Picture Perfect – Stan Cullimore’s Mon & Brec Diary

Someone once told me that the Monmouth & Brecon is the prettiest stretch of canal in the UK. Hmm. Can’t leave an extravagant claim like that untested. So, Mrs Cullimore and I decided to go and see for ourselves. Test the waters, if you will.

We arrived at Goytre Wharf one afternoon and I have to say, it was a picture perfect place to start. Before setting off, we strolled in the sunshine, took in the views and visited the cafe for a cup of tea and cake. No sense in rushing, is there? Slowing down, that’s what canal boat holidays are all about.

Onboard, Nathan showed us round our home for the week, ‘Red Poll Finch’ – a lovely boat with a fixed double bed, airy living area and galley at the back. We then set off for seven days of hard research, or, as my wife put it, “a delightfully relaxing week afloat”.

To help us decide if it really was the loveliest part of the canal system, I kept a diary. Question is, after reading it, do you think this week long holiday is the very best canal journey around? Or can you think of a better bit of British canal? If so, do please let me know. I’m always up for a bit of research. Especially if it involves time afloat.

Day 1 – Goytre Wharf to Govilon
Bridges – 24
Locks – 0
Miles – 7
Hours Cruising – 3.5
Scenery – you’re in the heart of the countryside. On one side, there are wooded banks sloping down towards the canal. On the other side some delicious views of the valley below. At times the landscape clears and you get gorgeous views of the Brecon Beacons up ahead. That’s where we’re going and I can’t wait.
Provisions – stopped at Govilon. Village stores are well stocked and very friendly. Picked up bacon, fruit and lots more besides.
Pubs – two to choose from. We went to the Lion Inn. Great beer, friendly landlord, food looked lovely, all in all, delightful.
Highlight – sleeping in a warm, cosy bed with sweet dreams all night long. Bliss. If only Mabel the dog hadn’t got there first.

Day 2 – Govilon to Llangattock
Bridges – 29
Locks – 0
Miles – 6
Hours Cruising – 3.5
Scenery – more glimpses of the beacons brooding over the hedgerows, cloaked in cloud, looking muscular, mean and moody. Bit like Clint Eastwood used to be, really. The weather pulled off the difficult trick of raining, even as the sun shone. Was strange but lovely.
Provisions – stopped at Llangattock and strolled into Crickhowell. It’s a sweet market town with a bit of something for everyone. My favorite was the Adventure shop, though my wife preferred Nicholls, the gift shop. Great place to pick up supplies.
Pubs – lots of them, spoilt for choice. Went to the Bridge End Inn and had our dinner in the beer garden overlooking the River Usk. Great beer, great food, fantastic views. Love it.
Highlight – strolling over the ancient stone bridge into town and seeing people swimming in the waters below. They waved and suggested I took a photo. So I did.

Day 3 – Llangattock to Talybont-on-Usk
Bridges – 25
Locks – 5
Miles – 7.5
Hours Cruising – 5
Scenery – closer to the mountains now. Looking bigger and better. Feels like a landscape out of a fairytale. Keep on expecting to see a knight in shining armor cantering along the towpath. But all we see are lots of kids getting into kayaks. They seem very happy, mind.
Provisions – Talybont has a good village stores right next to the canal with a cafe attached. Genius.
Pubs – we moored the boat between two pubs and went to the White Hart Inn. A good choice – excellent range of beers and the food was just what the doctor ordered.
Highlight – an early evening stroll past fields filled with swallows, flitting about at knee height in search of their supper. Explains the sign we’d seen, asking us to avoid disturbing their nests.

Day 4 – Talybont-on-Usk to Pencelli & back to Talybont
Bridges – 26
Locks – 0
Miles – 4.5
Hours Cruising – 3
Scenery – the canal glides through a corridor of lovely trees for most of the way. Meant we could take in the towpath traffic. Lots of walkers, bikers, joggers and hikers. Everyone on water or land was very friendly. As they have been all week.
Provisions – Back for another visit to the Talybont village stores for supplies. Mission accomplished.
Pubs – we moored the boat in the same place as before, between two pubs. Went to the Star Inn. Very lovely indeed with a few interesting local ales on tap.
Highlight – Did a short day on the boat so we could take the dog for a walk along the towpath. Went past one of the wooden benches that are dotted along the canal and I realised there is map of the waterway carved into them. Who’d have thought it? Furniture that is both comfy and informative.

Day 5 – Talybont-on-Usk back to Llangattock
Bridges – 27
Locks – 5
Miles – 8
Hours Cruising – 4.5
Scenery – obviously, we’re on our way back the same way we came earlier in the week. But somehow the scenery looks even more impressive this time around. It’s just lovely, basically.
Provisions – Really excited to go back to Crickhowell for our shopping needs and more besides. It’s a really friendly little town, complete with ruined castle.
Pubs – getting a bit sentimental we went back to the Bridge End Inn to sit in the beer garden and watch the river again. Good place to chill out and count the arches in the bridge. Different number on each side, apparently.
Highlight – Mabel the dog. She is in doggy heaven all day, every day on this holiday. On the towpath she meets lots of other dogs to play with. On the boat she spends every minute of cruising time quivering with excitement. Sitting at the back sniffing the air as if it is the sweetest treat imaginable.

Day 6 – Llangattock to Golivon
Bridges – 17
Locks – 0
Miles – 3
Hours Cruising – 2
Scenery – still on our way back and enjoying the scenery in reverse. Today, the mountains were mainly misty and magnificent. And the slow motion, salmon pink, sunset was just about perfect.
Provisions – Didn’t need anything today, though the village shop in Govilon was still there just in case.
Pubs – making a habit of returning to old haunts we went back to the Lion Inn at Govilon. Great beer, very friendly people so we ate there. Had the best fish and chips I’ve had for weeks. I defy anyone to eat an entire portion without needing a lie down afterwards.
Highlight – there have been lots of things to look at as we drift slowly along all week. Birds, squirrels, all sorts of wildlife. And trees, obviously. But today’s tip of the topmost, literally, was a Giant Redwood tree right next to the bank. It was both enormous and totally unexpected. Wanted to give it a hug but my arms just weren’t big enough.

Day 7 – Golivon to Llanover
Bridges – 18
Locks – 0
Miles – 5
Hours Cruising – 3
Scenery – scenery is idyllic as ever. Seriously, the whole week has been one long journey through paradise. No wonder this area is a national park.
Provisions – Didn’t find any shops or places to buy stuff today. But no worries, we had plenty onboard.
Pubs – No pubs either. Still, it gave us an excuse to cook some food on the boat and drink some of the local beers we found in Crickhowell. Cheers.
Highlight – driving the boat along under cute stone bridges, checking out the view and drinking a freshly brewed coffee that my lovely wife made. Just being here, basically. Another perfect week on a canal boat, the best way to de-stress, chill out and relax that I know. All at slower than walking speed. Perfect.

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