I made this little sketch sitting outside in the sun today, at Cafe Liaison in Tavistock, looking out across the churchyard to the remains of the old Abbey building. This huge beech with its wide shady branches usually has children playing or people sitting around it, so I tried to record a few of them, though it’s hard work painting figures direct from life when they are all moving about and have no idea someone is scribbling away trying to catch their movement.
Tavistock Canal Ghosts
A3 acrylic painting of the Tavistock Canal, with the ghosts of a bargeman and horse lingering.
I walked this way in early spring a couple of years ago and tried to take a picture of the white wood-anemones and yellow celandine flowers along the banks, but they didn’t really show up at all in the photo, so I thought I’d try painting them. Then I added a pair of ghosts, because I thought it would be interesting to reflect the past more graphically.
The canal was built in the early 19th century, to carry goods, and particularly the products of the mines, down to the Tamar River and on to Plymouth. As so often with mining projects, it ran into difficulty at the point where the builders had to drill a tunnel through some unexpectedly hard rock, and by the time the tunnel was completed, the price of the copper that it was designed to carry was already falling. It was built to have an unusually high flow rate, the idea being that this could power water wheels used by industry along the canal, creating further products for the canal-boats to carry, and also power the inclined plane rail to transport goods from the canal down to the river 72 feet below it.
The canal is still not just decorative even now. It powers a hydro-electric power station, and has done with quiet efficiency since 1933.
The railway that runs over the viaduct above was completed in 1859, and quickly killed off the canal as a working waterway. Now the railway is gone too: the line that ran above this canal is closed now, although there are apparently now plans afoot to re-open it.