Mr Tin Box and girls in Secret Garden at Canonteign Falls - England's highest manmade waterfall
Devon, Family days out

Visiting England’s highest manmade water fall – Canonteign Falls with children

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‘Manmade’ isn’t a phrase you’ll find used often to describe landmarks in Devon’s Dartmoor National Park. It’s better known as an area of incredible natural beauty. However, Canonteign Falls is a place moulded by man that’s just as worth seeing as the glacier carved tors. We visited England’s highest manmade waterfall with our girls and Tin Box Dog and were not disappointed. Here’s our experience of visiting Canonteign Falls with children.

NB: this post as been updated since our visit in 2017.

Mr Tin Box and Baby walking at Canonteign Falls - England's highest manmade waterfall

Update for 2020

Our most recent visit to Canonteign Falls was on a very hot day in August 2020 after lockdown. Walking through the shady forest leading up to the Falls was light relief from the heat. Here’s the COVID-19 measures in place if decide to visit this year:

  • Booking isn’t necessary.
  • There’s special visitor map for this summer that shows one way systems.
  • Hand gel is located around the main facilities.
  • The site is operating on a card only basis.
  • When we visited there was a member of staff at the top of the falls controlling access and time spent at the Buzzards View viewing platform.
  • The entrance, cafe, outdoor seating, shop and access to toilets have been arranged to allow for social distancing. 
  • The playground and mini-assault course are open.

We felt very happy with the measures in place and really enjoyed our visit.

England’s highest manmade waterfall

The Canonteign Estate was bought by the decorated naval officer Sir Edward Pellew in the late 18th Century. Mining came to the estate and the course of an existing waterfall was diverted to power the mine wheel.

When the mining boom came to an end in 1880 the course of the water was diverted again over the nearby rock formation and through the woodland. This is when Canonteign Falls took shape.

However the estate fell into disrepair because of the burden of death taxes. Restoration began in 1985 and continues today. Among the Victorian featured uncovered are 90 steps discovered in the 1980s.

Today Canonteign Falls is open for the public and even four-legged friends to explore. It’s also the home to Exeter and District Model Boat Club which uses the main lake to sail its models several times a week.

Model boat on lake at Canonteign Falls - England's highest manmade waterfall

Is Canonteign Falls family-friendly?

Depending on how your small adventurers are feeling on the day, I would say this is a good mini challenge for them. The walk up to the main fall and back takes about and hour, starting off with sloping path and progressing to a series of uneven steps.

We tackled the route with our four-year-old walking and our two-year-old in our toddler carrier. Tot managed to walk the whole way with minimum assistance.

There was lots to keep the girls’ attention during our walk. You can buy a children’s trail at the shop for £1 and solve the riddle of the woodland people along the path. This was a brilliant activity and helped us encourage Tot along the way.

Woodland person at Canonteign Falls - England's highest manmade waterfall

When you are half way up there’s also a set of 12 wiry fairies as well as fairy doors – a firm favourite with our two – between the Victorian Fern Garden and the top of the waterfall. These were beautiful, floating in among the trees like proper little sprites.

On the way back down the hill the girls also spotted some woodland creatures sculpted from wood and metal. Right at the end of the walk was a mini assault course and zip wire for which our flagging little trekkers soon found plenty of energy.

Tin Box Tot on zip wire at Canonteign Falls - England's highest manmade waterfall

If you don’t take your own picnic the cafe at the entrance serves good value food. It also has children’s books and colouring to keep kids occupied inside.

This is a challenging but rewarding walk to do with pre-schoolers, although various activities along the trail spurred our girls on. Tot walked the whole route with minimum fuss and Baby jumped in and out of the carrier when she wanted a closer look at a woodland person or fairy.

Tin Box family walking through Victorian Fern Garden at Canonteign Falls - England's highest manmade waterfall

Beautiful Dartmoor views

The view from the highest waterfall, Lady Exmouth Falls, is a fair reward for your efforts to reach the top of the Canonteign Falls complex. This point, where the water tumbles out through a manmade gully, is called Buzzard’s View.

From here the water plummets 70 meters down a rocky outcrop before flowing through fern-lined woods to a series of lakes where wildlife abounds.

Find more days out in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in my big round up of 101 UK attractions for families.

Fairy at the top of Canonteign Falls - England's highest manmade waterfall

Advice for visiting Canonteign Falls with children

Prepare for a moderate climb with suitable footwear and layers to peel off as you go. The footpaths have a fair smattering of rocks and roots, and there are numerous reminders that the rustic fences were for guidance, not for leaning upon.

This is definitely an attraction where pushchairs have to be left behind. So if you do take children who are likely to tire easily make sure you have a carrier or enough energy yourself to give them a piggyback.

Also take some water. We visited on a very hot day and were gasping for ice lollies and cool drinks by the time we got back to the cafe at the entrance.

You can find out more about Canonteigh Falls opening times and entrance prices on its website.

Tin Box girls at Canonteign Falls - England's highest manmade waterfall

Have you visited Canonteigh Falls or do you know of any other waterfalls we could visit?

Looking for more days out in Devon? I have a whole new blog for that! Check out Devon with Kids.

If you are planning a visit to England’s highest manmade waterfall then why not save this post about Canonteign Falls on Pinterest.

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