Horse-drawn barge and the Canal Tea Room at Tiverton
Do you need a relaxing afternoon out somewhere where you can slow down and unwind in peace and tranquility surrounded by the beauty of nature? We’ve found just the place.
Hidden away on a hillside in Tiverton is the Grand Western Canal – home to one of only four surviving horse-drawn barges in the country. Three generations of our family and friends went along to celebrate a 70th birthday last weekend. I was a bit sceptical as to whether Mia and Felix and their cousins Archie and Wilf would enjoy it, but actually they loved gazing out of the window at the passing scenery, feeding the ducks and swans (with special food purchased from the bar onboard), and looking out for the elusive kingfishers and otter. We started out from the canal basin after being welcomed by Becky, in traditional ‘Victorian’ costume, in the ticket booth-come-shop (which has some really rather attractive tea towels on sale).
Dave and Tom were our hosts for the voyage, with George the horse pulling ‘Tivertonian’ the barge, gorgeously painted in bright colours with scenes of castles and the like. We went on the two and a half hour trip that wends its way for an hour up the canal to East Manly where we had the opportunity to get off and stretch our legs for twenty minutes while walking up and back to the only aqueduct on the canal (somewhat underwhelming if I’m honest, but it was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and there are plans to get the tracks underneath operating again to take steam engines so we give it the benefit of the doubt and mention it nonetheless). At East Manly George was allowed to browse the canal-side vegetation and consume a plethora of polos supplied by barge-goers.
I’m finding it hard to describe the actual journey on board the horse-drawn barge – I’ve been on one barge holiday, powered by motor, and my husband and his family have been on countless similar trips. This was something different, something special, soothing, from a bygone era. On the way back to Tiverton, Dave (whose dulcet tones – and his appearance too if I’m honest – reminded me of Martin Hughes-Games from BBC’s Springwatch) encouraged everyone (including the children, well done Dave) to be silent for a whole two minutes to appreciate the utter serenity of travel by water and horse power. All I could hear was the clip clop of George’s hooves, the gentle slap of water against Tivertonian’s hull and the sweet sound of birdsong. If that’s not idyllic I don’t know what is.
Dave broke the silence with a rendition of one of my favourite poems: “A Duck’s Ditty’ from the Wind in the Willows and all along the canal I could imagine Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad getting up to their antics. Indeed near the canal basin I spied a few boats moored that bear the character’s names, along with a rather lack-luster community police boat that went out for a bob about and then went home again as there wasn’t much criminal activity occurring on the canal that day (or any day I should wager, unless Toad should unfortunately get hold of a power boat Poop! Poop!).
In my opinion this trip is particularly suited to lovers of barge holidays but who haven’t been on a horse-drawn before, folks seeking a quieter and slower pace of life for a few hours, and those wanting to see the canal and its beautiful environs but who are unable to walk or cycle a great distance along the towpath. There is ramp access to the canal tow path from the car park and the staff were excellent in helping an elderly lady with limited mobility to get on and off the barge. Whilst on board you can sit in comfort and just watch the world slide by, slowly, quietly, and beautifully. The canal is edged with wildflowers and wildlife: irises, waterlilies, moorhens, mallards, swans and majestic oak trees. Not only that but there is a licensed bar on board should you find yourself in need of refreshment. You can’t take your own dogs on board, but plenty of people were out walking their dogs or cycling along the towpath if you’d prefer to enjoy it that way.
We preceded our barge trip with lunch at The Canal Tea Room after their “high tea” was recommended by a cottage guest. The tea room is situated just below the canal in what is reputedly the last surviving thatched cottage in Tiverton. It is very quaint, with multi-coloured parasols covering tables in the garden, bunting galore, a wall full of novelty tea pots and under-cover seating in case of inclement weather. We were lucky enough to be seated in the Garden Room, beautifully decorated with baby blue wood panelling, Cath Kidston-style table-cloths and cushions.
The “high” tea when it arrived was indeed piled “high” with sandwiches, scones, jam, clotted cream and various sweet treats including my favourite millionaire’s shortbread, strawberry meringues and bakewell tart. Oh my goodness, so much food and so delicious. You could choose yourself whether to add half moons of tomato or cucumber to your cheese, egg or ham sandwiches and whether you were brave enough for the chilli relish – oh yes. The scones were huge, but light, and provided with copious clouds of cream and jam. We had tea pots, hot water pots and jugs of milk. One thing the Canal Tea Rooms most definitely is not is stingy. We had such a lovely afternoon out at the Tiverton Canal. I can highly recommend it to all our guests.
Our trip on the horse drawn barge cost £12.85 per adult and £10.35 per child.
Our high tea at the Canal Tea Rooms was £14.95 for two people. We had 5 between the 10 of us and several doggy bags came home!
Parking at the Grand Western Canal centre in Tiverton costs £3 for the whole day.
To sign up to receive Halsbeer Farm’s newsletter and find out more about our self-catering cottages and goings on on the farm click here.