We canoed the old Exeter Ship canal today. Number one son had ‘Angharad’ and she paddled well. He describes her as stable; she certainly cut through the water with a fine line. Of course she is slightly harder to paddle than one would have hoped for on account that the dimwit builder put her cross brace in the wrong end so that what should be her stern (the slightly wider bit) is now her bow and the narrower bit that should have been her bow is now her stern. Just don’t ask who the dimwit builder was....take a 'lucky' guess!!!!!!
Anyway the canal is really old and I mean old! It was built in the 1560’s making it one of the oldest artificial waterways in the country. It had to be built because Isabella Countess of Devon in 1270 or so built a weir to power her mills which had the effect of cutting off the port of Exeter from the sea. Trade was restored to the city only to be stopped again by another weir in 1317. Anyway cut a long story short I think it went nearly 300 years of tolls being charged to transport goods to Exeter from Topsham lower downstream. In 1563 traders commissioned the building of a canal from Topsham to the city centre (Exeter Quays). In the 1700’s the canal was extended to take ocean going ships and the canal was very busy right up to the rise of the railways in the late 1800’s. In fact in 1939 I read somewhere that the canal carried 63,000 tonnes. The last commercial vessel on the canal was 1972 when Esso Jersey left the canal basin carrying oil to its terminal.
Now much development has taken place along the canal especially around the quays area; not only residential but also recreational with cycle ways, outdoor education centres, small boat trips along the canal and a passenger ferry across it.Steve