The Brecon Beacons in South Wales is famed for its hilly, sometimes strenuous walks and changing weather systems – as the old joke goes “if it’s not raining, wait 10 minutes”.
So, what do you do when the cloud is low, and you just don’t fancy a hill walk?
Well, thankfully there are many low level, beautiful walks with impressive views.
One such walk, along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, starts in the market town of Brecon. Brecon, also called Brecknock, or in Welsh Aberhonddu, lies on the River Usk where it is joined by the Rivers Honddu and Tarell, in the northern portion of Brecon Beacons National Park.
It is the gateway to the Brecon Beacons and as you would expect is able to cater for the tourist with its supermarkets, local craft and food shops, pubs, cafes, and restaurants.
It is an ideal place to stay and use as a base if exploring the area. I can also recommend the weekly farmers market as a source of local produce.
The town also has a rich history – stretching back to pre-Roman times. As one of the few crossing places of the River USK, Brecon has been seen as strategically important by the Romans, Normans and through to the English Civil war.
The town walls still exist here and there, plus the remains of a castle. The town is still an important military base for the British Army and is home to the Welsh Brigade.
It also houses the Welsh Military Museum and is home to an impressive display dedicated to the Zulu wars and, in particular, Rorke’s Drift.
So, there is plenty to see in Brecon and it’s well worth spending some time there.
This is a fairly leisurely 12.8K, 8 miles circular walk, on largely well made, flat paths. The walk starts at the Canal Basin in the lower Southeast of the town.
Monmouthshire and Brecon canal
The canal is 35 miles long and runs through the Brecon Beacons, following the River Usk and makes for a beautiful journey whether by boat, foot, or bike. The canal was once two separate canals: the Brecknock & Abergavenny Canal, and the Monmouthshire Canal.
The 35-mile navigable section is mainly made up of the Brecknock And Abergavenny canal. The canal was started in 1790 and fully opened in 1812 and carried coal, limestone, and iron ore down to the iron works and forges that formed part of the South Wales industrial might.
The canal ceased to operate commercially in the early 1900’s and fell into disrepair. In 1968 restoration work began and it is now a thriving tourist attraction supporting several canal boat builders and operators dotted along the canal as well as day boat hire and escorted trips from the Brecon canal basin.
Start by the canal basin and follow the tow path out of Brecon. The path is well made and maintained and makes for an easy walk. Walk along the path you will follow the road out of Brecon on your left and start to see the countryside unfold on your right.
After a mile you will pass under the Brecon bypass and the noise of traffic will start to recede. After a further half mile, the noise of traffic gives way to bird song and the sound of rushing water as the River Usk shadows you on the right several metres below the canal.
It is now I find may pace starting to slow as the hustle and bustle is left behind and you receive cheery greetings from the people on the boats as you overtake them!
Brecon bypass to Brynich Aqueduct
This is a pleasant stroll following the course of the Usk and Canal. After a mile of so you will come to Brynich lock. It is worth stopping here and watching a boat navigate the lock.
As you will have noticed the canal is not very wide nor very deep, but here the lock narrows alarmingly and as you look in, realise it has a steep drop in height. And just for some added excitement the lock exits under a road bridge, so it is quite dark as well.
We once had a memorable holiday on this canal and I can say this lock was as scary as it looked, I didn’t realise why my “crew” all volunteered to man the locks leaving me alone to steer through the lock and out the other side, until too late!
Well after that we need something to brighten the mood and sure enough as the canal bears right in a few hundred meters, you walk onto the aqueduct and cross the River Usk.
This is truly a beautiful place, spend some time just absorbing the views and watching the fly fisher men casting in the river below trying to catch trout, before walking up to the bridge at the end of the aqueduct and cross to the opposite bank to continue along the tow path towards Pencelli
Brynich to Pencelli
As you walk along, please note the way the canal has been made. You will have already noticed it is not wide but here you can see that it is not very straight either!
The canal meanders along the contours of the hills and has sharp turns that invariably go under a bridge – so whilst a beautiful canal, it does have its challenges, this is perfectly illustrated as you cross the canal just beyond the aqueduct.
I like this section of canal, it seems “otherworldly” to me, the trees form arches across the canal, the right side has steeps slopes upwards, so the sunlight is filtered through the leaves and apart from the sound of the USK down below to your left, there is very little noise and movement.
As you approach a road bridge you will see a boatyard to your right belonging to Cambrian Cruisers. Look up into the hills behind the boatyard and you should have impressive views of Pen Y Fan (Top of the Beacon) and Fan Y Big (Point of the Peak).
The walk has now covered 5.6km or about 3.5 miles. You have the choice now to extend the walk to Pencelli. Pencilli is another 2km (1.5 miles) along the tow path and a further 2 km to the village of Llanfrynach.
If you chose to leave the canal at the road bridge and the Cambrian Cruises the walk to Llanfrynach is just over a 1km, so the detour to Pencelli will add ca 3km or 2 miles – but the pub at Pencelli, The Royal Oak, is excellent; serving good food and beer, so maybe the detour is worth it!
Llanfrynach to Cynrig Hatchery
Follow the road from the bridge past the old Storehouse and on to the village of Llanfrynach, as you pass the village take the footpath through the churchyard yard and down the lane coming out opposite a children’s play area.
Take the path through the play area and across several fields until you come to the “Cynrig Hatchery”. The footpath is reasonably well marked at the fence lines with yellow footpath symbols, but they take some spotting from one side of the field to the other!
As you walk across the fields take time to admire the 360-degree view – from Pen Y Fan, across to Bwlch, and the Black Mountains beyond, down the Usk valley towards Abergavenny and the hills of Tabletop mountain above the town.
Cynrig Hatchery was established in 1965 by the Central Electricity Generating Board to produce salmon smolts as compensation for losses in the River Usk caused by the abstraction of water for cooling purposes by Uskmouth Power Station. It is now owned and maintained by the Environment Agency.
At present Cynrig rears 50,000 1-year-old salmon and 10,000 2-year-old salmon every year as mitigation for the construction of Cardiff Bay Barrage.
Also, 80,000 salmon fry are reared annually to re-generate the industrially degraded Rivers Taff, Ebbw, and Rhymney. Part of the rearing strategy for the Taff includes the use of kelt re-conditioning.
This involves weaning previously spawned salmon onto the artificial diet and keeping them healthy and fit enough to spawn for several more years whilst held in freshwater tanks at the hatchery.
Follow the driveway towards the hatchery then follow the marked footpath. Some careful navigation is required as the public right of way intersects with private access paths, so you need to be sure you are on the right path.
As you cross a narrow foot bridge look to your left and notice the bridge that has been left “high and dry” as the course of the river has changed over the years. At the end of the bridge there is a “t” junction, take the right-hand path.
Cynrig Hatchery to Brecon
The path now follows the contour of the hill and offers expansive views across to Brecon and the hills above the town. After a mile or so, you reach the A40-Brecon Bypass.
Take the tunnel under the road and follow the left path up into the trees following the road. Whilst the road noise is a little intrusive, the path is safe for children and dogs as it is well fenced off from the road, which is a few metres further away hidden by trees and bushes.
The wood here is mixed – native varieties and imported conifers. As you descend through the woods take the path that runs along the River Usk. The path will emerge at Bridge Street, just by the river crossing over the USK.
You can now walk up through Brecon and explore the town or aim for one of the many pubs and cafes for a well-earned refreshment.
12.8 Km 8mile Circular work leisurely
Allow 3 hours.
Car Park – various situated in Brecon town itself.