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Trail Running in Devon - Part Three

In this post I share two more of my favourite off road running locations. These are both waterside trails and are perfectly flat.


The Grand Western Canal

In 2010 I wanted to relocate to an area in Devon that was conducive to quality off road running and so I set up base near the Grand Western Canal. I went on to run thousands of miles along the canal's towpath whilst training for major championships. I therefore felt extremely fortunate to be able to do some of my key training in such a beautiful environment.

I used to live very close to the canal but even though it's now a twenty five minute drive from my current home I still regularly make this trip. The off road surface is perfect and so well looked after, it's flat the whole way which means it's great for tempos and sessions. It's also good for gentle recovery runs that are easy on the legs. The canal is just under twelve miles long and I mostly do out and back runs.

The Grand Western Canal.

(Known locally as the Tiverton or Tivvy Canal)

The trail here is very well maintained and great for swifter running.

The canal was built to overcome the risks shipping faced rounding Lands End when travelling between the Bristol Channel and the English Channel but with the arrival of the railways the full canal was never completed. Thankfully the 11 mile stretch where I run was preserved for recreation and is now a lovely country park.

You can access the towpath from many different spots along the entire length of the canal between Tiverton and Lodwells. A good option is to start and finish in Sampford Peverell or Halberton so you can enjoy some post run refreshments in one of the pubs!

Still a nice place to run even in the rain!

Along the length of the canal parking is free, apart from the canal basin carpark in Tiverton, although the charges are vey low. The Tiverton end of the canal is busier but worth a visit as there are pretty narrow boats and it's also home to the canal visitor centre which I was given the lovely honour of opening in 2013.

The canal might be man made but it's been taken over by the local wildlife and because of this it really is a lovely place to run. In November 2012 after prolonged heavy rainfall a canal embankment collapsed near the village of Halberton, the water drained into nearby farmland threatening nearby housing with flooding. The canal was repaired and seeing it now you'd never know this happened. For a long while I had to change my normal routes and run shorter lengths of the canal either side of the repair works.

I really do enjoy running along the canal and can highly recommend it if you're ever in Devon and want a speedier off road run.

Running along the canal is quite straight forward, just follow the towpath! Here's an example of a typical run.

Tiverton Canal Strava route

The Exeter Canal and Exe Estuary

This is another flat area for faster running which I also use for my slower recoveries but it's actually a mix of tarmac and trail. I've included it as it does have some sections of off road trail and these are ideal for relaxed gentle recovery runs that are free of hills. What I like is that I can do some faster tempo work on the traffic free tarmac paths but then warm down on the trails. It's a really good area for combining the two surfaces.

The Exeter Canal Trail.

(The canal is also referred to as the Exeter Ship Canal.)

To pick up the off road trails the best place to start is the Countess Wear swing bridge or one of the other access points towards Starcross. If you run on the West Bank you'll have a mile of tarmac and then two miles of trail along the canal embankment to the Turf Hotel. On the east bank you follow a road for a short way and then join a trail all the way to the Turf Hotel. When you pass the Turf Hotel you can join another trail that follows the top of an embankment behind a sea wall. Eventually after just under a mile you'll reach a foot bridge over the railway line where you'll join a quiet country lane towards Starcross. After about a mile you'll have the option of continuing along the lane or another option is to join the footpaths that cross the Powderham Estate where you'll see a large herd of fallow deer.

Running along the canal embankment back from the Turf Hotel (in the background).

This trail runs parallel to a tarmac path at the bottom of the embankment.

A speedier run on the adjacent tarmac path below the canal embankment.

The section of trail beyond the Turf Hotel next to the sea wall.

This trail runs alongside the tarmac cycle path towards Powderham Castle Estate.

Getting ready for a faster tempo effort.

After my tempo I can warm down on the softer trails.

The swing bridge is the location of the University of Exeter Boat Club which has a free carpark although in recent years I have noticed that the carpark has started to get extremely busy and so it's not always possible to park. You can also access the canal from the quayside in Exeter and at a few other spots along its length. About half a mile from the swing bridge towards Exeter you'll come across the Double Locks pub which is a nice little spot for refreshments and has a small play park for the kids. You can run on either bank to get to the pub and then onwards to the quayside, a further one and a half miles upstream.

The canal and river are also a great spot for paddling our kayaks, paddle boards or open canoes. In fact we love combining activities and taking the kids here on their bikes for a family run and then afterwards jumping in the open canoe for a leisurely paddle to one of the pubs for refreshments.

Occasionally after a run we have also paddled or cycled down to the quayside in Exeter so the kids can have some fun on the climbing walls. There are lots of eateries here and it's a nice spot to relax. You'll find canoe, kayak, paddle board and bicycle hire here too.

Canal side refreshments!

A run followed by a paddle to the pub for a bite to eat is great fun.

The Exeter Canal and Exe Estuary is great for running with the kids chasing along on their bikes.

The Exeter Canal is the oldest non Roman built canal in the UK and the Exe Estuary is an important wetland area with large areas of mudflats which are home to lots of wading birds. Throughout it's length the canal runs parallel to the River Exe and ends at the Turf Hotel sea lock. From here the river opens out into a wide estuary before it meets the sea between Dawlish Warren and Exmouth. There are options to explore the various public footpaths that criss-cross the land adjacent to the canal including areas likes the Exminster Marshes. These tracks can get very muddy in winter but it's a fun place for a rambling style run. There is also another tarmac path that runs from Exeter all the way to Exmouth but this is on the opposite side of the River Exe. This is also one of my regular routes but I tend to access it from Exmouth in combination with visits to the beach.

Combining a run with some post run family fun on the water.

Strava route for Exe estuary

(Swing Bridge / University of Exeter rowing club carpark to the Turf Hotel)

Strava route for Exe estuary

(Exminster Marshes carpark to Powderham Estate)

The tidal lock at the Turf Hotel.

You can cross the canal here and run back on the other bank.

Next time I'll cover Haldon Forest just outside of Exeter.

Good luck with your running.

Thanks, Jo


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