Dave was the skipper yesterday when I went for a trip on the Grand Western Canal, on the last horse drawn barge in the South West of England. He delivered the Health and Safety rules with humour and a broad Devonshire accent. Our horse was Dandy, a 15 year old Clydesdale working his last season, Dave said that he loves cuddle and polo mints – Dandy that is not Dave.
The most frequent question people ask is how the horse manages to pull such a heavy load, with 43 people onboard it weighs 17 tons. Well, once the barge gets moving it has its own momentum and Dave said that we work harder pushing a fully loaded supermarket trolley than Dandy does, so he has an easy life. Dandy himself weighs three quarters of a ton.
The barge has a bar for snacks, drinks and ice cream, womanned by the lovely Katie, they need every penny they can make to keep them going. It is painted in the traditional Barge art, seats 75 and runs trips twice daily from late March to the end of October.
Some of the canal bridges have very narrow towpaths and it can get a bit tight for a large shire horse to squeeze under, they can easily bang their heads on the curve. Dandy has even fallen in, while tractor watching one day, he got a bit distracted and in he splashed. Unfazed though, he swam to the other side, had a bit of a mooch around and then headed back upstream! The canal has several horse, one of their others Taffy, is a bit of a Prima Donna, he has his own Facebook page and has been featured in local and even national newspapers. Dandy is my favourite though and I hope he has a long and happy retirement.
Should you find yourself in Devon, pop up to Tiverton, a nice little market town for a canal trip. It’s a mini escape, a tranquil and silent way to explore. I usually walk along the bank, but yesterday was hot and the barge was so tranquil. There is plenty of wildlife if you are very observant, we only saw ducks, moorhens, damsel and dragonflies and even those evaded my camera – I was too relaxed.