In 2014 we took our very last narrowboat holiday onboard my parent’s share boat “Sunseeker”. We were travelling along the Llangollen Canal towards Llangollen in Wales when we decided to take a detour along the Montgomery Canal. The canal is in the process of being restored and my dad has spent many happy weekends on their work parties helping to restore the canal. Originally I was going to post this as part of my review of the Llangollen Canal, but I decided that the Montgomery deserved its own review!
Our crew consisted of Nanny and Granddad, Mum and Dad, Ryan aged 11, Becky aged 9, Ruby aged 7, Rhian aged 4 and 11 months old Reese.
Because the Montgomery Canal forms part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), boat numbers are strictly controlled. Only 1250 boats are allowed passage along the canal a year, which is less than 4 boats per day on average. To control this, there is a booking system operated by the Canal and River Trust, which only allows booked boats to use the Frankton Locks (down or up) which must be booked in advance (no later than 10 am on the day of passage in the summer or 48 hours during winter).
A maximum of 12 boats are allowed down the locks per day and a maximum of 12 boats are allowed up the locks per day so booking in advance is recommended. You are allowed onto the Montgomery for a minimum of 1 night and a maximum of 14 nights and you are not allowed to return within 6 weeks.
You can book online or by phoning 0303 040 4040 option 3 (Mon-Fri) or 01606 786777 option 8 (Anderton Boat Lift) (Sat, Sun or Bank Holiday).
There are strict speed restrictions of 3 MPH from Frankton to Aston Locks and 2 MPH on the section from Aston Top Lock to Gronwen Wharf which is the present limit of the Montgomery Canal for boats.
The maximum size of a boat that can use the Montgomery Canal is
- Length: 70′ (21.23 metres)
- Width: 6′ 10″ (2.09 metres)
- Headroom: 7′ 6″ (2.28 metres)
- Draught: 2′ 6″ (0.76 metres)
The Montgomery Canal runs from the Llangollen Canal at Frankton Junction to its terminus at Newtown. It is 35 miles (56 km) long and has 25 locks. The Canal is currently under restoration and only the sections from Frankton Junction to Gronwyn Bridge, Maesbury, a distance of 6.5 miles is navigable from the Llangollen Canal. The central section around Welshpool is also navigable, but unconnected.
The Montgomery Canal
When the Ellesmere Canal plans were published (the original plans which were never completed.) They inspired a separate company to plan a canal from the Welsh town of Newtown, northwards to join the Llanymynech branch of the Ellesmere Canal at Carreghfa.
The canal was agreed in 1793 and by 1797 the line was open from Carreghofa to Garthmyl. The Montgomery Canal was mainly agricultural, apart from the limestone, and it existed to serve the farms and villages through which it passed. Of course, this meant that it was never able to make a profit. The lack of capital and income greatly delayed the completion of the western extension to Newtown, which wasn’t opened until 1821, having been financed by a different company.
In the second half of the 19th century, the depressed state of agriculture and the use of alternative fertilisers caused traffic along the canal to diminish and by 1870 it was barely covering the cost of maintenance. Now part of the Shropshire Union, the canal struggled on until 1936, when a breach near the aqueduct of the river Perry, two miles beyond Frankton Junction, gave them the chance to close the canal for good. The one regular user was paid not to object and closure was formalised in an Act of 1944.
The section north of Llanymynech dried out, but much of the rest was an integral part of land drainage, so no steps were taken to fill the canal in or to sell the land. A plan in the late 1960s to use the line of the canal at Welshpool for a bypass led to well-organised protests and proposals for the restoration of the canal. The inspector at the public inquiry recommended that the canal was kept as an important local amenity and over the next thirty years the eleven mile stretch through Welshpool was restored with the active support of the Prince of Wales Committee.
At the Northern end, where the Montgomery connects to the Llangollen, Frankton Locks was reopened in 1987, the section to Queens Head in 1996 and to Gronwen in 2003. By 2014 they had just reopened the canal as far as Pryces Bridge, and we had just missed the celebration. However, boats are still unable to go any further than Gronwen until work on the turning circle, just beyond Pryces Bridge, is completed.
Cruising the Montgomery
Wildlife thrives along the Montgomery Canal and it is one of the most important canals in the country for nature. Much of it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and the Welsh section is of international importance, designated a Special Area of Conservation for its aquatic plants. To help protect this special area, whilst boats are allowed on the navigable sections of the Montgomery, numbers are strictly controlled.
The canal is the best location in the world for floating water plants, otters and water voles. With several nature reserves bordering the canal, filled with wildflowers and insects, including dragonflies and damselflies. There are also several listed structures along the canal and plenty of birds and wildlife to spot.
The canal is peaceful and quiet and travelling along in a canal boat is a perfect way to enjoy it. The children enjoyed looking through books and trying to name all the plants and wildlife they could see. Sadly we didn’t see any water voles or otters, which would have really made my day!
Whilst we travelled along the Montgomery we passed a building which brought back memories for us all. We passed the Navigation Inn, a place we visited for my dad’s birthday 13 years earlier in 2001 and where hubby asked my dad’s permission to marry me.
We also passed by Queen’s Head (by bridge 76), which had been the limit of our travel the last time we had travelled along the canal, back in 2006. This time we were able to travel slightly further to Gronwyn Bridge Winding hole near Gronwyn Wharf (near bridge 81). It might not seem much, but it was an extra 2 miles, 7¾ furlongs and 3 locks.
One night, whilst on the Montgomery, I was woken by hubby shaking me awake. He was shaking, panicked and terrified. “Rach.. there’s something by the open hatch. It’s trying to get in!” I looked at him strangely. “Bob, that’s the canal side. No one can get in that way!” “It’s aliens. They’re here. They’re trying to get in! Go look and see!“It took me about an hour and a half to calm him down and convince him there were no aliens trying to get in the boat. Thankfully he didn’t wake anyone else up, but he’s since been banned from watching “Aliens in the Attic” as he had watched that before going to sleep that night!
Full-length boats could only travel to Croft Mill lift bridge back in 2014, I’m not sure if that is still the case and is something you would need to check. As Sunseeker was less than 60ft, we were able to travel a little further along the canal to Gronwen Bridge. This was the end of the line for us on Sunseeker and we had to turn around. The next section had water, but as it was still a work in progress and with nowhere to turn the boat around, the boat couldn’t go any further.
That didn’t stop us though! We just transferred from one boat to another!
We hired two kayaks and between us, we kayaked as far as we could, to the current limit of water at Pryces Bridge. Nanny walked along the towpath watching us with Reese in the pram, whilst granddad had Becky and Ryan and I taught hubby how to kayak with Ruby. My days sailing with my dad on his yacht and going to sailing cadets certainly helped! We hired the kayaks from Canal Central at Maesbury Marsh and all it cost us was a donation to the Friends of the Montgomery Canal who are raising funds towards the restoration of the canal.
Since we last visited Canal Central, they have improved the site and are now offering horse-drawn boat rides along the canal and they even have a miniature railway for children to ride in the garden. This all sounds like a great excuse for another visit, isn’t it granddad!
Later that afternoon, Ryan decided that whilst we still had the kayaks he wanted another go, this time on his own!
Because of the heat, and my children being their granddad’s grandchildren, I was amazed we had kept them out of the canal as long as we had. Of course, after another hot day and a tiring time kayaking, the lure of the water was too much and they ended up splashing in the water and almost swimming in the canal. The good thing about the Montgomery being quiet with only a few boats meant that the water was cleaner than other canals might be which meant I didn’t mind too much when I saw them in the water. At least they had their life jackets on!
The Central Section of the Montgomery
At present boats can only travel the Montgomery from Frankton Locks to Gronwyn turning hole. Yet there is a further section which can be travelled on. The central section, which passes through Welshpool, is also accessible to boats. However, as the central section isn’t connected to any waterways there is a lack of boats using it, especially since the hire boat company which did operate has since closed.
Graham Palmer Lock & Memorial Stone
On our way back along the Montgomery, I spotted a memorial stone alongside the smallest lock I had even been through. My dad explained that the lock is named after the late Graham Palmer, one of the founders of the Waterways Recovery Group and an enthusiast of the Montgomery Canal restoration work. The lock itself is very shallow and the smallest lock I had ever seen! It is a fairly new lock which was built to compensate for the change in ground levels caused by the peaty ground since the canals original construction some 200 years before and the new restoration work.
Weston Arm Junction
Just below Frankton Locks, there is an old junction now known as the Weston Arm Junction. This branch of the canal was meant to be part of the main Ellesmere canal to Shrewsbury. In 1805, it was decided to abandon the main route of the Ellesmere Canal north (towards Chester) as uneconomic, and at the same time, it was decided to abandon the plan to reach the Severn as the Shrewsbury Canal had already reached the town. By that time, the canal had only reach Weston Lullingfields and the section from there to Frankton Junction was called the Weston Branch. In 1917, the Weston Branch was closed following a breach near Hordley Wharf. The Weston Branch is now filled in, except at the Junction below Frankton Locks, which creates a turning circle and wharf, complete with a sanitary station.
Before leaving the Montgomery we stopped at the Weston Branch Junction, which brought back memories of our visit in 2006. We stopped here then as well and Becky decided to throw her drink bottle into the canal. Daddy came to her rescue and with a fishing net, he managed to retrieve it from the canal! Of course, I wouldn’t let her use it again after that but at least we didn’t litter the canal! This time, they had a splashing time instead!
Frankton Locks Again
Because of the extreme heat of the summer, the Montgomery Canal was getting a bit shallow, especially with the restriction of boats up and down the locks on to the canal. Sunseeker was on the edge of the limit for how deep the bottom of the boat goes in the water and this meant tragedy struck as we were waiting our turn up the locks. We somehow grounded the boat and were stuck on the bottom!
We tried everything to get the boat moving, even going so far as getting another boat to try and tow us from the section we were stuck on. Nothing worked! At least, not until the locks were emptied a few more times and raising the water level of the canal slightly. With the water a little bit deeper, we were able to push Sunseeker away from where she was stuck and up the Frankton Locks and back onto the Llangollen.
If you are ever travelling along the Llangollen then I strongly recommend a slight detour to the end of the navigable section of the Montgomery and back, it takes about two days (one night) and is well worth the detour!
For more information about the Montgomery Canal Restoration, visit the Shropshire Union Canal Society
For more information about our Canal Holidays, check out my previous posts;
The Llangollen Canal (Coming Soon)