The Montgomery Canal, derelict for many years, is now being reborn as a cruiseway through the picturesque Welsh Marches.
From its junction with the Llangollen Canal at Welsh Frankton, the Montgomery meanders southwards for 35 miles towards Newtown. It is almost entirely rural - the largest settlement being the market town of Welshpool.
The canal is a true haven for wildlife and tranquillity with many Sites of Special Scientific Interest along the way. At present, only certain sections are navigable by boat, but the canal offers many opportunities for the walker or fisherman. More than half of this rural waterway is now in water.
The line now known as the Montgomery Canal, an agricultural line that made no connection with the town of Montgomery, runs from Welsh Frankton to Newtown and was part of an extensive network of over 200 miles of waterways once owned by the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company. It was commenced around the same time as the Ellesmere Canal, part of which was to become known as the Llangollen.
Carreghofa marks the original junction between what was then the Montgomeryshire Canal and the Llanymynech Branch of the Ellesmere Canal and the curious feeder arrangements from the River Tanat are indicative of the jealous emphasis on water supply. Terminating for a while at Garthmyl its continuation to Newtown was delayed by the Napoleonic Wars and it was left to a separate company to complete the Western Branch, or Newtown Extension, which opened in 1821. Completion of the Eastern Branch of the Montgomery, which was to connect with the Severn at Shrewsbury, failed to materialise.
The Montgomery Canal was built primarily for agricultural use, to secure cheap and dependable transport of heavy goods for landowners on or near the canal and to avoid road tolls.
Limestone was moved from the quarries at Llanymynch to limekilns on the bank side. In 1840 there were 92 limekilns along the canal. Kilns can be seen at several locations including Buttington, north of Welshpool. Lime produced could be used for building and for treating the fields.
The Montgomery Canal also provided the power for eight watermills using the feeder systems on and off the canal. These were at Aberbechan, Berriew, 3 near or in Welshpool, Domen, Wern and Carreghofa.
Competition from the railways led to a decline in trade and when the Montgomery breached its banks near Perry in 1936, isolating it from the rest of the system, the cost of repairs vastly exceeded the annual revenue and it was abandoned. Legal abandonment followed in 1944. The line from Llangollen to Hurleston become known as the main line of the Llangollen Canal, with the derelict Montgomery perceived as merely a spur off it at Welsh Frankton.
In the 1960s plans to build a superhighway on the bed led to the 'Big Dig' targeted restoration event at Welshpool and the focus of efforts to reclaim the waterway. The Montgomery Canal, once hopelessly lost, is being restored and in excess of half of the line has been reinstated in various sections with a view to eventual full restoration.
Two sections of the canal are currently open to navigation. The canal has been restored from its northern end - the junction with the Llangollen Canal at Welsh Frankton - south through Frankton and Aston Locks. There are then extensive dry sections and some road blockages around Llanymynech and Pant. Continuing south, Carreghofa Locks have been restored but are currently a short isolated length.
The canal is then navigable for an 11-mile section around the town of Welshpool. The southernmost few miles, into Newtown, have many obstacles to restoration but local enthusiasm has given new impetus to the proposals to restore this final section.