Reply to an inquiry about progress in restoration of the Montgomery Canal (March 2020):
Ultimately, restoration relies on engineering, volunteers and money! Money is the hardest bit!
We have a pretty good idea of what has to be done in engineering terms:
- our plans to rebuild Schoolhouse Bridge are well advanced
- the dry section through Pant will involve the same process as the derelict canal below Redwith, ie reshape and line with waterproof membrane, securing with concrete blocks
- we have plans in various stages of development for the two minor road bridges near Llanymynech and the trunk road bridges at Maerdy and Arddleen
- and for the new nature reserves we need to create in the Welshpool area.
That's quite a lot, so plans for restoration south of Berriew still have to be worked on, but there are plans from the 1980s which can be dusted off.
Volunteers have supported the canal so well over so many years. The Shropshire Union Canal Society work parties (the Montgomery is part of the Shropshire Union Canal network), sadly suspended for now, include local volunteers and others who travel several hundred miles to join in. The national Waterway Recovery Group has brought many volunteers to work on its projects – twenty years ago the Kent & East Sussex Canal Group were particularly active at Aston. The Canal & River Trust have active volunteer groups on the canal too. We shall need to bring in more volunteers for the Schoolhouse Bridge project, now scheduled for next year, with specialised teams to carry out the complex tasks and a local group to draw on to support the site between the visits of those specialists or the contractors who will carry out the most complex tasks, particularly the bridge arch and road surfacing.
Money! Current restoration to Crickheath Basin is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The next project is Schoolhouse Bridge and our Restore the Montgomery Canal! team has been raising funds for that over the last three years. I am delighted with the support for our appeal so that, even though the cost has gone above the £300,000 we were anticipating, we have raised enough to commit ourselves to the project – though we still have to raise more to avoid borrowing to complete the bridge.
We have too been looking at the funding needed for the next stages of restoration. The Canal & River Trust, the charity which owns the canal, is looking to submit a Lottery bid for the Vyrnwy Aqueduct which is in a poor stare. We have been talking to Shropshire and Powys Councils about future projects – they don’t have money, but know where it can be found! In particular we have hopes that the Mid Wales Growth Fund might support projects in Powys: while most projects put to them will create benefits and point X or point Y, the canal offers a linear opportunity all the way to Newtown.
All this activity is to create social, environmental and economic benefits along the Shropshire-Montgomeryshire border. The Montgomery Canal is particularly fortunate in that:
- apart from the last two miles into Newtown it is all owned by the Canal & River Trust
- there is a good water supply for the whole canal
- much of it is designated as having high wildlife value
- per mile it has more canal-age locks, bridges and other structures than most of the canal system
- it is a tranquil byway contrasted with the Llangollen Canal, the most popular on the national network
- the canal route down the Welsh border, from Llangollen to Newtown connects market towns, heritage railways, long-distance footpaths, National Trust properties, ancient earthworks and castles…
The experience of other restored waterways shows the benefits of reopening and we are confident of the value of bringing boats back to mid-Wales. Our Strategy for restoration proposes that be depending on funding ten years can see the canal open to Refail: that involves completing the Shropshire section to the border at Llanymynech, repairing the Vyrnwy Aqueduct, reopening the four bridges I have mentioned and generally restoring three miles of canal channel to navigable order (after ninety years of disuse). Ultimately, though, it all depends on engineering, volunteers and money!
We are always on the lookout for support: would you be interested in helping, at a work party or fundraising, promoting the canal at rallies and shows or even from home on social media or with other publicity?
Waterway Recovery Group article on the Montgomery restoration
This article from the Waterway Recovery Group newsletter "Navvies" kindly provided by Editor Martin Ludgate gives an excellent overview of the history and future plans for the Montgomery restoration.
Phase 1: Gronwen to Crickheath
Download the Ten Year Strategy document
The canal has already been restored from Gronwen Bridge to Pryce's Bridge. Phase 1, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, is to complete the restoration from Pryce's Bridge to Crickheath Basin (allowing boats to turn), together with repairs to 12 heritage structures in Wales and dredging to improve the water quality for water plants. The new basin at Crickheath has been completed by contractors and volunteer working parties of the Shropshire Union Canal Society are hard at work to restore the dry section of canal leading to the basin. New nature reserves have been created at Aston Locks and are establishing well.
This phase includes activities led by a Community Development Officer so the restoration becomes a focal point for people to learn about the heritage of the waterway or participate in training in a range of specialist skills. This phase is key to building the community involvement and skills necessary for the delivery of subsequent works. The conservation works on heritage structures is a way of developing local heritage skills, promoting an understanding of heritage and preventing further deterioration in these assets.Back to top of page
Phase 2: Crickheath to Llanymynech
Works focus on opening up navigation from Crickheath to Llanymynech. This will involve turning nearly 2 miles (3km) of currently dry and less rich biodiversity into a canal with marginal habitat important for nature acting as a ‘functional’ ecological corridor. This section includes Schoolhouse Bridge, the last road blockage in Shropshire.
Opening up the canal will greatly enhance tourism opportunities in Llanymynech, creating a destination hub with attractions such as the limekiln heritage area, Iron Age hill fort and links to Offa’s Dyke and Severn Way the long distance footpaths.
Opening the canal will also be the catalyst for the creation of privately financed marina with about a hundred berths and shopping area which would create jobs . Whilst this would be on the existing navigable section at Queens Head, the site owners have said they see the restoration to Llanymynech as being a pre-requisite to the development.
With sufficient funding and volunteer support this phase could be delivered in 5 years from the its start.Back to top of page
Phase 3: Llanymynech to Arddleen
In this phase the focus will be on opening up the channel for navigation between Llanymynech and Arddleen so re-connecting Welshpool to the national network. Restoration will link the 12 miles (20km) of re-opened canal either side of Welshpool. This will mean the canal will be navigable as far as Refail, south of Welshpool, 27 miles from Frankton Junction.
The work here will include major repairs to the Grade ll* listed Vyrnwy Aqueduct and restoring navigation past four lowered bridges, two for minor roads and two for the A483 main road. Proposed solutions for the four road crossings have already been drawn up by consultants and have more recently been reviewed by expert volunteers.
Opening up this section will also require excavation and restoration works to the channel. Dredging and bank protection works will need to be done carefully and sympathetically as the canal in Wales is a Special Area of Conservation (particular to protect the population of Floating Water plantain and Grasswrack Pondweed). The aquatic plants are particularly sensitive to disturbance by boats but neither will they flourish if the canal is left to nature.
This phase of restoration will see the creation of substantial further offline nature reserves to protect and conserve the environment. The nature reserves would provide a new visitor interest and be integral part of the canal experience.
The towpath in Wales has been improved over several years and is in good condition.Back to top of page
Phase 4: Refail to Newtown
The canal is in water from Refail to Freestone Lock where a water feeder enters the canal. There are four road crossings to be dealt with in this phase and again solutions were prepared some years ago. From Freestone lock into Newtown, the canal has been sold off and in some parts has been filled in but the course of the canal can still be followed. Works in this phase include dealing with four road crossings, careful and sympathetic dredging and bank protection and digging out the filled in section on the outskirts of Newtown.
Newtown Town Council resolved in 2015 to support the restoration of the canal back into Newtown. During the course of public consultation about developing the town plan, restoration was placed by the public as high as fifth out of 60 possible projects. The Town Council would like restoration to be complete in time for the Town’s celebration in 2019 of the 750th anniversary of the Town’s founding charter.Back to top of page