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Tourists think Tiverton's Grand Western Canal has no water in it, says businessman

By Mid Devon Gazette  |  Posted: July 02, 2013

Phil Brind says conditions this year have been difficult

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VISITORS are bypassing one of Mid Devon's biggest tourist attractions because they think it is a no-go zone, a Tiverton businessman says.

Phil Brind operates the Tiverton Canal Company, running one of the few remaining horse-drawn barge trips in England.

Despite imminent work to repair the breached Grand Western Canal, he is concerned about the future of the business.

Visitor figures for June were more than 50 per cent down on the figure for the same month last year.

The mistaken belief that the canal was closed for business is thought to be a major factor in this decline. In fact the waterway is damned either side of the breach.

He said: "People in other parts of the county believe the canal is empty. We have had coach companies ringing us up saying 'so sorry we can't come this year', and we ask them why not and they say 'because there's no water in the canal'.

"Pictures went all over the country and around the world showing the breach in the canal and many people think the whole canal drained and don't realise the damaged section is being repaired."

A search on video sharing website YouTube for the words 'Grand Western Canal' generated eight out of 10 results which related to the devastating breach seven months ago.

During the summer months, the barge runs seven days a week, but Mr Brind said he was having to consider scaling back to six days a week.

He said: "We are jubilant the repair work is set to begin, but the last six months, with the poor weather as well, has been tough. At the moment we are holding in there as best we can."

Zyg Grochala, who runs Minnows caravan park at Sampford Peverell, said by and large his customers had been "very well informed" about the breach, and many were interested in going down to the breach site at Halberton to take a look.

"Had it not been repaired and just become neglected, it would have had an effect on people wanting to come here, we get a lot of repeat customers, and the main reason they come is because they have the canal on their doorstep." he explained.

Mr Grochala said the weather was more important in determining the type of season tourist attractions had. He said: "The weather was bad in March and April so we had a slow start to the year, but numbers have been better in May and June. We don't tend to get booked up a long way in advance so we are waiting to see what the school holidays are like."

Steve Walker, who runs the tearooms at the canal basin, agreed that weather was a key factor.

"We have not seen a downturn but the weather is critical for us," he said.

He said the breach had not had an adverse impact so far, with lots of barge customers and those from the new visitor centres making their way to the tearoom.

He said: "We are still getting the visitors in, the only people that seem put out about the work on the canal are the cyclists, who aren't too happy about the extra couple of miles' detour."

Devon County Council has pledged £3million for the repair of the embankment that collapsed at Halberton in November and for improvements to water management along the 12-mile stretch of the waterway. With a contractor due to begin work next week, it is hoped this will be completed in time for the canal's 2014 bicentenary celebrations. Next year also marks 40 years since the horse-drawn barge businesses started up.

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