Photo: Cruising the repaired section of the Grand Western Canal 2014
The Grand Western is a canal of three parts: The summit section in Devon remains in water and enjoyed by many users; the Somerset tub-boat section is known mainly for its engineering heritage and artefacts, and the third section from Mid Devon to Topsham was never built, although recent historic research in Topsham has uncovered the planned entry point into the Exe.
Much of the ongoing work on the Devon summit is of a maintenance nature. However, a serious failure when a 15m high embankment at Halberton overtopped on 21st November 2012 resulted in a £1.5m reconstruction funded by owners Devon County Council. Since then a significant investment in new sluices and warning systems should prevent any repetition of those dark days!
The Friends of the Grand Western Canal, formerly the Trust, have spent 20 years exploring, conserving and interpreting the Somerset tub-boat canal with the help of IWA working parties. Extensive archaeological excavation at Nynehead has helped clarify the operation and development of the historic lifts and current clearing at Jaye’s Cutting near Thorne St Margaret is revealing the outline of an exquisite section of the diminutive canal.
Those explorations have encouraged the Friends to embark on an ambitious scheme to reconstruct 2 miles (3km) of the historic water way in Taunton and to build a recreation of one of James Green’s lifts, believed to have been the first commercial boat lifts anywhere in the world, at Silk Mills. This proposal, dubbed Park ‘n Glide, will form a centrepiece for a centre celebrating the wetlands and waterways of Somerset and the South West. The scheme has been developed to concept stage and more detailed hydrological and engineering studies will be made in 2018.
Read more about the navigable section of the Grand Western Canal