HISTORY is never more than a footstep away on a walk alongside the old Montgomery Canal.

Relics of a bygone age and remnants of the long closed canal remain and stand in stark contrast to the undulating beauty of the Severn river which runs alongside.

Despite long being closed off from the rest of the canal network the stretch of canal from Newtown to Abermule remains as a testament to its past with long abandoned buildings and bridges which were once part of the vital trade route.

It is not hard to imagine the route being a hive of industry as it carried lime, coal and stone into the Severn Valley from Shropshire which had been one of the main objectives of the Montgomery Canal committee following its establishment at Welshpool's Royal Oak in 1792 with the Montgomeryshire Canal Act passed two years later.

The committee had sought to remedy the great problem of their age with the farming soil needing lime to improve crop yield while stone was needed to improve roads in the region.

The canal in Llanymynech. Picture: Geograph.

The canal in Llanymynech. Picture: Geograph.

By February 1796, parts of the canal were completed and the first boat, named the Royal Montgomery, was launched into the canal near Welshpool amidst great celebrations.

The first stretch, between Llanymynech and Garthmyl was completed in 1798 before the link to Newtown was established in 1819 with works delayed by the Napoleonic Wars.

At Carreghofa Locks near Llanymynech, the Montgomeryshire Canal connected to the Llanymynech Branch of the Ellesmere Canal.

The western branch of the Montgomeryshire Canal was opened on March 1st, 1819, mainly through the energy and generosity of William Pugh of Kerry and who had played a key role in the development of Newtown as a hub of the woollen trade.

The canal between Newtown and Abermule. Picture: CB Photography.

The canal between Newtown and Abermule. Picture: CB Photography.

It descended through six locks from Newtown and was supplied with water from the River Severn by a 24 foot water wheel and a backup steam engine. An additional supply came from a weir and feeder at Penarth

By now Montgomeryshire was linked to the rest of British canal network for the first time and the canals played a key role in the development of towns and villages which lay alongside its route.

About the year 1851 a passenger traffic was established on the canal with boats running from Newtown to Rednal but as this resulted in a considerable loss to the company with damage was caused to the banks of the canal by the wash from the boats and was abandoned after a year or two.

The Vyrnwy Viaduct. Picture by Chris Heaton.

The Vyrnwy Viaduct. Picture by Chris Heaton.

Canal traffic lost much of its importance on the introduction of railroads, and few canals could now be worked at remunerative rates in competition with the quicker and more direct steam engine.

In 1850 the Montgomeryshire Canal was sold to the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company and then the Great Western Railway built the Oswestry and Newtown Railway which was completed in June 1861.

Canals and the emerging railway network lived side by side for the remainder of the 19th century.

However a number of breaches had led to the demise of the canal which fell into disuse following a breach in 1936 and was officially abandoned in 1944.

The act of abandonment allowed bridges to be lowered although none of the route of the canal was sold at that time. The Transport Act 1947 resulted in the nationalisation of the railways and canals with control of the Montgomery Canal passing to the British Transport Commission in 1948 and ultimately to British Waterways in 1963 following the passing of the Transport Act 1962.

Newtowns old pump house. Picture by Henry Spooner/Wikipedia.

Newtown's old pump house. Picture by Henry Spooner/Wikipedia.

The Transport Act of 1968 classified the Montgomery Canal as a Remainder Waterway and the final two miles to Newtown were sold.

However ever since its closure efforts have been made to bring it back into use.

Since 1969 the canal has been gradually restored for use by pleasure boaters, including Welshpool.

Welshpool Lock. Picture: Wikicommons.

Welshpool Lock. Picture: Wikicommons.

In some places, the canal has been filled in, roads have been built over the channel, bridges have been lowered and infrastructure such as pipes and manhole covers have been built in the canal bed presenting several obstacles to restoration.

The end section from Freestone Lock to Newtown is dry and no longer in Canal and River Trust ownership.

The towpath of almost all the canal is used as a footpath and popular among walkers and cyclists.

The section between Pool Quay Lock and Newtown forms part of the Severn Way while shorter sections south of Llanymynech and Pool Quay are followed by the Offa's Dyke Path.