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The Full Monty: Restoring one of Britain’s most picturesque canals

The Montgomery Canal, known locally as “the Monty”, is situated on the border of England and Wales, wending its way from Shropshire in the North to Powys in the South. A glittering ribbon into the heart of the Welsh countryside, the canal is one of the most picturesque on the entire network, home to an array of plant and animal life, many listed heritage structures, and in parts, a popular route for boaters, cyclists and walkers.

Person walking alongside the canal with a narrowboat on it

But it wasn't always like this. Following closure in the 1930s, the canal was entirely unnavigable. In the intervening years, thanks largely to the tireless work of local councils and volunteers, more than half of the Monty's 56-kilometre stretch has been successfully restored. While being steadily improved, an expected investment from the Government's Levelling Up Fund of almost £14m has sparked renewed optimism that more of the Monty may soon be restored to its former glory.

Carreghofa Locks on the Montgomery Canal  in 1975, following years of neglect © R Hamp

Built over 200 years ago, in its heyday the Montgomery Canal was bustling with narrowboats carrying limestone, coal and timber to surrounding farms. Unfortunately, as transport methods began to change in the first half of the 20th century, traffic on the canal dwindled. The final death knell came in 1936 when a major breach near the Perry Aqueduct led to the canal being closed and later abandoned.

Efforts to restore the Monty began at Welshpool in 1969, where a canalside plaque still marks the spot. In the years that followed volunteers worked on restoration of the seven-mile section north of Welshpool, navigable today, and restored most of the locks in Shropshire and Powys.

Restoration work gets underway at Carreghofa Locks on the Montgomery Canal

20 years ago British Waterways helped to form the Montgomery Canal Partnership, a group of local councils, charities and supporters with the shared vision of restoring the canal to navigation. Today this partnership is still running, actively supported by the Canal & River Trust.

A four-phase plan was recently put into action. Phase one, which included major repairs between Gronwen and Crickheath, is almost complete. Phase two, from Crickheath to Llanymynech, is due to begin later this year.

Part of the Montgomery Canal restored by Shropshire Union Canal Society volunteers

The next step, phase three, will focus on opening up the channel for navigation between Llanymynech and Maerdy. The work will create new wildlife habitat and aquatic nature reserves, plus careful dredging, digging and bank protection. A second part of phase three will also deal with the last two road bridges before Welshpool.

It's here that proposed funding from the Government's Levelling Up scheme could be so critical. With that type of investment, this phase could be completed in just a few short years, giving us the impetus to push on with the restoration.

The final stage to Newtown, which will require significant additional funding, will be the most challenging yet as it will involve the canal crossing a major road at three different points. The prize will be a Montgomery Canal that's fully navigable for the first time since the Second World War.

The Monty is a valuable resource, and for those who live nearby, the restoration could be life-changing, bringing tourism, investment and job creation expected to generate millions of pounds in revenue. But the benefits of a fully restored and navigable Montgomery Canal go far beyond mere pounds and pence. The project will enhance blue and green spaces, conserve vital wildlife habitats and provide unfettered access to more than 120 listed structures, rekindling a sense of history, place and community.

This beautiful canal, once abandoned and forgotten, could soon become an integral part of the region once more. Just as it was when it was first built all those years ago.

Last Edited: 11 March 2022

photo of a location on the canals
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