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 –
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