Torfaen Waterworks

Waterworks is a heritage lottery funded project to restore 1.5km (1 Mile) stretch of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, in Llantarnam, South Cwmbran. The project is for three years initially from 2012-2015. Within the 1.5km section of restoration there are eight lock chambers to restore a well as a number of listed bridges and pounds.

The project is a partnership between Torfaen County Borough Council and the Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canal Trust and involves a number of training organisations including Coleg Gwent, Torfaen Training, ITEC Training and Rathborne. The Canal restoration project is led by community volunteers and provides training in canal restoration and heritage skills to help sustain the canal in the future.

In March 2014, volunteers at the Torfaen Waterworks restoration project enjoyed three workshops with local poet Ric Hool.

Workshops explored the local environment, tools of restoration works and emotions related to working in the local environment.


The Canal
A canal is a motorway of water
During holiday times
With families swapping land-lives
For a few weeks on the water

Canal Life
A small brown bird balances on a reed
That spikes the sky
A neon flash is a kingfisher
Spearing minnows
A canal, where Nature meets engineering

Canal Speed
There is a place
A country lane of water
Where joggers on the tow path
And narrow boats on the canal
Move at the same easy pace

The Works
Digger driving
Mud working
Making tea
Wood working
Rain working
Making tea
Stone working
Making more tea
More mud
Going home

Canal Locks
Locks are
Thunderous waterfalls
Watery prisons
Boat lifts
Watery puzzles
Making sure
The canal works

Canal Quietness
Narrow boats move
Like thoughts over water
Sewing themselves under humped-backed bridges
That cast a reflected eye onto the canal
As each boat chugs past

Lump Hammer
It’s square-ended
Heavier than a claw

It dresses stone with a sound
Like throwing pebbles at a wall

Each strike one big vibration

Put on the protective gear
Jacket, trousers and gloves
Five times tougher than leather

Choke on
Yank the starting cord
Until it kicks in
Then, half-choke only

It buzzes like a 50 cc motorbike
Vibrations tingling my arm
And I feel like a king
Doing an important thing

It’s not a place for water sports
It’s more of a place for water thought
It’s a country lane of quietness
A bathing pool for moorhens
And mallards afloat
With sleepy heads under wings
It’s not a place for football crowds
It’s not a place for shouting aloud
It’s a slice of peacefulness
It’s a canal


From A to B

Started here late
August early

The first day
Got along
With everyone

Not something
I’m particularly good at
– meeting people

Learned awesome things
Mixing mortar
Block pointing

This is my chance
To return full-handed
With a Constructions Skills Certificate card
To work once more
With my dad
Canal Autumn

It’s autumn
The mist is sitting on the water as the dawn breaks
The birds are singing high above
and the ducks are foraging in the water
A squirrel runs across my path

The sun emerges
Flashes of colour highlighted against the sky
Red, gold, brown leaves rustling as I walk
A buzzard whistles overhead searching foe prey
A cyclist sails by on his way to work

It will be exhausting
Trudging through mud raking out weeds,
cleaning, pointing and rebuilding stonework
I will get filthy and smelly
but this is where I work.
What a joy!


Early morning
mist rising
birds singing
ducks swimming
dawn is breaking
all is tranquil down on the canal

boys are gathering
kettle’s on
mixers churning
diggers moving
tool assembling
noise rising down on the canal

work commences
hammers thwacking
stones cracking
mortar bonding
walls emerging
job progressing down on the canal

time to clean up
tools away
tired and filthy
bones aching
back breaking
exhausting day down on the canal

Canal Storm

It won’t be shorts and T shirt today
Lots of them
That’s what’s needed
We look like Michelin men
in bright yellow suits
Helmets on
and gloves
Don’t forget the safety goggles

A cry goes out
Someone’s stuck in the mud
One or two go to help
but the rest just look on
We’ve all been there
Muddy foot back in the boot
Nothing to hold on to
while you ease your foot free
Tricky business

The battle begins
Duelling chainsaws chop away
Down they fall
Now the hackers start
they cut off every limb
Then the loppers take their turn
Thrashed to pieces
the remains are thrown onto the fire
Only the large blocks are saved
To die another day

It’s getting dark
The mountains have disappeared
Prepare yourselves
Wind whipping up
Large pellets battering down
The fire roars back
Flames leap into the air
Anger raging at the storm

Time to shelter
Race to the cabin
Kettle on
Tea all round
Did anyone collect the spuds?
Wrapped in their silver coats
We undress them
A bedraggled group huddled together
seeking refuge from the squall

Respite comes
The storm abates
Return to combat
The fire has waned
but fights back as new morsels arrive
Saw, cut, chop, burn
the skirmish continues
but it’s getting late
We’ll not reach our target today

Time to retreat
Mud-spattered faces
Gloves soaked and torn
Scars of battle embedded in our hands
Yellow suits now black
We return home
Aching and sore
But we’ll return to battle again tomorrow