Our 5 days canaling in Wales on our Beacon Park narrowboat was a phenomenal experience. If you are looking for a great opportunity to completely unplug from the stresses of modern day life, look no further than engaging this floating, rural countryside adventure. I've gone from narrowboat newbie to die hard fan. I can't recommend journeying on the Mon-Brec canal enough! The canal meanders through incredibly beautiful rural countryside with constantly changing terrain--rolling hills, farms, charming villages, amazing wildlife, and more -- and all at a pace of 2.5 mph--which requires slowing down, relaxing and enjoying life in the present moment. Being able to moor up and watch England win in the quarter finals at a local pub wasn't half-bad either : )
Beacon Park Boats has truly superior customer service. Their narrowboats spare little luxury and are immaculately clean. And the staff are some of the most knowledgeable, friendly, and instructive I have ever come across, Superior in every way--from brochures to phone contacts to in-person interactions--always professional, helpful, warm and attentive. Upon our return, even Sarah--one of the owners--found time to talk to us, inquire about our journey and provide us with interesting information about the history of the canals. One of the best customer service experiences we have ever had in any industry, anywhere. Bravo Beacon Boats--you'll be seeing us again...very soon!
My wife and I, aged 75 and 81 respectively, are now back at home after one of the most enjoyable holidays we have had together. We had a week with two old friends of similar ages, cruising part of the Brecon and Monmouth Canal in Wales – which is generally recognised as one of the most scenic and tranquil in the UK.
The canal was designed and built over the period 1792 to 1812 to enable coal, iron ore, iron, limestone and agricultural products to be moved between the mines, factories, farms and Monmouth port through the mountainous region by horse dawn barges. It is unusual in being a contour canal which follows a mainly constant elevation through the various valleys on the sides of the mountains alongside the river Usk. It has many viaducts, one tunnel and only 6 locks, during its 33 mile overall length. We travelled only 15 miles of this in two directions, making our cruise a total of 30 miles in the 7 days. The weather for the whole week was fantastic with almost constant sunshine and 25C by day without any rain or wind.
My wife had been dreading the holiday – unlike me and my mate Gareth and his wife Sue, she has not done a canal holiday before and was concerned that me and Gareth – both 81 years old – would either get drunk and fall into the canal – or have a heart attack working the locks. The locks are hard work for a wrinkly – but we took our time and managed them easily.
However – she and Sue really enjoyed it. They sat at the front of the luxurious boat as we gently cruised through beautiful countryside knitting and nattering – the hardest work for them was to keep us guys well provided with drinks and nibbles.
We picked up the boat at Llangatock – the base for Beacon Park Boats who are rightfully recognised as having the best boats on the canal. They are truly 5 star in every respect, the boats are superb, the staff could not do enough for you and the boathouse is centrally located to enable you to choose a lock free holiday going South or to visit Brecon to the North which takes you through a few locks and tunnel on the way. Osprey, our boat, is 18.4 metres long and 2.3 metres wide weighing about 16 tons. It has a 50 hp diesel engine, bow thrusters, a fully fitted galley, lounge area and two en-suite bedrooms with king size beds.
We had planned our daily schedule with military precision, but it all went pear shaped after our first night .
I awoke the following morning at 4:30 and decided to have a walk along the canal towpath. After walking about half a mile, I came across a canal blockage – a tree had fallen across the canal. It would be impossible to continue the journey until it was removed – you can’t turn an 18 metre long boat in an 8 metre wide canal. I phoned the Canal & River Trust emergency line to summon their action team based 50 miles away in the Forest of Dean, who were significantly delayed getting to the canal because in was Sunday, there was a bicycle race in the Llanfoist area, and the main road was closed with no diversion possible. They didn’t reach us until about 4:00 pm and it took 3 hours to clear the blockage, hence we were not able to travel further the whole day.
The bridges along the canal are very narrow and most are quite low. Some are on a sharp bend making it very difficult – boats without bow thrusters have to be “poled” around the bends by the boat crew who push the bow and stern sideways with long poles. Our crew were too old and decrepit to push a 16 ton 18 metre boat sideways which is why we chose a boat fitted with bow thrusters.
The boats have a large fresh water storage tank mounted in the bow. Four people having a daily shower, plus the other water used in the toilets and kitchen will virtually empty it in a day and we had to stop at a canal side water tap and fill it each evening. It took about 45 minutes to fill the tank each time.
We travelled through 5 locks and a tunnel to our destination turning point at Talybont and through the same locks on the return journey. The locks are only 19.8 metres long and 2.7 metres wide and elevate the canal a total of 21 metres. When the lock paddles are opened to let water in or out, the water in the lock surges under the boat and moves it fore and aft constantly. The helmsman has to keep the boat clear of the gates at each end and it proved to be a battle because our boat virtually filled the lock and you were constantly moving the throttle forward and aft to try and keep it clear at both ends.
The maximum speed allowed on the canal is 4 kph – but we were in no hurry and cruised at half that, stopping off at canal-side pubs along the way for a drink or three and a snack at lunch time.
We only had restaurant meals twice – one being on the Wednesday evening so my mate could watch the footie and see England lose (again). It was worth it though, the meals were superb. The Coach and Horses is worth a visit.
On the other evenings the catering was done on the boat by the ladies – except for one night when we had a barbecue which is a man’s job. We had taken with us a couple of the instant charcoal barbecues and a wire stand which performed quite well – I had never used one before.
It was a fascinating trip and we met many lovely people. It’s strange – you say hello and have a brief chat with the people on passing boats or who are walking the towpath who you would walk past and ignore if you met them elsewhere. The canal seems to be a catalyst for relaxing people and making them more sociable.
I would love to do a canal trip again – but time marches on and I recognise that as aging bites deeper – it is time to enjoy holidays where we are waited on and do nothing but chill out.
For the fit and adventurous - we highly recommend a cruise of the Brecon/monmouth canal. Especially if you hire from Beacon Park Boats who did us proud
We just spent four nights on Owl, and it was just as wonderful an experience the second time as the first. The new wharf is gorgeous and easy to get to. The walk- through was comprehensive, and any follow up questions we had could be easily answered in the well organized binder on board. All of these boats are fantastic, and we had lots of fun passing other Beacon Park boats, marvelling at their amenities, and greeting the fellow boaters. This area is beautiful and I would return every year if I could. In particular on Owl, the hot tub is fantastic after a day of walking, and the bathroom is compact but very comfortable and functional (as was the kitchen). Oh, and the bed! It was first-rate. It's been 3 years since our last stay, and were were pleased at how well-maintained the boat was, considering how many people have probably been on it since the first time.
Do the locks. It may seem daunting but once you get the hang of it, it's a fun experience and you can impress your friends with the stories afterward. There were usually volunteers in bright vests at the locks to help you out of you felt uncertain. No other experience compares to filling up that lock and leaning against the gate until it finally starts its slow move. Super-cool. Also, the tunnel is not to be missed.
The only negatives were things entirely out of Beacon Park's control. We were there in a heat wave and the water level seemed lower than in May 2015, so we had to get unstuck more than last time (with the poles or sometimes the bow thrusters). Whatever municipal entity is in charge of such things really should dredge the canal at some point; I imagine it's an expensive and complicated process but it would greatly improve the experience. We look forward to coming back when we can!
My first canal holiday was in 1984 and I have no doubt that “Kestrel” from Beacon Park Boats is the best presented boat I have ever hired. Cleanliness, attention to detail, comprehensively equipped – my expectations were fully met. Touches such as the gloriously blooming geraniums at the bow and the pot of herbs at the stern simply added to our delight.
The “Mon & Brec” canal is a joy – beautiful scenery, relatively quiet, pubs with good food – yet quite challenging in a wide-beam boat. The bow thrusters – a first for me – made tight bends easy.
Beacon Park Boats made the whole experience a delight. Booking, pre-holiday information, on-board handover, seven days on the canal, and the final hand-back were all handled smoothly and efficiently.
Top marks – if we decide to return to the “Mon & Brec” then it will be with Beacon Park Boats.
Over the years I have hired many boats and Beacon Park Boats are probably the best I've ever hired. Clean, well maintained and well equipped. The canal is beautiful with enough challenge to make it interesting. Brilliant holiday, I would do it again.
We have just completed our 4th holiday with Beacon Park Boats and, once again, we have been hugely impressed with the level of service and attention to detail. I cannot fault the presentation of the Narrowboat we hired and all the staff at the Marina are helpful and knowledgeable. All consumables provided were sufficient even though we were on a 2 week trip.
The 'Mon & Brec' is a beautiful canal which winds round the foothills of the Brecon Beacons at an elevation of around 400 ft. The scenery is constantly changing between leafy canopies and glorious views of the mountains, and is a place to completely wind down nearly to a stop
Nicest canal boat we have ever been on, amazing service. On arrival and throughout. These people know how to do it all well. This canal was much less busy than others I have been on which was so much nicer, lovely views and meals out are some of the best pub meals I have ever had. 100% recommend this company. Extremely professional.