The Montgomery Canal restoration is now reaching a momentum not seen for many years. The only cross-border restoration, 60% of the canal has already been reopened for navigation: 7 miles in Shropshire connected to the Llangollen Canal and 12 miles centred on Welshpool in mid-Wales. All but the final section into Newtown is owned by CRT, nearly all is in water and nearly all the locks are restored. The challenge is to tackle the final 2 miles of dry canal in Shropshire and just over 5 miles from the border to the Welshpool section, in water but obstructed.
In Wales, significant work will be undertaken in 2023/24 by CRT for Powys County Council with Government Levelling Up and other funding. Two minor road-bridges near Llanymynech will be reinstated, one the notorious Williams Bridge which was the subject of a vigorous campaign against demolition in 1980. With other work including bank protection and dredging along the 4 miles from the border to the first major trunk road crossing at Maerdy, and planning for that crossing and the other crossing at Arddleen, this will remove many of the obstructions from the border towards Welshpool. The remaining obstacles are those two A483 road crossings – perhaps to be resolved by diversion or dropped locks/pounds – and the aqueduct over the River Vyrnwy, the biggest structure on the canal, which needs extensive repair. There is an opportunity for funding some of this work through an infrastructure programme from the governments in Cardiff and Westminster but, of course, funding is always highly competitive.
Levelling Up funding will also provide three new off-line nature reserves: these will be the Welsh equivalent of the new Shropshire reserves at Aston (by the A5), all essential features of restoration under the canal’s Conservation Management Strategy, which integrates habitat protection with restoration to navigation. Finally, there will also be much-needed repairs to the minor aqueduct at Aberbechan, north of Newtown, vital for water supply from the River Severn.
Near Newtown, it is hoped that 2023 will see a volunteer team caring for the derelict Dolfor Lock on a length recently acquired by Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust.
Volunteers of three CRT taskforces help with maintenance along the canal including the largest – nicknamed the TRAMPS – in the Welshpool area but with members regularly seen volunteering at other locations along the canal.
Near Oswestry, Shropshire Union Canal Society volunteers have completed the CRT/Lottery project to restore the canal to the new basin at Crickheath, which should be formally opened in 2023 to extend the Shropshire section. This was a tremendous effort by SUCS with nearly 100 work parties over seven (some Covid-affected) years, which included innovative engineering to overcome subsidence where the canal crosses an area of peat. The volunteer team immediately moved to the next section (also dried out) beyond Crickheath Bridge (No 85) which again has to be profiled and made waterproof.
The project to reconstruct Schoolhouse Bridge (No 86), the last highway obstruction in Shropshire, was severely affected by Covid and its effect on the construction industry. To the disappointment of the Restore the Montgomery Canal! team – a joint promotion by the Friends of the Montgomery Canal, Shropshire Union Canal Society, the local IWA branch and Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust – it proved impossible to manage the reconstruction as a volunteer project and arrangements are in hand to bring in contractors who should start in the spring of 2023. The bridge reconstruction involves closing the public road, excavating the present embankment, constructing the new bridge with flexi-arch segments and completing the road across the bridge for reopening. The work will be funded by the Restore the Montgomery Canal! appeal, which has been supported locally and across the country and has already raised more for the canal than any other volunteer-funded project on the restoration.
The appeal needs further funds to drive the restoration forward (particularly on the last 2 miles of dry canal in Shropshire, where there are the engineering solutions but not the cash!) and it is hoped that supporters will continue donations through localgiving.org/charity/restorethemontgomerycanal or by cheque (payable to Restore the Montgomery Canal!) to Tixall Lodge, Tixall, Stafford ST18 0XS. At the same time the Montgomery Canal Partnership, Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust and Shropshire Union Canal Society continue to work with Shropshire Council to seek funding for restoration to the border village of Llanymynech, the start of the Powys section to be reopened under that Levelling Up project.
The built heritage of the Montgomery Canal is one of its great assets and it is hoped that volunteers can review the 128 listed structures and others that survive in varying condition from the days when it was a working waterway.
Canal events for 2023 are the opening of the section to Crickheath, the reconstruction of the nearby Schoolhouse Bridge and, an important fundraiser, the popular Montgomery Canal Triathlon. Scheduled for 20th May 2023, the triathlon has had several formats since the first event in 2012: most recently, to accommodate restrictions of restoration works, it has been a special ‘marathon’ length of about 27 miles. With the project at Bridge No 86, this year’s event will be different again with a slightly longer 28½ miles and, as usual, entrants can take part in all or any of the three sections: by cycle, canoe and on foot: themontgomerycanal.org.uk/friends/montgomery-canal-triathlon.
Supporters of the Montgomery restoration are keen to show the benefits of the revived canal, which will be underlined by the activity of the next few years.