Swansea Canal

from Ystalyfera to Pontardawe

Photos taken March 2001

Unless otherwise noted, all photos on this website were taken by Venita.*

Many thanks to my 'editor' John Ball, without whose help the information on these pages would be full of errors!


On a chilly March morning, I walked with a friend along the tow-path alongside the Swansea Canal, beginning near Ystalyfera and ending about four miles to the southwest in Pontardawe, Glamorgan. Here the canal water is diverted into the River Tawe. The canal channel disappears for about a quarter mile, then continues to the southern edge of Clydach before finally disappearing under more recent constructions.

This canal is one of several built in Wales in the late 1700s to provide transport of ores and other supplies in support of the burgeoning mining industries. Their use slowly declined with the coming of railway systems, but many were still in use commercially as late as the 1930s.

Canal 01

Above: Near Ystalyfera, the canal becomes a quiet woodland stream reflecting the bright blue sky through the leafless branches overhead.

Canal 07

Above: This old ivy-wrapped oak tree by the narrow path was probably witness to many scenes of a narrow, horse drawn barge being towed along here. The horse would have been unhitched at tunnels or low bridges. The horse then walked around the impediment while the "bargee" moved the barge through the opening by lying on his back on top of the barge or load and "walking" his feet along the "ceiling" of the passageway. The horse waited for the bargee on the other side where it was put back into the harness and the trip continued.

Canal 24 Left: These sunken remains, overgrown with weeds, show that barges were long and narrow. The canal was just wide enough to allow two barges to pass each other.

Right: This "half-a-barge," left on the canal bank, indicates the width, depth and prow design of a typical barge. Canal 25

Below: Near Pontardawe the canal becomes wider and the path is well maintained. Notice where the path goes under the bridge - there is only enough room for one barge at a time to go through.

Canal 16 Canal 17

Below: A system of locks was used along the canal to allow barges to go up and down hills. Some remains of them are still in evidence.

Left: A "key" was used to operate the sluice gate (the dam under the water overflow seen here) which controlled the flow of water into and out of the lock. A key (handle) was inserted into the opening of a device such as the one pictured. The lock-keeper then wound the gate up or down allowing the water to flow or to stop the flow. When the water level was the same on both sides of the lock gates, they could be pushed open with a long lever attached to the gate. Otherwise, the pressure of the water kept the gates closed.
Right: Steps rise from the bottom level of a lock to the top. Notice the narrow passageway, wide enough for only one barge at a time.

Canal 18
Canal 19

Canal 22

Above: Small cottages/offices, such as this one, were built to shelter the lock-keeper. When a barge arrived, he would tend the horse and manage the sluice and lock gates while the bargee carefully piloted his craft through. The horse probably enjoyed the chance to rest, get a drink of water and perhaps munch a bucket of oats. For the rest of the walk, please turn to Page 2.


*Unless otherwise noted, all photos on this website were taken by Venita who also holds the copyright. Should you wish to download any of them for any purpose (other than your own enjoyment), please credit Venita as the photographer and add my homepage URL: http://www.venitap.com/home.html

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