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Bike Along The Grand Western Canal To Knightshayes Court
Before landing a 3-month housesitting gig in Southwest England, all I really knew about the country was that it’s old, it has castles, and the people speak with a delightful accent.
But after spending my first few weeks exploring the area around my summer estate, I also learned that England (at least Southwest England) is stunning. Like seriously beautiful. Picture idyllic pastures filled with fluffy sheep, narrow canals home to paddling swans and ducks, majestic castles and old estates that drip with charm (and sometimes hauntedness), and gardens that must rival the Queens’.
I loved it all.
One of my favorite outings during this 3-month stint was a lovely pedal along the Grand Western Canal to Knightshayes Court. It’s a splendid way to spent a summer day in Southwest England (you can’t not say that sentence without a British accent). The canal path is perfectly flat and it winds past quaint villages, over stone bridges, through meadows, and under a lush canopy of tree limbs – all the while following a picturesque waterway canal. The path ends in Tiverton and then it’s a short pedal up to Knightshayes Court, which is a stunning old Victorian estate-turned National Trust museum. Plus, the tea room at Knightshayes has some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted.
What is the Grand Western Canal?
The Grand Western Canal was a project started in the early 1800’s that intended to link the waterways of Bristol in the northwest to the English Channel in the south. It would have allowed boats to bypass the perilous Cornish Peninsula and deliver goods in a faster, safer way.
However, due to financial problems and engineering difficulties, only a small portion of the Canal was completed by the 1830’s and the hope of connecting the two channels was soon abandoned.
Today, the Canal is designated a Country Park and is one of the most popular countryside attractions in Southwest England. It runs from the Lowdwells Locks in the north down to the charming town of Tiverton. The full canal is 11 miles one-way, but there are a number of parking areas along the path that allow for a variety of biking/walking options.
Biking the Grand Western canal
I think the best way to experience the Grand Western Canal is by bike. The entire path is flat so it’s an easy pedal and since the scenery is so beautiful and varied, a bike allows for an all-encompassing experience. The Canal is dirt, not paved, so it’s best to have a bike with gravel tires (ie not a road bike).
Where to start: I was lucky in that my housesit basically started at the far end of the Grand Western Canal by the Lowdwells Locks. I started there and biked the 11 miles to Tiverton and Knightshayes Court and then 11 miles back. It was a full day because I took it slow and enjoyed the ride. If you don’t want to do 22 miles, you can park at any of the half dozen parking areas along the canal. Sampford Peverell (don’t you just love English town names?) would be a good moderate starting/ending place.
Where to rent a bike: If you don’t have your own two wheels, Abbotshood Cycle Hire, located in the Globe Inn in Sampford Peverell, rents out bikes steps away from the Canal. They offer a wide range of options including regular rigs, tandems, e-bikes, and kiddie alternatives. The have free parking onsite and include helmets free of charge. If you hire bikes here and still want to do the full Canal, you still can! Turn right onto the path and head up to Luwdwells Locks then turn around and pedal your way to Knightshayes Court.
*Note that the location of Abbotshood Cycle Hire on the above map is incorrect.
What are some fun things to look out for along the Canal?
Waytown Limekilns: The Waytown Limekilns are on the far end of the Canal near the Luwdwells locks, but they’re pretty cool to see. I couldn’t find much information on them online, but there is an info plaque on the Canal path that tells the history of them (I just can’t remember what it said…)
The Hickory Inn Pub: Located in the little town of Halberton, this pub is a great place to stop for lunch or a pint of refreshing English ale. The have amazing (heavy) food and the service is top-notch!
Horse Drawn River Barges: Although a bit touristy, seeing the horse drawn river barges glide down the river is a pretty fun sight to see. You can sign up for a tour with Tiverton Canal Co but personally I think it’s more fun to watch from the seat of a bike.
The Flying Pickle Deli: I loved this little deli located on the corner of Gold and Barrington in Tiverton. They serve delicious salads and sandwiches and their coffee is amazing!
What to do at Knightshayes Court?
As you pedal into Tiverton, the Canal ends, but your ride isn’t over yet! Pull out your phone and get directions up to Knightshayes Court. It’s about two miles from The Flying Pickle (see above) and slightly uphill. Park your bike in the parking area and then get exploring!
Walk the grounds: The grounds at Knightshayes are beautiful with views out over Devon and gardens galore. Be sure to visit the walled kitchen garden as well as the sculpture garden on the other side of the house (can you even call it a house?). If you’re feeling up for a little hike there are a number of different walking routes through the Parklands and Impey Woods. For kids (or kids at heart) there’s a really cool natural playground called Four Oaks made out of fallen trees.
Tour the mansion: DO IT. It costs extra (about $15) and it is so cool. Medieval, dramatic, and oozing with history if you’re into that kind of thing (read more about the history here). Even if you’re not a history buff, it’s worth walking through.
Eat ice cream: Taste a few of the ice cream flavors in the Conservatory Tea Room and then take your cup and cone and go sit outside. You’re welcome.
Have you ridden the Grand Western Canal or visited Knightshayes Court? Leave a comment below!