Friday 21st February
The magnificent Millennium Stadium – always a lift to the spirits…
We had a bit of stress on Friday. When we bought tickets to the Wales/France 6-nations match many months ago, it seemed perfectly reasonable for us to get from London to Cardiff in time for the 8pm kick-off. Of course, we hadn’t bargained for R having a winter chest infection or a the IET Dinner the nioght before or for both of us having to work during the day or for me to be stressed because Ty’s foot, which had been healing well after an operation, suddenly deteriorated on Thursday day making him feverish and ill .
Note to self: next time there is an evening match in Cardiff, TAKE THE DAY OFF to get there.
Luckily, Sarah and A had agreed to dog-sit our hounds at our home – they moved in with part of their pack – Bertie and Eddie (for a change – Henry Beanz and Archie got to stay at home with Big Sid, who’s a home boy!), long-term resident Herbie and new foster boy Red – I’ll put Red’s story in a new post later
We left West London at 4.15pm and were soon sucked into the endemic traffic jam that is the M25 – slow slow slow – then we got to the M4 – slow slow slow – bah! We almost gave up and turned for home, but then we’d have had to endure traffic jams all the way back so we persisted. We had an unusually early break at the Reading services – we’d reached the end of our very short tethers and the break did us good – a bit of supper a bit of coffee and, miraculously, by the time we got back onto the M4 the traffic had cleared a bit.
The canal bridge at Cwmbran…..
We missed much of the first half, which was frustrating as we listened to the match commentary on the radio and Wales accrued an unexpected hefty lead over France. However, we got there just before half-time and settled in with cousin Denise’s daughter, Christina (a long-standing Indigo Dreamer) and her boyfriend Geraint. Luckily we’d posted them our spare tickets earlier in the week or they’d have been standing outside the ground waiting for us!
I had been feeling a bit grumpy – the journey was all too much, I was tired and I was worried about leaving Ty (though I do trust the mega-experienced Sarah to look after him – honest) but my spirits lifted the minute I walked into the Millennium Stadium. There’s always a magnificent atmosphere, but when Wales it winning it’s as intoxicating as pure oxygen! We enjoyed the second half – Wales had a commanding presence so there was none of the usual nail-biting tension that we’ve had in previous matches where they’ve let a first-half lead be whittled down to nothing.
And here is the same bridge in the late 1980s
Our fatigue caught up with us as we drove out to the untried Parkway Hotel in Cwmbran – but it was lovely – really cosy with log fires and squashy sofas, comfortable rooms and very pleasant service. It was a spa hotel but we didn’t feel up to using the leisure facilities, but their breakfast was good. It would be a perfect hotel for a weekend break with hounds, but it’s not dog-friendly. The staff were all dog-fanatics, and apparently they used to allow dogs, but not any more – what a shame, we might have come back otherwise….
Saturday 22nd February
The Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canal Trust Centre near Newport – a fine place to visit..
We had such a list of “should do’s” for the weekend – should visit my mum, should dash home to check Ty blah blah blah….but we cut loose from all that and went to explore some local canals instead!
First, as we were in Cwmbran, we went to see a canal bridge that Richard had had a hand in designing many years ago – before he was a boating enthusiast! The canal is in water here and the towpath is in good order. But like many “urban” canal sections, the main use of the water is as a rubbish dump. I suspect it will be many years before you see a boat here – partly because the navigation needs some TLC and partly because there’s a long stretch of restoration to be done to link it to the main Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny navigation which runs through the lush mountains to the north. We ran a now experienced boating eye over the bridge – “there’s a great rock under the water – you’d never get a wide boat here – it’s a broad canal” – there followed a discussion about how broad the navigation actually is – later we settled the argument – it was built for a 9′ 6″ wide boat! Not that you’d get under the bridge in Cwmbran with the rock in the way, though we reckoned we could scrape (possibly literally) the intrepid Indigo Dream through
R commented that he was involved in the engineering design of the bridge long before he was a boater, the bridge is on piles, R has a vague memory of the rock being there but at that time the canal was just a recess in the ground and the rock was not in their way. He wasn’t thinking about the navigation and the brief was a bit vague on water levels and what height the bridge should be. It would be a bit different if he was designing it today
I hate to see an unloved waterway, so after that slightly gloomy visit we set off the the very nice canal centre on the Crumlin Arm (Monmouthshire, Brecon & Abergavenny Canal Trust, Cwm Lane, Rogerstone, Newport NP 10 9GN). The Crumlin Arm is slowly being restored, as is the main navigation; it’s hoped that they will eventually rejoin each other and enable boats to cruise from Newport to Brecon. This would be a great trip. but without a link to the main English network, will be the province of local owners, hire boats and people with access to narrowboat cranes/trucks. The total cost of the remaining restoration is apparently 80 million pounds – I put £20 into the collection pot! This would surely be on our list of canals to be restored if we ever won a ludicrous amount of money in the Euro-lottery.
Big message here: If you are in SOuth Wales go and visit the Canal Centre, have a walk and a look, give them some support. It will be fantastic if they manage to get this canal fully restored.
The top lock of the 14 – we didn’t explore the canal up from this point but the walk down is charming..
The canal centre is well equipped with books and information as well as a gift shop, spotless loos (very useful) and a decent cafe. After a long chat with the day’s volunteer on the desk, we set off for a walk down the fourteen-lock flight towards Newport. As you drive West out of the Brynglas Tunnel on the M4, look to your left and you’ll clearly see two canal locks – our mission today was to take a closer look at them. However, we didn’t quite make it that far – we hadn’t realised how much lovely canal there was to walk and just how many locks there were. The first five have been restored and they are monsters – easily 12 foot deep each – we though at first they were staircases, but they more resemble the Bratch flight – deep locks separated by very short pounds which attach to side-pounds for storing the water. It’s a steep flight – the 14 locks carry the canal up a rise of 168′ in half a mile. We had a lengthy discussion about whether this was the steepest flight we’d seen – the only one we thought could compare was the main flight up Caen Hill on the K & A; or maybe the Lapworth flight up from Kingswood Junction? Hmmm, I’m working in the hope that my readers will have an opinion as to which is the steepest lock flight!
As we walked down the flight, we met a mixture of mad cyclists (very gung-ho on the way down, much less so while toiling back up the hill), walkers (with and without dogs) and a few horse-riders (part of the footpath, at least, is a designated bridleway) – so the waterway is already paying its way as a leisure amenity. But it will be a long while before you see any boats here which is a real shame as it will be stunning but there is an awesome amount of restoration work to be done just on this arm, and I suspect it will never reach it’s boating potential until it’s connected to the main Newport – Brecon Canal. The good news is that the restoration has local authority support as it’s seen as a potential tourist attraction; it’s also been able to gain some lottery funding, heritage funding and landfill tax funding, which seemed entirely appropriate given what had been dumped in the water in Cwmbran!
The basin near the canal centre – it has a metal dragonfly sculpture in the centre reminiscent of the one in the pool on the Hatton flight..
Idea: could we get funding from the canals by allowed people to tip trolleys, mattresses, cars etc but for a small fee – say £5 per fridge in Birmingham?? Hmmm, needs some development work..
We walked down the main flight surrounded by Spring – it was mild, the surrounding woodland was just greening and white carpets of snowdrops lightened dusky corners. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, the birds were tweeting and our “should do” list just vanished!
We got to the bottom of the main flight and then walked along a long (by this waterway’s standards!) lock-free pound, giving us an unrivalled view of the noisy M4 below and the silently empty hills beyond – a fantastic contrast. It was then that we realised that the two locks that you see from the motorway are much further along – maybe another half-mile. At this point, our “should do’s” reasserted themselves – we wanted to get home for 4pm (England/Ireland rugby and the vet would still be open if Ty was poorly) so we turned back with some reluctance. We enjoyed the walk back though and marvelled, again. at the dedication of canal restorers, who may not see their vision completed in their lifetimes – I suspect that this is a waterway we’ll never cruise – but hey, if money (for the canal Trust) and lifespan (for us) become unlimited then who knows
We were impressed with the potential of the restoration and also the canal centre’s cafe – very friendly service and a particularly fine cheese toastie (hunger, associated with a long lock flight, is the best sauce as they say!). So, after a fine canal encounter, we were set for a good trip home….where Ty was perking up – meaning that was a worry I could set aside until Monday
Not quite the top lock of the 14 – looks like a staircase but there’s a short pound in-between…
View down the flight – imagine bringing your boat down here…
Derelict lock gate – but the chamber looks reasonably intact..
Unlike along some derelict canals, it’s clear to see the lock structures – even if the gates are long gone…
There are side-pounds to be cleared here as well – what a huge effort. The volunteer reckoned that each lock would cost around £250k to restore…
This really gives you an appreciation of the fall – this lock looks as if it’s on a cliff edge!
Traditional canal bridge…
Built by the WRG in 2005 – glad they’ve “signed and dated” this bridge – it’s a good symbol of the restoration….
The M4 makes its presence felt…
The canal is great contrast to the motorway, yet in its heyday this waterway would have been frantic with freight :-)
A last view before we turned back – the locks to the right of the photo in the distance are the ones we see from the motorway – now that we know how to get there, we’ll be back!
Five of the seven hounds who greeted us when we got home – Herbie’s out of shot because he’s lying by HIS radiator and Ty is convalescing in the conservatory. Now which of these hounds is new boy “Red”? :-)