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Grand Western Canal

The Grand Western Canal that remains in water is managed as a country park stretching between Tiverton and the Somerset border.

Things to do nearby

Kayaks at Lowdwells lock on the Grand Western Canal.

Facts & Stats

11 miles


The length of the Grand Western Canal that is navigable.

0 locks


Year completed

Originally envisaged as a grand scheme to connect Bristol and Exeter, only the section between Tiverton and Taunton was built.

From Tiverton to Somerset

Originally envisaged as a grand scheme to connect Bristol and Exeter, only the section between Tiverton and Taunton was built – part as a broad canal and part as tub boat canal.  Taunton was subsequently linked to the Bristol Channel via the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal, but the planned link to Topsham on the Exeter Canal was never built.

The original planned connection between Bridgwater and Topsham was never realised. The Devon summit section was completed in 1814 and recently celebrated its bicentenary. Construction of the broad canal began in 1810 and was completed in 1814.  It was a further 20 years before the isolated waterway was finally linked with Taunton with a smaller tub-boat canal using a series of innovative vertical lifts plus an inclined plane to conserve water.  However, traffic was insufficient to maintain the lifts and this Somerset length closed in 1868.  The best-preserved remains of what are thought to be the first commercial boat lifts in the world can be seen from a public footpath at Nynehead, near Wellington.  The Devon Summit remained open, eventually falling into railway hands before passing on to British Waterways and then sold to Devon County Council in 1971.

On 21st November 2012, The Grand Western Canal suffered a serious breach at the Swing embankment which rises nearly 60 feet from surrounding fields at Halberton.  Following the breach, Devon County Council pledged £3million to repair, restore and modernise this part of the Grand Western Canal.  It was repaired and reopened in March 2014 and IWA held its National Trailboat Festival on the Canal that year, which formed the main celebration of the Grand Western Canal’s bicentenary year.

[Photo: The trip boat in the Canal Basin at Tiverton  – by Mark Gliddon]

The Canal Today

A number of boats are present permanently on the Grand Western for use by visitors and trailed boats are always welcome.  There is a well constructed slipway close to the M5 motorway.  Boat permits can be obtained from the council via several local outlets; see the Devon County Council website for prices and details.

Some 300,000 visitors enjoy the wildlife, fishing and many other attributes of the canal and its rural setting in addition to boaters. One of the last remaining horse-drawn boats offers regular trips along the Grand Western between April and September and regular fun-days and other events use its amenities. 

The Friends of the Grand Western Canal support the Devon Council rangers in managing activities, running events and generally promoting the Grand Western Canal and helping to conserve and interpret the Somerset tub-boat section.  Extensive archaeological excavation at Nynehead has helped clarify the operation and development of the historic lifts.

Those explorations have encouraged the Friends to embark on an ambitious scheme to reconstruct 2 miles (3km) of the historic waterway in Taunton, including plans 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 detailed hydrological and engineering studies are planned.

[Photo: The Grand Western Canal viewed from the Dudley Weatherly Jubilee bridge near Halberton, Devon –  by Mark Gliddon]

Navigation authority

Waterway underfunding

Hundreds of miles of waterways – along with their unique heritage and habitats – are currently starved of funding and rely on constant lobbying by us to safeguard their future.

Sustainable Boating

We want boating on canals and rivers to be more sustainable and – even though the current overall contribution to UK carbon emissions is very small – we want to help reduce emissions on the waterways.

Waterways Heritage at Risk

Britain’s canals and rivers are a unique, living heritage. But that heritage is at risk – from urban development, lack of protection, loss of skills and knowledge and climate change.

You can help Save Waterways Heritage.

Waterway restoration

Restoring the UK’s blue infrastructure – our inherited network of navigable canals and rivers – is good for people and places.

Local activities