A wealth of wildlife - and an important piece of industrial archaeology.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Canal tow path
Landscape Mixed farmland, canal-side on edge of Tiverton
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 114 Exeter & the Exe Valley
Start/finish SX 998131
Dog friendliness Keep dogs under control while in country park
Parking Parking and picnic area at Tiverton Road Bridge
Public toilets Grand Western Canal Basin
1 There are plenty of parking spaces at the Tiverton Road Bridge, and an attractive picnic area in the bend of the canal, on the site of one of the wharves where stone was unloaded and crushed for use in road-making. Park here and walk over the sandstone bridge, then left to join the canal. Turn left under the bridge (the canal will be to your right). Many of the bridges display mason's marks, and there are some here: the stonemasons marked their work so that poor work could be traced to the right culprit!
2 This section of the canal and tow path is extremely pretty. The water is edged with a broad band of white waterlilies, and you will see coots, moorhens and mallards. Typical flowers include hemp agrimony, arrowhead, cuckoo flower and yellow iris. As you leave the road behind you are likely to see a heron and, if you're lucky, a kingfisher.
3 Cross the canal at Crownhill (or Change Path) Bridge, where there's another picnic area. Turn left and continue along the tow path. The canal runs over an aqueduct, built in 1847, 40ft (12m) above the now dismantled Tiverton-to-Tiverton Junction line. Just past the aqueduct there are glorious views left across farmland towards the Blackdown Hills. The path continues to East Manley Bridge, Manley Bridge and Warnicombe Bridge, where there are glorious willows, oak, ash and beech trees. You may well see a brightly painted horse-drawn barge here; the Grand Western Horseboat Company operates trips along the canal from March to December.
4 There is a milestone just before the next bridge, Tidcombe Bridge, though its inscription is now indecipherable. As the edge of Tiverton is reached, neat gardens front the water's edge. The tow path passes under a modern footbridge, then an old stone bridge pier on the opposite bank, still showing the grooves for a stop-gate. This would have been used to seal off part of the canal in times of emergency or when repairs were needed to this section. The canal basin is reached after 2½ miles (4km) of pleasant, gentle walking - and it's pretty easy to find your way home!
Just a few miles west of Junction 27 on the busy M5 lies another world. The Grand Western Canal, built between 1810 and 1814 and never completed, provides the opportunity for a really lovely, easy afternoon stroll just to the east of Tiverton. Now run as a country park, the reed-fringed tow path along this stretch of canal (the whole being just over 11 miles/ 18km long) invites you to walk to the canal basin in Tiverton.
The original plan, formulated by James Brindley in 1768, was for a canal system that would link Bristol to Exeter. In 1796 an Act of Parliament was obtained for the building of the Grand Western Canal, to run from Topsham (south of Exeter) to Taunton, with three branches - to Cullompton, Tiverton and Wellington. But due to the Napoleonic Wars the scheme was dropped until 1810, when the route was re-surveyed by John Rennie, and work began. The section from Lowdwells to Tiverton opened in 1814, at a cost of over £220,000. The section from Taunton to Lowdwells opened in 1838, but was never profitable and closed in 1869. The development of the railway system in the area in the mid-19th century heralded an end to the commercial use of the canal, which became used primarily by barges conveying limestone from the quarries at Westleigh. These travelled to the Tiverton Basin where the limestone was processed in lime kilns, which can still be seen today, to be transported away by road. Operations only finally stopped in 1924. Wharves and lime kilns can also be seen south of Waytown Tunnel at Lowdwells to the north.
The Canal Tea Room & Gardens, a listed 16th-century cottage (now the only one in Tiverton) and pretty garden (complete with water features), is situated to the right of the canal basin as you approach it on this walk. Open every day from 10am to 6pm it is licensed, the food is excellent, and you can be assured of a warm welcome. Ice creams are also sold here. Refreshments are available at the canal basin itself; there is an information kiosk, also selling gifts, and a barge - 'Teas Afloat' - moored in the basin. The Barge Inn can be found on the A361 at Holbeton towards Sampford Peverell.
Along the canal you'll see signs asking for information about sightings of water voles, whose numbers have fallen dramatically in recent years as a result of predation and a reduction in suitable habitats. This little dark brown V-shaped vole, the largest of the British voles at 8in (20cm) plus its tail, is sometimes called the water rat, and is perhaps best known through the adventures of Toad, Mole and Ratty in Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows.