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Birthday greetings to a Welsh waterway

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Rachael Garside Rachael Garside | 13:25 UK time, Wednesday, 22 February 2012

It may seem that I'm becoming slightly obsessed with canals at the moment, but I'd just like to take this opportunity to wish the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal a very happy birthday.

Monmouth and Brecon canal

Monmouth and Brecon canal

A whole year's worth of events marking the celebrations began on 10 February, 200 years to the day when the canal was first officially opened.

The waterway was origianally built between 1792 and 1812 to link Brecon with Newport and the Severn Estuary. It was an industrial corridor for coal and iron, when the Welsh coalfields were supplying fuel to the rest of the world.

These days, you're more likely to see pleasure boats and anglers on the water, with cyclists riding along the towpaths.

The ceremonial bell

The ceremonial bell

Church bells rang out along the route of the canal to launch the start of celebrations from the Pontymoile Basin near Pontypool and I was there to witness the official ceremonial bell being rung by Robin Herbert, great great grandson of Benjamin Hall.

He was a member of three industrial families (the Hall, Herbert and Crawshay families) who owned iron foundries and tramways in South Wales back in 1812. Benjamin Hall also achieved unexpected immortality by giving the name of 'Big Ben' to the bell inside the clock tower in the Houses of Parliament in 1857. He became Lord Lieutenant of Monmouthshire in 1861.

Today, the canal runs for almost its entire 35 mile route within the Brecon Beacons National Park, following the tree lined course of the River Usk. Mark Robinson an ecologist with British Waterways told me that despite its industrial heritage, the canal is now a haven for wildlife including wildflowers, kingfishers herons, dragonflies and butterflies, mallards and moorhens.

Events later this year include the launch of a new beer made locally at the Brecon Brewery. On 31 March the dark ale called Canal Porter will be delivered by horse-drawn dray and narrow boat to the various pubs along the canal's route. Buster Grant the head brewer showed me around the brewery but sadly I couldn't try the new brew because it's not quite ready yet!

You can hear more of the celebrations marking the canal's bicentennial on this week's Country Focus which is still available on the BBC Wales iPlayer.

For more information about celebrations this year along the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, visit www.breconbeacons.org.

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