This means people will no longer have to leave the canal and walk around the 375-yard tunnel, which is near Talybont-on-Usk, before continuing their journey along one of the most popular parts of the network for canoeists.
All tunnels on Canal & River Trust waterways have been risk assessed to establish their suitability for use by unpowered craft. Canoeists wishing to use tunnels that are open to them, such as Ashford, have to follow some simple rules to reduce the risk of incidents. These include checking the tunnel is clear of other craft before entering, wearing a forward facing bright white light and a personal floatation device with attached whistle. They are also asked not attempt to use the tunnel alone.
The decision follows extensive discussions between the Trust, private boaters, commercial boat operators, canoe groups and Canoe Wales who have been working together to improve safety for all users of the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal.
Popular with canoeists
Sophie Cockayne, health and safety advisor at the Canal & River Trust, said: “This stretch of the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal is popular with canoeists and other boating groups including commercial boat companies nearby.
“Having discussed the issue of mixed-use of the Ashford Tunnel extensively with all parties, including powered boat operators, we have arrived at a practical solution that enables canoeists to navigate through it. We will review how it is used at a regular group meeting to ensure suitable safety standards are maintained.
“Our general advice to canoeists is to not to paddle through long tunnels, because it can be dangerous. We rarely make exceptions to this. At tunnels such as Ashford we insist on canoeists ensuring they have the correct equipment and always be vigilant about boat movement.”
The change of use at Ashford Tunnel is now in effect following installation of updated signs.
Ashley Charlwood, representing Canoe Wales, adds: “Using the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal is a great paddle, but there are some key considerations for those transiting the Ashford tunnel. Canoe Wales expect paddlers to share the canal responsibly with other users at all times. In the tunnel it is important that these simple safety steps are adhered to. A head torch and whistle are cheap, easily worn and if paddling the tunnel should be adopted as ‘normal' in the same way as wearing a personal floatation device on all waters. The message is clear 'no light or whistle? Do not paddle the tunnel'.”