Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The Coming of the King Part II: the Crumlin Arm

My children are half-Welsh, half-English. When they were young, we explored their West Country heritage extensively. Having a caravan in Devon helped. But apart from excursions to Big Pit and St Fagans, and a late-in-the-day weekend in Rhossili for a friend's 50th birthday, trips to Wales were limited to visiting my now late then in-laws.


To rectify this, Son the Younger and I have decided to combine walking our dogs with occasional explorations of his other, less familiar origins. This last weekend we decided to investigate some industrial history in Gwent by walking the northernmost end of the Crumlin Arm of the Monmouthshire canal, which was completed in 1799 ... about a seven mile round trip.
We parked a little above Fourteen Locks, also known as the Cefn Flight, and followed the canal as it curved around the foot of Twmbarlwm and Medart, overlooking the towns of Risca, Crosskeys and Pontywaun. 


The Crumlin Arm isn't navigable on this section, at least not by narrowboats or large craft. You could probably travel along it in a canoe or coracle, though.
Looking up the Ebbw valley towards Cwmcarn


I've got used to the bustle of the Kennet and Avon, so it felt strange to walk by such a deserted stretch of canal. It was beautiful, but considerably less interesting. 

What do you mean, deserted? There's us ...


... oh and a fairly consistent stream of cyclists, hawking like great dragonflies, their eyes a-dazzle, up and down the towpath. Not to mention other walkers. 


Oh and that pesky pupper tagging along with my boy, grumbled Ted. 




But I missed the narrowboats with their drifting smoke, the gangplanks, stacked logs and bikes on their roofs, the art being created and sold, the smiles and hugs, the camp coffee made with condensed milk ... OK, I'm getting a bit specific now. 


Crosskeys


Medart


Then we were in Pontywaun. Here the present canal ends, four miles short of Crumlin, its original terminus and the village that gave it its name.


The walk back seemed a lot quicker than the outbound leg, and the views were less spectacular, partly because the sun was getting very low on the horizon. 

Here, at last, there was a boat to be seen. 




Jackdaws scuttered overhead.




Stalactites


Almost back where we started there was a whirr of flame up the far side of the canal. A kingfisher! We watched as it perched for a while on a branch against a massive tree trunk, its feathers lit by the last of the sun. 

I remembered the last - and first - time I saw one, three years ago - again in early January, on the Kennet and Avon canal. I took it as a good omen for the coming year ... and broke my leg three weeks later. 





I didn't ascribe portent to this one. I just watched it and marvelled at how its folded wings made it look - fittingly - as if it were carrying its own small coracle on its back.


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