Ian Wright and his friend Pendry are canoeing up the Swansea Canal on Tuesday, April the 19th, 1949. It is no pleasure jaunt for the canal is in almost terminal decline. The newly formed Inland Waterways Association are intent on saving as much as they can of the canal network while the British Transport Commission who own the canals see only an economic liability that requires radical pruning. With limited resources the Inland Waterways Association must decide where to focus their efforts.
Ian Wright, who lives just a mile from the Glamorganshire Canal in Cardiff is fired with enthusiasm. He has joined the IWA, bought himself a 17 foot canoe which he has named, ‘CHESWARDINE’, and set out, as he says,’to explore all the South Wales waterways that still had water in them’. The report of this canoe journey from Morriston to Ystradgynlais (‘maybe the last ever voyager up the Swansea Canal’ he wrote ruefully in 1977) which he will deliver to the IWA will be crucial to the future of the Swansea Canal.
By ten thirty on the morning of the 19th he and Pendry have reached the Mond Nickel works in Clydach. It is not a pretty sight. ‘The far bank of the canal’, he says,’was devoid of vegetation for about half a mile because of the vitriol-laden atmosphere’. When they pass the now grade 2 listed admin offices of the company, they have to manhandle their canoe to get it over the the main Pontardawe Road and round the derelict Clydach Lock.
They are forced to do the same at the next lock (still, in 2014, intact under concrete in ‘the piped section’) where in a rather hopeful sign for our future energy needs they find ‘water passing over the waste weir of this lock being used to generate electricity.’
They now at a last hit some green countryside.’Pleasant thinly wooded country’, Wright describes it as. They are passing what is now Coed Gwilym Park where the canal ‘follows closely the River Tawe’. ‘Cheswardine’ has a mile of unimpeded progress to the Trebanos Locks.
Once past these two wonderful locks, Wright says that the ‘the canal narrowed considerably’. No change there, then. They then hit what is now the 880 yard piped section which we hope one day to restore to its former glory. In 1949, houses clung to the steep slope and Wright’s canoe was hemmed in between the ‘high bank and a lengthy ridge of slag’ (now the Pontardawe playing fields!). The view they had of Pontardawe is now sadly diminished. ‘Ahead of us’, Wright says, ‘was Pontardawe bottom lock, gaunt and well colonised with alder and beyond it was the tall, elegant spire of the parish church’. Today, only St. Peter’s church remains.
(To Be Continued)
The black and white photos are from the Gareth Mills collection.
My thanks to Clive Reed for permission to quote from Ian Wright’s report.