Boating holidaymakers and local people on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal in South Wales are looking forward to being able to enjoy a happier, healthier life by water thanks to a brand new wellbeing hub at Pontymoile Basin.
Funding the project
As the charity that cares for the ‘Mon & Brec', we've been working in partnership with Torfaen County Borough Council to improve the visitor attraction on the southern end of the canal, some of which is in the Trusts' ownership, with the most southern end managed by Torfaen Council. Torfaen securied £4.2 million of European Funding for what's known as the Adventure Triangle Project. It'll link other visitor attractions within South Wales together. The Trusts' Project is called the ERDF Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal Adventure Triangle that contains three separate projects all centred around Pontymoile and within the Torfaen Council boundary.
1. Pontymoile Aqueduct
Firstly, the already completed repair of the Grade II listed aqueduct at Pontymoile, carrying the canal over the River Lwyd.
2. Reopening the southern stretches
Autumn 2019 will see dredging at the southern end of the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. When canals aren't used regularly by boats, tonnes of silt and weeds build up all too quickly. In fact, we expect to remove up to 7,000 tonnes of silt along with bikes, shopping trolleys, plastics and loads more rubbish. Not only will dredging improve the environment for wildlife to thrive, but boaters will once again be able to navigate the 6.2km between Bridge 57 and Five Locks. (The silt doesn't go to waste – it's rich in nutrients and will be spread locally on farmers' fields once the debris has been removed).
3. The new wellbeing hub
The third project will see Pontymoile Basin come to life with revitalised toilets and showers, a café for locals and the ambition to create a wellbeing hub. As well as the many visitors from along the towpath from the new homes being built just a mile south of Pontymoile Basin.
Through this and our Community Roots Programme Torfaen, the Trust will create lots of volunteering and community activities for locals on and by the water with all the benefits this is known to have on wellbeing.
Pontymoile Basin sits between Bridge 51A and Bridge 53 on the Mon & Brec. It's the former junction of the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal (Brecon to Pontypool, now ends at Pontymoile) and the Monmouthshire Canal from Pontymoile to Newport (currently ending at Five Locks but under restoration) and is the southernmost navigable limit of the now Monmouth & Brecon Canal.
At Pontymoile, upstream of grade II listed Bridge 52, the canal narrows and this is where boats were gauged for tolls as they passed from one canal to the other. Next to the narrowing on the towing path side is grade II listed Junction Cottage, built in 1812 to house a lengthsman, owned by the Trust but currently unoccupied.
From an industrial past…
The canals were built to provide a better transport system for the region's iron, limestone and coal production and were served by tramroads as feeders for these goods. 1900 ordinance survey maps show Pontymoile Basin as a hive of industrial activity, with both the Lower Mills Sheet metal works (iron) and the Phoenix galvanizing works big areas of land to the south. Both of these complexes had gone by the time the 1948 ordinance survey was published: replaced by a glass works, which itself has also now vanished.
Beyond the industrial works to the south and east of the basin lies the site of Pontypool Road Station, once one of the busiest railway junctions in the country. Lines converged from east, south and west and the site included big marshalling yards and loco sheds. Although a station is still here it's greatly reduced in size and was renamed Pontypool and New Inn in 1994. Looking at a modern map the major constants still visible in the area are the canal, the basin and its associated historic infrastructure and small amounts of undeveloped land including a triangular shaped playing field called Skew Fields to the south. There has been much late 20th century development around the site including the A472 flyover on the route of a former railway line crossing the Mon & Brec immediately west of the basin, but sections of former railway routes criss-crossing the area survive as footpaths and cycleways.
The basin itself and the historic structures associated with it are a real gem and have been further enhanced and softened by pockets of woodland and green space associated with road verges, the banks of the Afon Lwyd, vacant land, disused railway lines and the curtilage of the canal.
…to an exciting wellbeing future
The Monmouth & Brecon Adventure Triangle project plans to bring the area back to life thanks to the European funding, which we're matching with Torfaen Council. The southern end of the canal suffers from a lack of boat traffic and up until now has been less intensively managed than other sections of the Mon & Brec that have a more rural feel, impressive views (as the canal sits on hillsides) and is mostly part of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Torfaen Council own and manage the section of the canal south from Bridge 47 to Five locks, and by working together with other interested parties and the local community we can enhance this stunningly beautiful canal, and provide a peaceful, calm waterside space for the local community to use and enjoy every day.
This project is one of a series of steps that we're taking as a Trust to engage local communities in a sustainable way and is within the focus area for the Community Roots engagement project and the Hinterlands programme.
We'd love to tell you more
Our newsletter is packed full of exciting updates and stories of how our charity keeps canals alive.