Page last updated at 09:42 GMT, Sunday, 19 July 2009 10:42 UK

Volunteers unlock canal heritage

Volunteers work on a lock wall
Work includes repointing the lock walls with lime mortar

A section of a canal is being restored to make it navigable in time for a national waterways event next year.

The Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal is to host the inland waterways trailboat festival in May 2010, at Newport.

Volunteers are working at Bettws Lane Lock and Ty Ffynnon Lock, both in Newport.

They have been putting in slipways and mooring posts, as well as learning "heritage skills" to re-point lock walls with lime mortar.

The section is not navigable but the Waterway Recovery Group (WRG) and the Monmouthshire, Brecon & Abergavenny Canals Trust hope work by their volunteers over the next months will enable this section to be used for the Welsh Waterways Festival.

The festival will be sited at Kimberley Park at Malpas, with visitors able to use more than two miles (3.2km) of open water canal.

Chartered mechanical engineer Robert Daffern is coordinating a WRG "canal camp" of around 15 volunteers which began on Sunday.

Volunteers work on a lock wall
Canal camps aim to give volunteers new skills while helping the enviroment

He said: "Some love getting in the mud and getting dirty. There's plenty of that for them.

"Others like to do the detailed work, stonework, pointing and painting, with some construction and demolition.

'Safe and useable'

"The idea is to maximise the amount of canal available for next year's national trailboat festival in the summer.

"If we can come to what was a derelict lock and, after a number of canal camps, leave it a safe and useable lock, then that's the driver, really."

The waterway opened in 2005 for the first time in 60 years, after a three-year restoration project.

In October 2007 a breach in the canal led to a 16-mile stretch being drained for an 18-month £8.5m repair project.

Dating back to the 1790s, the Monmouthshire stretch reached into Newport, linking the canal system with 200 miles (332km) of horse-drawn tram roads to carry coal, iron and limestone.

But by 1910, trade had virtually ceased on the canal. In the 1950s a campaign was launched to restore the waterway, and in 1970 the canal from Brecon to Pontymoile was reopened.

The canal is now entirely navigable for 35 miles (56km), from Brecon all the way to Five Locks at Cwmbran.

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