One of the Southwest’s most popular attractions, the Tivertonian, has returned to the water on the Grand Western Canal.
On Wednesday March 31st, a 100-ton crane was hired to lower the 12-foot wide Tivertonian Barge, which can be pulled along the canal by one of the crew’s trusted Shire horses before the pandemic. In addition to the barge, the 10-foot-wide Duck’s Ditty floating restaurant and bar has also been returned to the basin on Canal Hill.
The owner of the Tiverton Canal Company, which operates the ship and restaurant, Phil Brind stated, “We had a 100-tonne crane from Kas Crane Hire, a Barnstaple family business that is as family-owned as we are always pulling us out and putting us back in again.
“It’s a major operation; there’s a lot of health and safety and a lot. The barges themselves aren’t too heavy. It’s about 14 tons, and believe it or not, both barges are the same weight.”
Although the company is back in the water, it has no date on which trips will start again and ice cream and real ales will be served.
“I was hoping that this year would be extremely positive and that we could act from April 1st,” said Brind.
“Unfortunately, that’s not supposed to be. Although you can meet in six gardens and the rest of them, things are not that simple for bars like ours.
“The Tivertonian won’t be able to run with a bar and I need to figure out how many people I can take with me when traveling. Because of the open or closed environment, there is likely to be a difference between open and closed windows.
“There’s a lot to talk about, but I hope we can start the horse barge around May 17th.”
He said he also had to do ghost rides to train new employees and complete maintenance on the two boats.
As for the Ducks Ditty, he said his inbox was full of people begging him to bring it back soon.
“The people in Tiverton missed it so much,” said Brind.
“Lots of people use it as a beer garden on the canal and enjoy a glass of wine or real ale. It’s nice here on a warm day.
“The answer to when it will be open is that I honestly don’t know.
“Since this is primarily a licensed bar, we are subject to licensed space restrictions. If you are a pub and you have your own private land i.e. your beer garden, you can serve table service. I can’t, however that’s because the towpath is owned by Devon County Council and my license is just the bar.
“That’s why I can only serve at the bar, which I can’t do at the moment.
“I know I’ll open at the end of June. If I can work before then, I’ll do it, but at the moment we don’t know.”
He said it was impractical to use the Ducks Ditty and bring the staff back just to serve ice cream.
“It just doesn’t work,” he said.
“We need it to be fully functional or nothing. It’s very frustrating. We may have to wait until the end of June.”
He added: “I want to say to everyone how sorry I am that we had to close last year.
“There was just no going forward. We had a full diary and within a week of the initial lockdown, all of our bus companies contacted us and the 2-meter rule wiped them out completely.”
“We went from a fairly busy calendar to an empty one within a week.”
He said that while the touring buses had an opportunity to open later in the year when the country attempted its first reopening, trips had already been delayed or postponed until the following year, meaning there was little demand.
“In the end, we felt like we weren’t going to cover our costs. It was a difficult decision to squat and switch to survival mode.”
Despite the sadness of having to cease business for a year, Mr. Brind and his family say the love of the Tiverton people kept them going.
“We felt love here,” he said. “We asked so many people if we were okay and if we would survive.
“The people of Tiverton tend to the barge, and my wife, Jacquie, and I felt that love. We appreciate that and would like to thank everyone for their support.”
Tiverton Mayor, Councilor Colin Slade, who took the photos of Tiverton and Ducks Ditty returning to the water, added, “I was delighted when Phil Brind invited me to watch Duck’s Ditty and Tivertonian slide back into the water become.
“It was fascinating to see and it’s great to see them ready again.”
Cllr Slade, who is also a member of the canal’s joint advisory board and county council for the region, added, “Having lost last year’s season, I wish Phil and the Tiverton Canal Company team every success this summer.”
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