The Dalmatian charity canal ride

This is a ride I’ve wanted to do for ages; Brecon to Newport along the Brecon & Monmouthshire canal. My original plan was to catch a bike bus (a bus that tows a trailer for the cycles) from Cardiff to Brecon, but that service was withdrawn last year. A few friends had mentioned they were doing a charity ride on that exact route, with a coach laid on from Newport; it was a no brainer.

Brecon to Newport (officially 45 miles, total 55 miles)

We met at Caerleon at 0715 British summertime, loaded the bikes on a big lorry and jumped on the first coach, by 0730, we were off. I had to sit next to the most boring bloke in the world, I was tempted to smash my own head through the window in the hope of blocking out his droning voice, thankfully, it didn’t take that long to get to Brecon. When we arrived at Brecon the weather was as predicted; raining very fine rain, as if it was raining heavy nearby and we were getting the spray. Almost as soon as the bikes were unloaded from the HGV, we were off. We had been warned prior to setting off; this was not a race, but the pace was fast, we were doing 15mph on a gravel track alongside the canal, too narrow for anyone to pass. Every time we went under a bridge, a whole line of riders concertinaed in front of us. Then we turned right and rode across Brynich aqueduct which cross’s the Usk, and by the time I’d taken some more photos; we were at the back of the queue and apart from the same few riders in front of us, we didn’t see the next batch of cyclists all day.

In the begining, most of the view to the left was obstructed by trees, but to the right was magnificent views of rolling green hills. We passed through Talybont on Usk under a road bridge and an old railway bridge quite close together. The railway bridge used to carry the Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil railway onto Brecon, opened during the 1860's, it lasted 100 years until the Beeching cuts of the 1960s. We came off the canal path at Ashford Tunnel and onto the road for a short while, then we were directed back onto the canal by event marshals. On our right appeared the mighty Llangynidr mountain, no climbing for us today though as we drop down passed ‘upper Llangynidr locks’, then the canal turns sharp left. Llangynidr is pretty village where I used to have my cycle frames made by ‘Nelson Cycles’, I understand it’s now run by his son. The first feeding station was just a little way on at ‘Llangynidr lower locks’, no tea, just water and cookies. Prior to the event ten helpers pulled out, so they were struggling for people.

Near Llangattock we passed a boat overrun with pirates with Jack Sparrow at the helm (must be an alternative stag outing). Then there was another boat of pissed grannies burying their barge into the shrubbery on the bank, zigzagging along a straight part of the canal. The canal now followed the heads of valleys road to Gilwern, where we had good views of the Skirrid, at the bottom of the mountain is the Skirrid Inn, the oldest, and most haunted pub in Wales. We reached Govilon where there was the second water stop of the day, hosted by a couple who lived next to the canal (still no tea, but we sincerely thankyou for helping out). We were now entering an area synonymous with the iron trade in Wales. At Govilon wharf is 'Baileys warehouse, built circa 1821, the wharf was a key point on the canal for the local iron industry, and terminus for Bailey's tramroad from Nantyglo Ironworks. As we round the bend, we come into Llanfoist wharf, surely the most charming part of the canal surrounded by a canopy lush green trees. The Blorange quarries supplied lime for the iron process and conveyed it to Llanfoist by means of tramways which dropped steeply down a series of inclines beneath Cwm Craf all the way to the wharf.

It’s hard to believe Brecon is some 500 ft above us, and I know we’ve gone down some locks, but it doesn’t seem like we have been going downhill at all. We’d been in the saddle just under two hours when the heavens opened up, it was about 5 miles to Goytre wharf where there was a café, not an official water stop, but at least we can have tea. When we got there we dipped under the canal and headed for the tea, now it was absolutely tipping down. We spent about twenty minutes drip drying in the cafe, when we came out, they were filming ‘Great Canal Journeys’ with Timothy West and Prunella Scales, the pair travel across Britain on different canal boats, it’s an interesting historical programme. It’s not too far from here to Pontypool and it's great to see how the houses along the canal have embraced the water by bringing their gardens down to the water. We reach Pontymoile basin, where there’s a unique narrow boat café which was itself a former canal boat.

From here it's mostly downhill, passing lock after lock. The route gets a little confusing at Cwmbran where there’s lots of road crossings, we bypassed the third and final water stop at the ‘Open Hearth pub’ and carried on. Suddenly the canal disappears altogether at Mount Pleasant road, Cwmbran; and it’s a question of following your nose until it re-appears again. At Cwmbran Retail Park the canal disappears again and for a short while, and we follow the A4051. I believe some riders had lost their way through Cwmbran as we didnt see any Dalmatian riders in front or behind. As we head for Newport, we desend lock after lock again, and most have been restored. We hit Newport and rode under the M4 to finish the canal path at Crindau, now it’s a short ride along a relatively new cycle path that follows the Usk River, all the way to Caerleon. It’s funny we started this ride at Brecon where the River Usk feeds the start of the canal and we finish riding into Caerleon alongside the River Usk 45 miles later. The finish is in the Priory hotel where there’s all the families waiting for their clan.

My two riding cohorts were much fitter than me and to be honest I suffered at their pace, and there wasn’t enough tea. It was a ride I wanted to do, and although stretches of it are very beautiful, I wouldn’t want to do it again at the same velocity.

  • Gallery

    gallery page Why not have a look at the gallery relating to this ride. Click the image or the title.

  • Dalmatian charity

    The original ride had around thirty riders, which was then trumped by next year when 101 riders took part (hence the name Dalmatian). This is the third annual ‘Dalmatian Bike Ride’ (in aid of St David’s Hospice), today it’s expected 400 riders will ride three courses, including the 45 mile trek from Brecon along the Mon & Brecon canal to Caerleon.

  • Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

    Sections of the canal were built by different companies in the late 1700’s. The whole canal was sold to the Monmouthshire Canal Company in 1865, which was later incorporated into the Great Western Railway. The last toll was taken on the canal in 1933 and it was finally abandoned in 1962. The canal was renamed the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, it's been undergoing restoration since. Many pleasure craft companies now thrive on the navigable parts of the canal.

  • South Wales iron industry

    The prosperity of south Wales was primarily due to the iron industry not as people believe its coal trade. We had a unique geological advantage- ironstone was a component of the lower coal rock sequences with outcrops along the northern edge of the South Wales coalfield. The lime came from the quarries near the Blorange. At least five iron foundries brought pig iron to the Mon & Brecon canal which then connected the goods to Newport docks and then the world.

  • Goytre wharf

    Goytre wharf has some of the best preserved lime kilns in Wales. After firing the kiln and cooling it, the lime was dug out of the bottom through the draw arches, then it was put in barrels to keep it dry. Now it could be shipped by horse and cart to waiting canal boats for onward transportation.

  • The Priory hotel

    The Priory was once an old monastery, it was founded by Hywel-ap-Iorwerth, a Welsh prince. Later when Caerleon grew and became too noisy, the monks wanted to move to a quieter place and founded Llantarnam Abbey some 5 miles away. The Priory still has genuine features from the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Mary period. There is reputed to be an underground passage from the Priory to the Bull Inn across the road.

    Go to top