This is the second of my 12 wild camping trips in 12 months, the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal Weekend Walk. I had planned to go to to Snowdonia or the Peak District with my Dad, however after looking at the weather forecast we decided to stay lower level and closer to home. We’ve spent a bit of time travelling the canals recently, so opted to spend the weekend walking the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. Because of this lower level walk my girlfriend decided to come along as well.
Whilst working on Friday I could see the sunshine outside and was itching to get out. We were up to Brecon by about 5 in the evening, and after a quick stop to try the local cuisine (fish and chips), we set off. The walk out of Brecon was pleasant, the weather had stayed clear as the sun set and we were excited to start the walk.
I’ve not spent much time wild camping along the canals and was sceptical that we’d be able to find somewhere to stop. However, Dad used them a lot on his Dover the Cape Wrath walk and he was therefore confident we’d find somewhere to camp both nights. He was right (obviously…), and we found a nice spot a few miles outside of Brecon between the canal and the River Usk.
We set off on Saturday and the canal moved from wooded rural landscapes into small villages and hills. I was surprised by the variation. I’d somewhat expected that, as the canal aims to follow a contour, that it could end up being a bit of a boring walk. However, the way the landscape changed throughout the day kept me engaged with the walk.
After leaving Brecon, walking through Pencelli, Talybont-on-Usk and towards Llangynidr, the surrounding landscape continued to improve, with views out over the hills every time the trees around the canal opened up. We stopped in the Coach and Horses Inn at Llangynidr for a good pub lunch.
The remainder of Saturday was spent walking along the mostly tree-lined canal, although there were occasional breaks in the greenery for good views out over the hills and valley.
Just before reaching Gilwern we found somewhere to stop for the evening. The next few miles looked quite built up, so we decided this would be a sensible place to camp. We ended up tucked in the trees well off the towpath, to make sure we wouldn’t be in the way of anyone coming passed in the dark.
Setting off on Sunday we were aiming to get as far along the canal as possible. We’d done decent mileage the day before and were feeling a bit tired, but walking along the towpath was fairly easy going. We headed through Gilwern and into the Blaenavon World Heritage Site.
For me, the most interesting part of exploring the canals over the past year or so has been discovering the rich history linked to them. Around Govilon and the Blaenavon World Heritage Site the industrial history of the canals were particularly visible, with the quarried hills, wharfs and the existence of the canal itself all reminders of the industrial past.
The Brecon and Monmouthshire Canal has done a great job of presenting this history, with a number of informative signs showing the buildings related to the industrial past. I believe the canals are one of the most interesting, and unique, parts of the UK’s history, and this should definitely be preserved and utilised to a greater extent than it currently is.
The walk on Sunday continued to be varied, and as we left Govilon the landscape became more rural again. Views out over the hills as the canal wove along the hillside, in and out of gullys, maintaining its chosen contour, were excellent, and the clear weather only improved this.
This walk was excellent overall, walking from Brecon to Pontypool along the canal. I would highly recommend it as a low level winter walk when the weather isn’t ideal for hill walking. It would also potentially be a bit busy in summer months. The canals have been really interesting, with varied views, history and architecture. Wild camping was also relatively easy, and with many canals throughout the UK, I would recommend considering them as a possible location for a weekend walk.
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