Tucked away in the Brecon Beacons lies a waterway known as the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal that meanders along the contours of the Usk valley. The canal is navigable for 35 miles and provides some stunning vistas along the way.
Prior to our little adventure on the Mon & Brec, I had tried to find out which parts of the canal might be the most photogenic, but I was unable to find any information that was useful to me from a photographic point of view, so this blog is my personal opinion of the locations on the Mon & Brec canal that I personally think were some of the best parts of our trip, together with the photography kit I took and used along the way.
We hired a 57-foot Narrow boat from Beacon Park Boats who have their base near Crickhowell. https://beaconparkboats.com Crickhowell is roughly half way between the Brecon end of the canal and Pontypool end. We decided to head along Brecon stretch of the canal first as it offered locks, swing bridges and the Brynich Aquaduct.
By the time we had received our narrow boat induction and had loaded our kit on to Heron, our narrow boat, we had roughly two to three hours cruising time before we would need to moor up for the night and as this was our first narrow boat trip with a 57 foot boat, getting used to how it handled meant ensuring we headed for a suitable place to dock for the night.
On our second day we headed for Talybont On Usk passing through Ashford Tunnel and the series of Coombes locks which provide good photographic opportunities and some great vistas too. We moored up just before the last lock on our return journey as this was a great location for photographs.
Talybont On Usk has good mooring access with two water points to fill up your tank and there are various walks you can do from Talybont On Usk. We decided to walk up to the reservoir via the old tram road (Bryn Oer) There are some spectacular views in the Talybont On Usk area even when it’s raining, which it did intermittently during our stay here, but photographically it’s a good location and serves as a great base for a day or two.
On Day three we decided to head for Brecon. Heading towards Pencelli, the canal feels like you are leaving the 21 century behind you, as you stop to wind up the swing bridges and pass through small stone arched bridges, whilst navigating the tight turns and try to stay in the middle of the canal so that you have enough water to proceed. In my opinion the stretch of Canal from Pencelli to Bryinch Bridge provides some of the most interesting scenery along the canal and we stopped a few times to take pictures and have a cup of tea.
Some of the tree lined sections of the canal between Pencelli to Bryinch Bridge provide various good photography opportunities, but if you want to take images of anything moving in these locations, you will need to either increase your ISO, or use flash. I tend to favour using flash, so I took a Godox AD200, Fresnel head and bare bulb head, a high-performance silver reflector (it acts like a long throw reflector at a fraction of the size) A Manfrotto Nano Plus Stand and a Godox S2 bracket, together with some CTS and CTO gels. I used a 24mm-70mm lens which worked well for my needs.
We moored in Brecon for the night and stocked up on a few items we needed at the local Morrisons and then retraced our journey back towards Crickhowell, so that we could venture along the other section of canal towards Govilon where we planned to turn the boat around and then return the boat on our last day.
Personally, I did not find the stretch of canal from Crickhowell to Govilon as interesting as the first stretch to Brecon, but it is still pretty in places, it just seems to start to get more built up and does not seem as rural or have the same character as the upper stretch of the canal.
Canal Photography Frustrations
One of the frustrations I encountered trying to photograph our canal journey was that the best morning light was from around 6.40am until about 7.40am. We were informed that for insurance purposes we could not use the boat to cruise until after 8am and not cruise in the dark, so taking any images of our narrow boat moving during these times was not possible.
Although I like to use flash in my photography, I do like to mix it with the ambient light. Some of the most photogenic tree lined parts of the canal restricted faster shutter speeds and without the use of flash or using a high ISO, the images would have been to dark, so it was all a balancing act light levels wise with moving subjects.
The Nano Stand Plus was a great piece of kit for a narrow boat as it packs down so well and combined with the Godox AD200 and the reflector I used. On reflection, I am really glad I took the above kit on the trip, the only frustration were finding suitable places to hop off and on the boat, together with trying to dial things in as the narrowboat approached as the sun would then either blast through the trees onto the boat, or the clouds would decide to cover what little light there was, but these little frustrations provided some good learning opportunities too.
Landscape Photography Opportunities
Fran and I did three walks during our trip along the Brecon & Monmoth Canal and the best of these three was the walk up to the disused Llangatwg Quarries along the Chwar Mawr edge towards Coedcae Uchaf Farm back to the canal. The vistas on this walk are stunning and the steep walk up is worth the effort and reward you will find for landscape photography opportunities.