Brecon by Boat

An afternoon spent relaxing on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal got a bit more exciting when the boat I was on went on a rescue mission.

Brecon canal

Brecon is somewhere I’ve visited before and used as a base for walking. This time I was passing through on my way to Cardiff and didn’t have time to get out in the hills.

Instead I had a wander round town and found myself by the new arts centre on the banks of the canal. Boat trips were leaving from just outside and the thought of spending a couple of hours floating down the canal and seeing the countryside from the comfort of a barge was really appealing.

Brecon Canal

I booked myself on a trip which was a bit touch and go as there was no sign of the other three people who had booked. The man I booked with wasn’t sure if the trip would go ahead if I was the one and only passenger.

As I waited I watched as a family with three children hired a couple of canoes from the opposite bank and set off down the canal.

Correction. I watched as they went in circles, hit the bank, crashed into the side of the barge I was waiting to get on, then set off zigzagging down the canal.

They reminded me of my rowing across a lake experience on the Kungsleden last summer.

Brecon canal

The three passengers we were waiting for never turned up, but a woman and her young grandson did, so the trip went ahead.

There was some recorded commentary, but as there were only three of us the guide just chatted to us and pointed out things along the way which was a lot nicer.

Brecon canal

Can you see all those plastic tubes along the side of the towpath? The local volunteer group that looks after the canal has planted lots of blueberries, raspberries and blackcurrants along stretches of the path. The idea is that they will grow wild, look pretty and provide food for passing birds and walkers. How nice an idea is that? The plastic tubes are protecting the young plants until they’re strong enough to grow unassisted.

They’ve also planted loads of bulbs along the banks which should come up and look stunning next year.

Houses by the Brecon canal

We passed some rather nice houses alongside the canal, but mostly it was open countryside with views over the Brecon Beacons.

In case you don’t know the Brecon Beacons is a mountain range and it’s where the SAS and  Gurkhas train. Because of this, this small Welsh town has rather a large Nepalese community. They’ve been here since 1974 and so the community is now well established

pit pony sculpture by the Brecon canal

In the past this was a mining area and this rather nice sculpture of a miner and pit pony provides a reminder on the canal side.

Brecon canal passing over the river

At one point the canal passes over an aqueduct with the river flowing far below.

Brecon canal

We went under quite a few bridges, some of which seemed very low.

A bit further on and we came to the lock. The boat only just fitted in with only a few inches to spare on each side and at either end once the lock gates were closed.

in the lock on the Brecon Canal

The boat dropped quickly as the water poured out. On the return journey we had to do the reverse and wait for the lock to fill and raise us back up before we could continue on our way back to Brecon.

In the lock on the Brecon canal

Once through the lock we were able to get off and walk alongside for a few minutes whilst the two men working on the boat took it a little further along the canal to a place where they could turn it round.

Brecon canal

We easily kept up with the boat as we strolled along.

Brecon canal

We watched the boat turn and then hopped back on board as it came alongside us.

Brecon canal

As passengers, we weren’t allowed to help with the opening and closing of the lock gates because of ‘health and safety’ and insurance reasons. They looked quite heavy to operate and so didn’t mind sitting and watching as other people did the hard work.

Brecon canal

As we’d arrived at the lock the canoeing family were tying up their two canoes and getting out onto the bank. After seeing how they’d started I was really surprised they’d got this far.

Good on them, I thought. They’d obviously got the hang of canoeing a lot faster than I’d got the hang of rowing on the Kungsleden.

I must have jinxed them with my positive thoughts because as we came back through the lock disaster struck.

capsized family on the bank of the Brecon canal
One drippy dad and two drippy children. (And a non-drippy mum with one non-drippy child)

Mum and the child with her were fine, but Dad managed to capsize his canoe as he reached for the paddle to push off from the bank. Into the water went Dad and two kids.

They quickly scrambled out onto the bank, but were dripping and shivering. Dad stripped down to his undies which gave his kids the choice between dying of cold and dying of embarrassment. From their comments I think they were going for embarrassment.

Our barge pulled up alongside them and offered them a lift back to Brecon. They all gratefully piled on board and the canoes were tied to the back. Then with hot chocolates all round we set off back to Brecon.

As they warmed up they cheered up and luckily seemed to see the funny side.

Brecon canal

There were plenty of walkers, particularly dog walkers, and also quite a few joggers out running along the towpath.

The path forms part of the Taff Trail long distance path which runs 55 miles all the way from Brecon to Cardiff.

From my taster on the boat I think this would be a nice route to walk some day. But for this trip, although my destination was Cardiff, once we arrived back in Brecon I got back in my van and drove there.

The towpath will have to wait.

Brecon canal

Do you like canal trips? Where else do you recommend for a canal boat trip? Share in the comments below.

Author: Anne

Join me in my journey to live a life less boring, one challenge at a time. Author of the forthcoming book 'Walking the Kungsleden: One Woman's Solo Wander Through the Swedish Arctic'.

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