Are you looking for a great day out that the whole family can enjoy? Look no further than Canonteign Falls. Located in the heart of the Teign Valley and Dartmoor National Park near Chudleigh, Devon. Just an hour’s drive away from Pitts Farm.
What is it?
Canonteign Estate is a large 90 acre site with much history to it, but is most famous for having the largest manmade waterfall in England at 70 metres high. It’s a wonderful place that the whole family can enjoy, with peaceful walks among the waterfalls and tranquil lakes. It’s a lovely place to while away the hours.
Why did we go?
We love gardens and plants but we visited specifically for the fern talk – an expert guided tour around the Victorian Fern Gardens. Little did we know the Fern Gardens were in a hanging valley at the top of a very very large hill! Although this was our primary reason for visiting, we were were very impressed at what Canonteign had to offer.
Upon arrival we were greeted by a very friendly chap who gave us the visitors guide (I had purchased online, with our tickets. Well worth the £5) and he explained that as we were visiting the Fern Gardens in the afternoon, we’d be best to head off on the lake walk first.
Lower Lakes & Wetlands
From the café we turned left and followed the signs down the hill past Swan Lake. So named as it’s home to regal black swans from Tasmania. A quick look back up the hill and you can see the majestic falls, oh and a dinosaur! We wandered down through a gateway towards the Lower Lakes and Wetlands. It was a scorching hot day, so the cooler temperatures in the shade were very welcoming. Meandering our way around the lakes and across the many small bridges that linked the lakes to one another, we saw an abundance of wildlife including dragonflies, pond skaters, butterflies and even some fish. There were plenty of benches dotted around the area and lots of spaces for picnicking.
Wild Flower Meadows
We left the lakes and headed up the hill through the wild flower meadow to the Standing Stones. This area is like a mini Stonehenge, a quiet place for contemplation. The next place we came to was Poet’s Corner. A huge oak tree stands majestically on the top of the hill, surrounded by a circular bench with small stumps in a circle around the tree. These stumps display poems, chosen for their relevance to Canonteign.
From Poet’s Corner, we headed back across the field to the Labyrinth. Filled with ‘Life’s Journey’ quotes, you follow the path to its centre.
Did you know a labyrinth and a maze are not the same thing? Do you know the difference?
A maze is a confusing pathway with many branches, paths and dead ends. A labyrinth has one single route which twists and turns but continues on the same path. A labyrinth is intended as a reflective, spiritual journey ending in the centre.
From the Labyrinth, we headed back through the gateway towards The Green Ship. It has a lifesize deck and wheel house for children to play and was inspired by The Quentin Blake tale. The centre is planted with aromatic herbs and shrubs, which in time, will envelope the structure for it to become a green ship.
This completed our walk around the lower part of Canonteign before we headed for lunch.
We ate lunch in the café, which was reasonably priced and had a nice selection of food. After lunch, we bought an ice cream (it was still very hot!) then met with our guide and started our tour into the woodland to find the Victorian Fern Gardens & Lady Exmouth Falls.
Woodland & Waterfalls
Whilst walking along the bank of the Lily Lake, towards the woodlands, you can see the remains of Canonteign’s industrial past. An old sawmill and remains of a waterwheel are still present on the site. You can find out more about the industrial history and how it shaped Canonteign Falls here.
As we ascended up into the woodland the temperature cooled under the shady canopy of the trees and it wasn’t long before we reached Clampitt Falls. Named after the brothers who were commissioned in the 1930’s, by the 8th Viscount Exmouth, to build the dam to divert the water to millwheel below.
We continued our climb up to Bruce’s Pond and the foot of The Lady Exmouth Falls. Here you can get a glimpse of the stunning waterfall. The climb continued over large rocks and lots of tree roots, at this point it was getting quite steep! After about 5 minutes we reached the Secret Garden. This is a beautiful spot, home to the original stream of the natural waterfall, that descends all the way down the rockface. There’s even a small cave. The next part of the ascent was to climb the Ninety Steps! Yes, it was as bad as it sounds! 😂
The Ninety Steps & Victorian Fern Gardens
These Victorian steps were uncovered in the 1980’s when the first restoration of the gardens were taking place. They have remained untouched. Once at the top of the steps, we finally found the Victorian Fern Gardens. Upon entering the gardens we came face to face with an Ogre, (no, not Shrek!) the Ogre’s face can be seen in the rock formation in front of you and is said to ward off evil spirits. (We even came across a T-Rex in the centre of the gardens!)
The expanse of ferns spread all over the forest floor and rock walls, is extraordinary. There are 100’s of varieties with a network of small pathways running through them. The true extent of these magnificent gardens were discovered, only by chance, after heavy snowfall in 2009. Some laurel bushes had collapsed under the weight of the snow and were being cleared, when the elaborate fernery was exposed.
Did you know ferns are traditionally the birthplace of fairies?
These gardens house many fairies hidden amongst the canopy of the trees, just find the fairy doors and look up!
We thoroughly enjoyed our talk from the very knowledgeable Julian Reed, who has helped to plant and curate another 400 new ferns into the garden, even gaining National Collection status from Plant Heritage.
After looking at ferns, for perhaps too much time, we followed the pathway down and around out of the gardens to Devil’s Leap Bridge. Here you can see the natural falls as the water gently tumbles down the rock faces. From here it was back up again! This time to the very top of Lady Exmouth Falls and Buzzard’s View.
The Top of Lady Exmouth Falls & Buzzard’s View
It’s easy to forget that this is a manmade waterfall but there are a few telltale signs right at the top. You can see on the right as you approach the top, a channel has been dug into the rocks which flows through a large man made hole in a rock to the left, which then creates the start of the huge fall.
Just around the corner, we reached the top of the waterfall and Buzzard’s View. We were not disappointed, the views were spectacular! It truly was worth the climb.
Now we just had to get down!
Canonteign Falls really was a fabulous day out. And it’s just one of many wonderful attractions the South West has to offer. If you’re looking to visit the area book your stay with us now.