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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

The Stover Canal

This is the part 3 of my Haytor Granite series of posts. If you have not seen parts 1 and 2 it's probably a good idea to see those first, as this post will then make more sense.

To get to the remains of the Stover Canal we had to drive to the upper end of the river Teign. The canal was originally built to transport clay from clay workings to the navigable stretch of the Teign where it could be offloaded into sea going vessels.

This is what we found and it didn't look promising. The canal fell into disrepair and silted up a long time ago and most of it runs dry.

Eventually we got to a small section that still had water in it, albeit land locked and not a boat in sight. I had been assured that the walk would be worth it. Eventually.

We had started the day on top of Dartmoor at Haytor Quarry, which is explained here. We then followed a small section of the Granite Tramway that led from the quarry, eventually to meet this canal. The Granite Tramway was built at a later date to access the canal route to the sea.

Now this is starting to look more like a traditional canal, even though in this instance it is carved out of granite blocks, probably shipped here from Dartmoor itself.

This is a dual purpose lock and Graving Dock. The Graving Dock Lock was a dry dock used for the repair and maintenance of barges. It is situated about half a mile south of the canal terminus at Ventiford basin.

Restoration work involved the partial dismantling of the massive lock masonry, clearing it of tree roots and repointing.

In this image you can see the open lock gate in the upper section of the canal. A boat would have floated in through this gate with the dock full of water. Once in the lock the boat would have floated to one side above a framework. The lower gate would then be opened.

When the lower gate was opened the water level would drop in the lock, leaving the boat high and dry, where it could be repaired.

A boiler used in the process of bending wooden boards has been reinstalled into its housing.

In this simple device a fire was lit in the opening below. An iron pot filled with water was set into the brickwork and the water boiled, making steam which was fed into the long box above. Inside the box, wooden planks could be steamed until flexible enough to take the shape of the boats hull.

Above the top gate was a channel for excess canal water to run off back into the natural water source below, preventing the canal from flooding.

Alongside the canal a heritage trail has been built to take in part of the canal towpath, creating a canal side walkway not accessible for sixty years.

At the next lock is a group of buildings and here only a few metres away is the railway that brought the demise of the canal. This houses a nice garden cafe.

Following the opening of the Moretonhampstead and South Devon Railway in 1866, canal traffic gradually declined and the canal subsequently became redundant and steadily fell into disrepair. Flooding by the adjacent River Teign over the decades left layers of silt which gradually built up and buried all evidence of the canal and tramway.

At the base of the lock you can see a large V shaped ledge. The lock gates would have closed against this ledge, helping to support them from the huge pressure of water.

Ultimately the towpath, although not the Heritage Trail, ends at Ventiford Basin. This is where the canal started its's journey to the sea.

Ventiford Basin is the Northern terminus of the canal. Clay from the local area was brought here overland, loaded onto barges and sailed down the canal to the Jetty Marsh sea lock.

In 1820, James Templer II’s son George brought his Granite Tramway here from his quarries at Haytor to enable Dartmoor granite to follow the same route as the clay to Teignmouth. This Dartmoor granite was used in the construction of many prominent buildings in London.

Granite blocks were loaded here from carts to canal boats as this was where the Granite Tramway ended. This crane is a reproduction based on remnants found here along with a sunken boat trapped here after the canal stopped operation.

These are the remains of that crane.

Here is the original quayside where the tracks came in to unload the granite, on both sides of the basin.

To drive to the start of the canal walk from Dartmoor was a distance of 9 miles. Most of the evidence for the existence and route of the Granite Tramway once it descended from Dartmoor was long forgotten, so it was a huge surprise when archeological works here at the canal site revealed the original granite tracks still in situ at the edge of the canal basin, which had long ago been overgrown and buried. Who knows if any other parts of the original tramway still exist buried along the route or underneath later developments.

It is hard to imagine the work and cost of making, transporting and laying so many miles of trackway carved from thousands of tons of solid granite.

For two weeks in 2014, the excavation started of an old barge which had been laid-up in the basin when the basin became redundant in the late 1800’s. Granite walls to the basin were also uncovered. Later that year, whilst work was being carried out by Devon County Council on the construction of the Stover Trail cycle and walkway, evidence of the Granite Tramway was uncovered. A further two week excavation continued in 2015. It was becoming evident that the open grassed area that was ‘Ventiford’ held many surprises in store.

This sluice, now blocked, was where the natural stream supplied the water for the canal. Which brings this whole story to an end.

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Peter Smith
Peter Smith
Oct 05, 2022

Very informative Gethin. I like old industrial stuff like this.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Oct 05, 2022
Replying to

This one really should be more famous than it is in my opinion.


Unknown member
Oct 02, 2022

The first time I saw photo #1 I thought it was some sort of a wheel, like the ones they had on old wooden carts. Now I know different.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Oct 03, 2022
Replying to

It's amazing it is so intact having been in the ground for over a hundred years possibly nearly 200. This whole granite track running for miles, blows my mind.

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