TRUST and FRIENDS: Working for the GRAND WESTERN since1988
Early days: the Grand Western Canal Trust
Fissures in the canal bed near Halberton drained all water from the 'Swan's Neck' section in 1988. The Grand Western Canal Trust came together as a group of enthusiasts to counter a wide-spread perception that canals had had their day and this expensive luxury should be abandoned. Following pressure from the Trust and others, half a mile of the leaking section was relined with a butyl membrane, permitting the Grand Western to become today's most loved and appreciated destination in Mid Devon.
The Trust acquired Bodmin, a classic butty, in 1991 for use as a canal study centre. Although initially popular, manning the centre proved challenging and Bodmin now floats elsewhere on the canal network.
The Trust continued fighting on behalf of the Grand Western throughout the 90s, supporting and encouraging the development of a canal management plan, arguing against development of Westleigh Quarry and the impact that would have on water supplies and promoting the canal at many local events. The Trust was established to encourage use of all the canal and later that decade it turned its attention to the abandoned Somerset section.
Working with the Inland Waterways Association's Waterways Recovery Group, the Trust undertook a 2-week restoration of a 300m cutting near Cothay Manor, known as Jayes cutting after the nearby cottage. The towpath now forms part of the West Deane Way footpath and it is a truly tranquil spot for a ramble. Subsequent work parties conserved the remains of the Lowdwells lock and explored and conserved remaining structures of the Nynehead lift.
2012: Transformation to the Friends of the Grand Western Canal
The Trust relaunched as the Friends of the Grand Western Canal in April 2012 to raise its profile and attract new members. This proved timely as the extraordinarily wet weather that summer led to the overtopping and failure of a 15 metre high embankment near Swing Bridge, Halberton, on 21st November that year. Again, public pressure was needed to ensure timely action by Devon County Council to get the canal fully functional for its bi-centenary in 2014. The Friends remain very appreciative of the huge efforts by everyone involved that permitted this milestone to be reached!
The Grand Western's bicentenary in 2014 was marked by a series of events, including hosting that year's National Trailboat Festival, which the Friends were very pleased to be able to help organise.
Although dampened by occasional rain, the festivities were a real celebration of the resurrection of the Grand Western after a nerve-wracking couple of years - and the balloons were something else!
The Friends group continues to support the Devon County Council management team in maintaining the section of canal still in water. We distribute monthly newsletters by email with updates on
canal activities and items of interest. Our Wardens help keep things tidy and an active facebook page shares regular beautiful reminders of what a wonderful asset we have in Devon.
Volunteers maintain the remains of the Nynehead lift, the best-preserved example of Green's innovative engineering and keep Jaye's cutting walkable.
The Friends are promoting a scheme to construct a modern version of a James Green lift at Silk Mills, near Taunton. We believe that this will raise awareness of Somerset's little known part in canal heritage and will encourage use and enjoyment of all the Grand Western Canal. See here for more info.