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33 miles to Brecon: in a canoe, by bike and on foot

A big thank you goes to the Canal and River Trust for organising the recent Canalathon on the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal – 33 miles of canoeing, cycling and running. It was a great event, and hopefully raised a significant sum towards the upkeep of this much-loved waterway.

We had entered a team in the inaugural event last September, and our enthusiasm persuaded others to get involved this year. So Beacon Park Boats entered both a girls team and a boys team into the 2015 event. As you can see from the team members, it was very much a family outing!

Boy’s team (managed by Rob): Alasdair, Mike, Richard and James (Mike and Jayne’s son)

Girls’ team (managed by Paul): Megan (Alasdair and Sarah’s daughter) Molly, Sue (Richard’s wife) and Jayne (Mike’s wife)

Where was Sarah (Alasdair’s wife)? Don’t worry, she had strenuous activity planned, too - with members of Monmouth Rowing Club. They were competing in the Great Ouse Marathon in Ely, Cambridgeshire. By the end of the day, Sarah was in buoyant mood after their Masters C coxed four put in a record-breaking performance. Simply ‘oarsome’!


Anyway, back to the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal... 

Early on Sunday 6th September, we arrived at Pontypool, under a clear blue sky and glorious sunshine, to register for the event. We were feeling confident.

The first six miles (canoeing) were a long hard slog, and our shoulders were hurting by the time we arrived at Goytre Wharf for the transition to cycling. While we were canoeing our ‘team managers’ had driven to Goytre Wharf with our bikes, so everything was ready for us when we arrived there. We lifted our canoes out of the canal, put away the paddles and life jackets, and jogged the 500m to the bike transition area.

After donning our cycle helmets and gloves, we were off along the tow path towards Llangynidr, 17 miles away. Ahead lay 50 low bridges which we had to cycle under carefully. But the route was extra challenging that day as the beautiful weather had brought plenty of people out onto the towpath. Our dedicated ‘team managers’ were off to Llangynidr, too – ready to collect our bikes and gear. When we got there the transition went smoothly, and we were grateful for the bottles of water and energy gels which would help us get through the final stage.

The last 12 miles to Brecon were made so much easier by the amazing scenery around us. We never fail to be amazed at the beauty of the Brecon Beacons, and it certainly inspired us to keep running. There is something interesting to see around each bend: the five locks at Llangynidr, the 343m-long Ashford Tunnel (the towpath doesn’t go through the tunnel), the Dutch-style lift bridge at Talybont-on Usk with its canalside pubs (rumours have it that a few teams managed a swift half here... but not us), and another three lift bridges before the delightful village of Pencelli with its pub, lift bridge and slipway.

After this point the countryside opens out with spectacular views of Pen-y-Fan, Cribyn and Corn Ddu – the three central peaks in the Brecon Beacons. A few miles later and we were running across the Brynich Aqueduct and over the last lock (there are just six on the Monmouthshire & Brecon canal). Some of us even managed to sprint the final two miles to Brecon.

It was an exhilarating day, with wall-to-wall sunshine. And Alasdair shared a cup of tea with the Canal and River Trust’s Chief Executive, Richard Parry, (on the left in the photograph above) who also completed the Canalathon. It was all rounded off with live music, a hearty chilli and rice and a well-deserved pint at Brecon Rugby Club. Roll on next year’s Canalathon. If, in the meantime, you fancy exploring the great outdoors, take a look at what other activities are on offer near the canal.

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