A FLOTILLA of narrow boats set off today as the maiden voyage on the newly restored Grand Western Canal took place.
Works to rebuild the embankment which breached at Halberton in November 2012 have been undertaken by Devon County Council at a cost of around £1.75m.
Devon County Council leader Councillor John Hart was on land at the official re-opening held earlier this afternoon to declare that the project had been completed “on time and on budget”.
The council had originally pledged a total of £3m from its reserves to replace the damaged canal section to once again allow boats to traverse its full length. The remainder of this money will be spent on other improvements including an upgrading the canal’s water management systems to reduce the risk of a repeat occurrence.
Children from Halberton Primary School counted down to the moment when chairman of Devon County Council Councillor Bernard Hughes cut the ribbon to signal the re-opening.
Chairmen of Halberton Parish Council, Councillor Ken Browse then led a flotilla of around half a dozen boats which became the first to travel on the new section and which gave dignitaries a chance to see the repair work as they glided past the section from which just 16 months earlier, more than 16 million litres of water flow into surrounding farmland.
Cllr Des Hannon, who represents the Tiverton East region said: “I feel encouraged to see so much of Halberton here today. Welcome back to your canal and I hope you will spend a lot more time by your canal.”
Among those canal boat enthusiasts taking part in the maiden voyage were Maggie and Gerry Beighton from Ottery St Mary who had travelled from moorings at East Manley to take part in the procession.
Maggie said: “We were devastated when the breach took place, and we have been waiting for this day ever since and are so glad that it has been repaired.”
Cllr Hughes, said he himself had been boating for around 15 years and was a lifetime member of the Inland Waterways Association.
He said: “This is a day of celebration, we celebrate the reopening and reinstatement of this much-loved amenity. Who would have thought that this restoration would have taken place so quickly.”
As well as thanking Devon County Council for providing the finances for the project, Cllr Hughes also thanked South West Highways, contractors Jacobs and the canal ranger team who had ensured the repair and refilling of the canal had gone smoothly.
He also thanked all those who had turned out to watch the ceremony, who he said in boating parlance were ‘gongoozlers’, that is people who enjoys watching activity on the canal from dry land.
The work has been completed ahead of Tiverton hosting the IWA National Trailboat Festival in May when thousands of visitors are expected to attend.