The past 50 years have seen the reopening of several waterways to navigation; towpaths and riverside paths opened up for walking and cycling; car parks and bridges built; trip boats, hire craft and cafés introduced; also community and environmental initiatives established.

Canoeing, kayaking and rowing on the waterways have increased and more recently paddle boarding and wild swimming have grown in popularity. More people are now using the towpaths and riverside paths for cycling and walking.

IWA West Country Branch has published a booklet that sets out to document the achievements over the past 50 years. It principally covers the River Parrett and its tributaries, the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal and the Grand Western Canal, all of which today play an important part in the lives of local residents and of visitors to the area.

Much of this progress would not have been achieved without the support of the local authorities and British Waterways (now Canal & River Trust), along with Government grants, European funding and contributions from many other organisations, not forgetting the significant and continuing contributions by volunteers and private investors.

IWA is proud to have played its part in the regeneration of the waterways in Somerset and Mid Devon, not only through its West Country Branch and its work party volunteers but also through its specialist advisers and Waterway Recovery Group. IWA believes that transforming canals and rivers provides important opportunities to revitalise local economies, improve people’s lives, benefit the environment and mitigate the impacts of climate change. IWA’s comprehensive report, Waterways for Today, examines this in detail. The Somerset and Mid Devon story is a prime example of just what can be achieved.

Download your copy of the commemorative booklet here.

[The photo shows an IWA Campaign Cruise at Maunsel Lock, Bridgwater & Taunton Canal, 16th May 1982 – by J Reeves (IWA Collection)]