What can be seen of the
Rolle Canal today
Walking along the Tarka Trail, which follows the old railway line, many traces of the canal that preceded it can still be seen. The canal bed can just be made out in places to one side or other of the track. Here are some of the chief features that have survived since its closure in 1871.
The Society holds a series of guided walks each summer to show members and visitors the relics of the canal age that are on private land or hidden from view.
All the descriptions are given for a walker travelling from Bideford to Torrington along the Tarka Trail.
SEA LOCK – The lock can be seen through the trees down below on your left after you have passed through the railway tunnel at Landcross. This is where the Rolle Canal meets the tidal waters of the Torridge and is the only lock on the canal.
The lock was built to enable sea going boats to enter the large canal basin for the transhipment of cargoes to the strings of small ‘tub boats’ that navigated the canal, and vice versa for goods going down river. An ambitious restoration project is currently returning the lock to its former glory.
INCLINED PLANE – This is very hard to spot, being hidden in vegetation, but over the bridge above Ridd farm there is a marker post number 13 with information on it.
It is here that the canal was raised about 43 feet up the side of the valley from the river meadows to the present
Tarka Trail level. An Inclined Plane is a means of hauling boats up and down a slope between different levels of canal and in this instance the tub boats, on little wheels, were pulled by a chain powered by a giant water wheel. The underground chamber housing the wheel, below the upper canal basin, still exists beside the trail but is filled in with only a little of its vaulted masonry visible in the undergrowth.
The Society in the future hopes to make the wheel pit a feature on the Tarka Trail.
BEAM AQUEDUCT – Completed in 1827 to carry the canal across the Torridge Valley this is probably its most visible and most photographed feature, being just a hundred yards up stream of the railway bridge carrying the Tarka Trail. Each of the
five stone arches spans 31 feet and the width between parapets is 21 feet which accommodated a path on each side. The canal trough would have been clay lined to render it watertight, but now it is filled in to form the tarmac driveway to Beam House
The Aqueduct is also famous as the ‘Canal Bridge’ in Henry Williamson’s tale of Tarka the Otter, who was born in the hollow trunk of a fallen oak tree just downstream.
ROLLE ROAD – To walk along the Rolle road you have to leave the Tarka Trail. Past the Puffing Billy Pub under the road bridge you’ll find on your right “Rolle Tunnel”, an archway signposted to Taddiport. If you go through the archway and follow the path down to your left you’ll find “Rolle Road”.
You can actually walk along the canal towpath or even on the canal bed. It’s in this part that you can really imagine what the canal looked like. It was opened in 1827 and closed in 1871 and later filled in to create a toll road.