The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, commonly called the ‘Mon and Brec’, is one of the most beautiful cruising waterways in Britain. The canal runs for almost all its route within the Brecon Beacons National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty covering over 500 square miles of South Wales. All of the canal can be cruised easily in a very relaxed week, many boaters spend just as long off the boats as cruising, exploring the wonderful surroundings. The canal isn’t connected to the rest of the UK canal network so it is rarely busy, even at the height of the Summer.

For much of its 35 miles the canal follows the tree lined course of the River Usk, often seeming to hang on the hillsides above it. Its beautiful setting, winding its way above the course of the River Usk through the Brecon Beacon National Park, has made it a favourite with many boaters. It is easy to cruise the full canal in a week and take plenty of excursions into the surrounding hills and towns as well. Abergavenny and Brecon are both bustling market towns with plenty of interesting things to see and do. Abergavenny is a ‘foodies paradise’, famous for the quality of its restaurants and the local produce they serve, it holds an annual Food Festival in September. Brecon prides itself as being an ideal base for exploring the Brecon Beacons national park with a range of activities from watersports and fishing in the local rivers, canal and lakes, to walking, riding, cycling and mountain biking on the numerous paths and bridleways.


Picturesque Crickhowell is an interesting country town and there are numerous other villages to explore. However the canal is essentially a rural waterway and you’ll probably see more wildlife than people along its route; swans, kingfishers, herons and buzzards are common and the canal is well stocked with fish.

Though the canal is fairly short it contains all the normal engineering ingredients. There is a four arch masonry aqueduct over the Usk at Brynich and many fine stone bridges along the route. There are short tunnels at Ashford and Cwmbran and 6 locks, the Llangynidr flight of 5 locks and 1 at Brynich. Some of the lift bridges on the canal were built when the canal was being restored and there’s an electrically powered lift bridge near the village of Tallybont. The Blaenavon area and a section of the canal were granted World Heritage status in 2000 in recognition of its historical significance.


The modern canal is actually made up of 2 canals. The upper section from Brecon to below Cwmbran was built by the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal Company but it was soon realised that a junction with its neighbour, the successful Monmouthshire Canal, below Pontypool made sense and the two companies merged to create the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. As well as creating a through route from Brecon to the large docks at Newport the canal could also supply water to the docks from the River Usk at Brecon.


In many places you can see where feeder narrow gauge tramways once brought coal, limestone and iron-ore down to canal wharves for loading onto the barges. Dozens of horse drawn tramways were built in the early 1800s, many by the canal company itself, and the income was a major part of canal revenue. It’s still possible to walk the routes of some of the tramways. But steam powered railways followed quickly into the area and by the mid nineteenth century had taken over most of the iron trade, often buying up and building over the canals. Little traffic was left by the twentieth century.

Fortunately the watercourse supplying Newport Docks remained open long after barge traffic had finished and in the 1950s the creation of the Brecon Beacons National Park led to increased interest and active restoration of the upper portion above Pontypool in the 1960’s and 70’s.


The the Mon and Brec quickly became popular with pleasure craft and hire firms. Although the lower section below Five Locks down to Newport has been largely built over the Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canal Trust has a vision that one day boats will again be able to travel from Brecon down to Newport and up the Cefn Flight of Fourteen Locks to Cwmcarn.

Key Facts

Narrow canal (but boats may be up to 9ft beam), 33 miles, 6 locks, 1 short tunnel.

Takes a leisurely 1 week to explore.

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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