Walk - Whalesborough Farm- Hele Valley Walk
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
Keep an eye open for the occasional green Hele Valley Walk waymarks.
- From the cafe and wildlife centre at The Weir walk down the lane towards the A39 road. Just beyond the fishing lake turn left through the parking area and along the path to reach the Bude Canal.
The canal was opened in 1823. Its original purpose was to carry sea sand from the beaches of Bude to help improve the acidic soils of the inland agricultural area. However, it was also used to bring in coal and timber and to take out local agricultural produce. The coming of the railway ruined its trade and it ceased to operate as a waterway in 1901.
The plaque next to the canal commemorates the improvement works done in 2008 by the Bude Canal Partnership, a group of local bodies and councils, with EU financial help. Nearby is a piece of public art associated with this project, representing the links of a chain, with the Cornish inscription “Skathow Kibel”, meaning tub boats. These small, bath-tub shaped boats were what were used to carry goods on the canal.
Cross the footbridge then follow the path under the A39.
The footbridge crosses the River Neet, which flows into the canal here. The river helps to supply water to the canal. The path is alongside another feeder river, the River Strat, which here also forms the canal.
Almost immediately the path leaves the River Strat and continues alongside the now semi-dry canal to reach Hele Bridge.
Hele Bridge marks the end of the seaward length of the canal, which was wider than the inland sections.
- Turn left to cross Hele Bridge over the canal. Go over a second bridge, crossing the River Strat. Immediately after the second bridge turn right. Follow the track then, at the yard at the end, bear left up the narrow footpath and into a field.
- Climb up the edge of the field then, at a gap in the hedge half-way up, turn right, through the gap. The path then descends to continue through woodland close to the river.
Although referred to as the Hele Valley, this river is the River Strat. The river rises to the north-east, close to the Devon-Cornwall border and after supplying water to the Bude Canal near Hele Bridge joins the River Neet close to its mouth at Bude.
The path passes a seat covered with carved representations of otters.
Otters use this river as a habitat. Being shy creatures they particularly favour quiet and relatively remote waterways such as this. Although, until relatively recently, otters almost became extinct over much of England, they never disappeared from North Cornwall.
This area has been planted with some 12,000 trees since 2004 by the Rotary Club of Bude in conjunction with the landowners, the Grills family. This has made the valley a wildlife haven, for not only otters, but kingfishers, other birds and a range of butterflies.
- Emerging from the woodland, the path follows the river to the right to arrive at a minor road at a bridge crossing the River Strat. This is Pinch Bridge. Turn right to cross the bridge.
Note there is a plaque on the bridge commemorating its rebuilding in 1936. At that time it was strengthened and widened, but the original bridge here dates back a long way. Before the construction of the A39 in the 19th century this was the main road between Bude and the village of Marhamchurch.
Continue up the road, Pinch Hill, and into Marhamchurch village.
Be mindful of traffic on this stretch.
Entering the village notice the name Old Canal Close on the left. The Bude Canal once crossed the road at this point on its journey inland.
- Reaching the village centre at Marhamchurch turn right.
The village pub, shop and toilets are to the left.
The route passes St Marwenna church, which gives the village its name. Traditionally, St Marwenna, a 5th century Celtic saint was one of 24 sisters and brothers who sailed across from Wales to establish religious sites on the North Cornwall coast. Her original chapel was rebuilt in Norman times and then replaced by the present church in the 15th century. As well as being an attractive building in its own right, its tower serves as a landmark for sailors.
- A little way after the church look out for the public byway on the right, signed “Planekeepers Path”. Go along this track which soon turns left and slopes downhill.
The “Planekeepers Path” refers to a signposted walking route following the line of the canal inland from Bude and returning cross country through Stratton. Leaflets are available for this very scenic, but quite long walk (10 miles/ 16 km) from Bude Tourist Information Centre.
The area on the left of the path as it descends, now partly private gardens and partly a pumping station, was the line of the canal's Marhamchurch inclined plane. On most of the Bude Canal inclined planes were used rather than locks to raise and lower the boats. The tub boats had wheels at each corner, and these were engaged into rails on reaching the plane. The Marhamchurch plane was operated by a large waterwheel which powered an endless chain to which the boats were attached. It raised and lowered the boats 120 feet (36.5m) over a length of 836 feet (254.8m).
- Reaching some buildings, the main track bears right while a tarmac footpath forks left and descends beside the line of the inclined plane. Follow this path and descend to the canal.
The buildings at the fork once housed an iron foundry. At the canal at the bottom the bays for the two sides of the inclined plane can be seen.
Continue along the towpath.
There is a good view of the canal repair buildings on the opposite side. These now house a small museum, open on some Sundays.Notice along here the distance marker next to the stone wall, indicating “2 Bude”.
At the end turn left over the bridge to re-join the outward leg at point 2. Turn right, pass under the A39, cross the footbridge, turn left then right to return to The Weir.
The Weir, Marhamchurch