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Guest blog: Richard & Gina, regular visitors to the canal

From time to time, we invite people to contribute to our blog. On this occasion we'd like to thank regular visitors Richard and Gina for both the words and the photographs. Over to them...

Back in 2007, having spent boating holidays on many of the very popular canals in the UK, we were keen to try a ‘new’ canal. We chose the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, hired one of Alasdair and Sarah’s beautiful narrowboats and were captivated by the amazing quality of both the landscape and the holiday experience with Beacon Park Boats. We have returned at least once every year since then, sometimes boating, sometimes staying in the canalside cottages.

Looking across the Usk valley from Llanfoist Wharf

There is no doubt at all that Beacon Park Boats are the best hire boats we have ever seen anywhere on the network. The attention to detail and quality of fixtures and fittings are superb. If Alasdair and Sarah ever feel the urge to leave the Brecon Beacons we are sure that they would cause mayhem amongst the competition on other canals!

There are several principal differences with the Mon & Brec, notably the fact that it is landlocked and therefore tends to be quieter than most of the UK’s canal network. It’s also relatively short and has just six locks, so doing the whole canal end-to-end is pretty easily achieved in a week’s holiday. This also makes it a much better proposition for a couple than some more intensive canal challenges. All of our boating, other than on the Mon & Brec, has been as a foursome, partly in order to share out the workload, but the Mon & Brec is easily done as a couple. The scenery is stunning, with the fact that the canal is built half-way up the hillside adding hugely to the views you can see. On the downside, it is pretty shallow in places, so you may have to accept the occasional grounding!

The view from Llangattock escarpment, with Llangattock and Crickhowell in the distance.

So what do we love most about the Mon & Brec? The historic town of Brecon is great to explore; the Royal Welsh Regimental Museum is a must. Visit on a market day and browse around the stalls in the Market Hall. We also like the pretty area around Llangynidr locks. Crickhowell is a lovely town, albeit a 20-minute walk from the canal at Llangattock, and the larger Abergavenny is another super day out, particularly on Tuesday or Saturday when the largest markets are held in the Market Hall. Some of the most far-reaching views from the canal come in the stretch near Llanfoist. And there is a definite sense of satisfaction in making it to the southern (though less scenic) end of the canal, and signing the Boaters’ Book in the Cross Keys Inn, Cwmbran.

We always enjoy walking in the area, both along the canal and off it. As keen, if amateur, birders we recently picked up a copy of Birdwatching Walks in Gwent at the Nelson Museum in Monmouth; it includes a variety of excellent walks, with or without your binoculars. A walk we try and do whenever the weather looks kind is to climb the old tramway to the escarpment at Llangattock. It’s a steep climb but the views from the top are simply stunning.

Now a holiday cottage, the white building was originally the home and office of the wharfinger (the man who managed the wharf) during the busy days of the Industrial Revolution

In order to help us explore the entire Brecon Beacons in more depth, we’ve had a few holidays in Wharfinger’s Cottage alongside the canal. Obviously on a boat you are a little limited in how much off-canal exploring you can do easily, and how many of the area’s fantastic eateries you can reach! Our favourite restaurants in the area include Pizzorante (in Abergavenny, really good pizzas and other Italian food, great atmosphere, lovely staff), Llansantffraed Court Hotel (between Abergavenny and Raglan, ambitious food), The Hardwick (just outside Abergavenny, particularly good for a Sunday lunch), The Walnut Tree (only a few miles outside Abergavenny, Michelin-starred but very reasonably priced and not at all pretentious). For pubs, we’d recommend The Bear at Crickhowell and The Star Inn at Talybont.

Two new experiences on our latest trip were a tour of the Penderyn Distillery at Penderyn – interesting whether you like whisky or not, but clearly better if you do – and a day on Kate Humble’s farm near Monmouth. We did a formal course called A Day in the Lambing Shed but it is possible just to visit the farm and see a good many of the animals in, what is again, stunning scenery.

Alasdair and Sarah recently offered a real treat to all visitors who’d holidayed with them several times. We enjoyed a free weekend in Wharfinger’s Cottage in January, which proved to be a delightful time to explore the area. We wouldn’t normally go to the Brecon Beacons in the absolute depths of winter, but the cold weather simply gave us a good reason to fire up the wood burning stoves! It was interesting, being at the canal outside the boating season. Clearly, everything was much quieter but seeing the snow-covered Beacons on a sunny day was truly stunning.

Over the past eight years we have done most of the far-reaching day trips, including Cardiff, Swansea (a must for Dylan Thomas fans), Gower, Tintern Abbey, Raglan Castle, and Hay-on-Wye. Part of the ongoing appeal of Beacon Park Boats and Cottages to us is the familiarity of everything. We feel at home within five minutes of arriving; it’s a bit like having your own holiday home but without the hassle of maintaining it.

Bridge 105 at Gilwern, a lovely spot for a picnic with views over the Usk valley

Our next trip will probably involve some London-based friends staying with us for a couple of nights in Wharfinger’s Cottage. Keen narrow-boaters (indeed, they own their own boat), they are considering the Mon & Brec for a future holiday so they will be checking out Beacon Park Boats! And we’ll be showing them all the best things to do and places to see along the canal.

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