Canal bicentenary closing celebrations a blaze of glory thanks to ‘Lighting up the Canal’

More than 500 people came to Brecon’s Canal Basin to float their handmade lanterns on the water to ‘Light up the Canal’, while a life-size, walking, lantern shire horse and swimming lantern swans brought the event to life.  Incredible fire sculptures and street performers added even more colour to the event, while the sounds of Samba Brecon and live folk groups entertained the captivated audience.

The celebrations started at 17:00 with families visiting Theatr Brycheiniog to make lanterns, which were added to the floating lantern creations made by local residents at a series of workshops held in Crickhowell, Llangattock, Llangynidr, Talybont-on-Usk, Pencelli, Llanfrynach and Brecon in recent weeks.

The eye-catching ‘Lighting up the Canal’ showpiece provided a fitting end to a year of events marking the canal’s 200th birthday, and officially got underway when a peal of bells arrived in Brecon at 18:00 having been taken up from church to church all the way from Pontymoile Basin.

The event was funded by Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority’s Rural Alliances project and Powys County Council, and run in collaboration with Theatr Brycheiniog, Arts Alive and the Canal & River Trust.

Carol Williams, Tourism Growth Area Project Officer for Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority, said: “Members of communities between Crickhowell and Brecon had been learning new skills to make lanterns, and they brought the lanterns along on the day to parade.  There was a real sense of pride as people braved the cold to take part in the celebrations.”

Bannau Brycheiniog National Park Authority Member and Brecon Mayor Paul Ashton, said: “I was really impressed with how spectacular the ‘Lighting up the Canal’ event was. To see a life-size shire horse making a grand entrance, glowing in the darkness, is an experience I’m sure no-one will forget. Hopefully the story of these celebrations will be passed on down the generations, and with a bit of luck, residents here will plan something similarly inspiring to mark the canal’s 400th anniversary in 200 years’ time.”

Justine Wheatley, Director of Arts Alive Wales, said: “’Lighting up the Canal’ was a wonderful evening with so many special elements including Brecon’s Samba band, live folk music, the Ice Queen stilt walker, and the incredible turn out of families parading with their own lantern creations.  

“But I think for most people the highlight of ‘Lighting up the Canal’ was the stunning life-size birds and animals seen from across the canal basin by a packed audience of local canal-side community members standing outside the theatre and along the bridge.”

David Morgan from Canal & River Trust in Wales said: “’Lighting up the Canal’ was a spectacular finale to the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal bicentenary celebration. The canal is a community asset, and these Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal 200 events have been a great way for canal-side communities to come together to celebrate their local canal.” 

The ‘Lighting up the Canal’ ceremony was the final chapter in a year packed full of events to mark the bicentenary of the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. Festivities began in February with a peal of bells being rung at 30 churches along the 49-mile canal – recreating the original opening of the waterway back in 1812,  while a ‘Beacons to the Sea’ beer and special ‘Canalman’s Lunch’ ploughman’s sandwich were commissioned as a tasty way to commemorate the waterway’s 200th birthday. Other celebratory events held over the course of the year include photographic exhibitions, family events, guided walks, charity cycles and a Canal Dog of the Year competition searching for the most photographic canines posing next to, in, or on the canal.