trains from New­town to Welsh­pool plus the two-hourly (not Sun­days) X75 bus on the par­al­lel A483 main road, con­nect­ing with the canal at Welsh­pool, Ber­riew, Garth­myl, Aber­mule and New­town. Hav­ing said that, the A483 hasn’t al­ways been a bless­ing for the canal, as we shall see shortly.

Half a mile fur­ther on, the nav­i­ga­ble length of canal comes to an end where a mi­nor road cross­ing has been cul­verted at Re­fail. An­other half mile leads to a more se­ri­ous block­age, where the A483 slices through at near to wa­ter level: that’s go­ing to cost a bit to put right!

But be­yond, the canal is still in wa­ter, used by ca­noeists, and ac­com­pa­nied by a good tow­path as it con­tin­ues past Fron, Bryn­der­wen and Aber­mule. Adding to the in­ter­est are sev­eral swing­bridges, a wooden statue of a canal navvy, and (un­for­tu­nately) a cou­ple more A483 block­ages mak­ing restora­tion more dif­fi­cult. But on the bright side, you can pause to ad­mire the fully re­stored Bryn­der­wen, Byles and Ne­w­house locks as the climb to­wards New­town re­sumes.

A small but sturdy three-arch stone aqueduct spans the Bechan Brook, then soon you will see Free­stone Lock ahead; or you might not, as it’s derelict, heav­ily overgrown, and the canal be­yond is dry. Why? Be­cause this is where the canal’s wa­ter sup­ply came in, the length be­yond re­lied on pumps, and restora­tion isn’t planned at the mo­ment.

You can see it for your­self by tak­ing a short de­tour along the feeder (it heads off to your left from near the top of the lock) to reach the Pe­narth Weir. This im­pres­sive struc­ture holds back the

River Sev­ern and feeds the length of canal from here down to the bot­tom pound, north of Welsh­pool. It’s still adorned with no­tices show­ing that the Shropshire Union Rail­ways & Canal Co didn’t take any prison­ers when it came to pur­su­ing tres­passers, and along­side is a pleas­ant lake with a bird­watch­ing hide (but a rather less pleas­ant past, as we’ll see). But just be­cause the canal be­yond Free­stone Lock is dry, that doesn’t mean our walk ends there. So re­turn to the lock, turn left, and con­tinue past the re­mains of Dol­for Lock, also derelict and overgrown. Be­yond, the canal has been in­filled: this was be­cause its bed was used as the route for a sewer – and the at­trac­tive bird­watch­ing lake at Pe­narth was once a sewage set­tling la­goon.

The path car­ries on all the way into New­town, but traces of the canal are less ob­vi­ous. The last lock, Rock Lock, is just about vis­i­ble if you know where to look.

Fi­nally, where the orig­i­nal ter­mi­nus site has been re­de­vel­oped (street names Canal Close and the Welsh Cae Cam­las give a clue to its lo­ca­tion), the path di­verges to run along a river­side flood bank and end by a mod­ern foot­bridge. This leads across the Sev­ern into the town cen­tre – with plenty of shops and pubs to oc­cupy you while you wait for your bus or train back to Welsh­pool.

‘It’s still adorned with no­tices show­ing that the Shropshire Union Rail­ways & Canal Com­pany didn’t take any prison­ers...’

Glimpse of dis­tant moun­tains near Be­lan The im­pres­sive Ber­riew Aqueduct Dis­tinc­tive pad­dle gear at Be­lan

Dol­for Lock, on the dry length near New­town

View along the canal south of Garth­myl

Typ­i­cal val­ley side scenery at Byles Lock

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