Walk - Bude Canal

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.

Route Description

  1. From the Tourist Information car park turn left on the canal bank to follow the towpath inland, passing the nature reserve at Bude Marshes and the footbridge over the River Neet to the iron mile-post.

Bude Marshes was declared Cornwall's first Local Nature Reserve in 1983 and consists of 9 hectares of mainly reed bed, wet grassland and willow carr, a result of building the canal and then the railway, which blocked off the valley. The canal is fringed with marshland plants that love the moist conditions, including yellow flag iris, purple loosestrife, tall stands of pink-flowered rosebay willow herb, and yellow crosswort, which is rare in Cornwall. The reserve is good for birds, and there are a number of hides. In spring, early migratory birds to be seen include chiffchaff and sedge warbler, while in the summer reed buntings and willow warblers nest here and families of swans glide along the canal. In autumn over-wintering birds such as the wood sandpiper arrive, to be joined later by snipe, teal, moorhen and widgeon. Sometimes herons and egrets are seen, and the occasional kingfisher hovering over the water in search of fish. Look out for otters and grass snakes.

  1. Going through a gate, cross the canal at Rodd's Bridge, turning left to continue along the canal. Passing two lock gates and the weir, go through a gateway, pass the canal bridge signed to Helebridge and turn right over the stile along the riverside path towards Widemouth.

Cornishman John Edyvean dreamed up the Bude Canal in 1774. He envisaged a 95-mile waterway linking the Bristol Channel with the English Channel, achieved by connecting Bude Harbour to the River Tamar, but it was 1819 before an Act of Parliament finally approved the construction of the canal.

Costing just over £90,000, the nineteenth-century revised version of the canal was completed in 1825. It included two miles of barge canal, running from Bude to Helebridge, and 33 miles of tub-boat canal, using water drawn from the new Tamar Lake, built for this purpose. With tub boats being smaller than the traditional barges, using them meant that the canal could be narrower. They were easier to lift out of the water and could be towed in trains of three or more vessels.

It was the first canal in the UK (and only the second in the world) to use water-powered tub-boat inclines, and it had more inclined planes than any other waterway in existence. Its Hobbacott Inclined Plane used a unique well-and-bucket system, and it was the world's first canal in the world to use permanent wheels on its tub boats, making them amphibious craft. It was also the world's longest canal worked by tub boats.

The original intention was for the canal to ferry the lime-rich sand inland from the shore, to fertilise the poor soil, but despite its innovative engineering, it was grossly under-used. It only reached its annual optimum of 50,000 tons four times in its 76 years. Trade dwindled still further when the railway arrived in 1876. In 1891 a further Act of Parliament was passed, granting permission for it to be closed.

  1. Bearing right towards the tearooms, turn left just before, onto the footpath through fields to the main road.
  2. Cross the road and bear right on the path opposite to follow it to the South West Coast Path. Turn right, keeping to the path along here, because the cliffs are unstable.
  3. Follow the Coast Path out around the headland at Lower Longbeak, carrying on past Higher Longbeak and the Nature Reserve at Philip's Point to the houses at Upton.

People have lived around Bude since prehistoric times. There are numerous 'rounds' (circular enclosures) from about 2000 years ago, and flint tools have been found dating as far back as the Palaeolithic (Early Stone Age) period. Along this stretch of the coastline, there are several Bronze Age tumuli or burial mounds.

There are spectacular views across the bay to Hartland Point at Phillip's Point Nature Reserve - one of Cornwall Wildlife Trust's smallest reserves, at 2 hectares. It is noted for its dramatic rock formations below the cliff. The land was given to the Trust in 1983 and it is made up of a number of habitats, including maritime grassland, lowland heath, and scrub. Below the low shrubs stunted by the fierce Atlantic gales grows a range of plants able to survive the salt air, including sea carrot, with its feathery leaves and white umbrella flowers, the creeping yellow bird's-foot trefoil and Burnet roses. There are songbirds in the bushes too, and the black-and-red Burnet moth is a frequent visitor.

  1. Stay on the Coast Path at Upton, continuing to the trig point at Efford Beacon.

The maritime grassland at Efford Down is another haven for plants able to survive the salt air, such as rock sea lavender and spring squill, and Cornwall's only colony of dwarf thistle flourishes here.

In 1643, Royalist soldiers camped here, the night before they defeated the Parliamentarians in the Battle of Stamford Hill at Stratton. Despite being outnumbered two to one, the Cornish Army was able to cross the Tamar unopposed, and they went on to further victories in the West Country before capturing Bristol for the King in August of that year.

  1. From Efford descend to the Storm Tower at Compass Point and then to the waymarker above the breakwater.

Overlooking Summerleaze Beach and the mouth of the river, the tower is a former coastguard lookout. It was built of local sandstone in 1840 by the Acland family. It is based on the ancient Temple of Winds in Athens. It is octagonal, with the points of the compass inscribed on each face.

The round tent-like roof of Bude lifeboat station can be seen across the river and canal. A lifeboat station was established in 1837, closed in 1923 and re-opened in 1966, moving to its present home in 2002. In 1837 a Lifeboat built by Wakefield of Sunderland was presented by King William IV. The cost of 100 guineas came from the Duchy of Cornwall funds. She was not given an official name but was often referred to as ‘The Royal Bude Lifeboat’

  1. Turn right onto the metalled path towards Bude town centre, going down the steps and back along the canal to cross the road at the bridge and return to the car park via the steps.

Nearby refreshments

Bude (cafes, pubs, restaurants), Widemouth Bay (cafes, pubs), Helebridge (tearooms).
Near the start/end of the walk, in and around Bude, the Bredon Arms, Bay View Inn, Crooklets Inn and Preston Gate are recommended by users of www.doggiepubs.org.uk as serving good food and being dog-friendly.

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