Bude Canal

You don't often connect Cornwall with canals.

Maggie & I recently celebrated our Ruby (40th) wedding anniversary by going to Cornwall and staying in the same National Trust cottage we stayed in 40 years ago this July - more of that later. With that and a family & friends party at home we haven't had much boat(ing) related activity recently.

However (there always should be a however), we did manage to visit the Bude Canal on our way down west. I had read recently The Bude Canal by Helen Harris & Monica Ellis which is part of the David & Charles series. It was published in 1972 so there is little of the recent renovations in the book.

The Bude Canal has a thriving restoration group the Bude Canal and Harbour Society that has an excellent exhibition at the visitors centre close to the sea lock at Bude. The canal was built between 1819 and 1825 mostly for the transportation of sand from Summerleaze Beach into the interior of Devon and Cornwall. The sand was used to fertilise the acid soil. It was a combination of barge canal near the coast and tub-boat canal elsewhere with a plethora of inclined planes powered by water - waterwheel and also "bucket in a well".

In the limited time available,we were just passing through, we only had time to explore the area around the sea lock. Having said that it is an impressive structure that has to stand up to the rigours of some fierce westerly storms. It has been seriously damaged a few times, the most recently in 2008.

Sea-lock, Bude Canal

Looking out to see from the lock, Bude

Sea-lock from the canal

Lock gates, Bude Sea Lock

Maggie couldn't resist try to move the lock beams (they are bolted shut!)

From the Bude tourist information and visitors centre (which is very good and has a sectiuon dealing with the canal) I purchased a book that brings up to date the Helen Harris book. It is Bude Canal - Past & Present by Bill Young and Bryan Dudley Stamp. Published by the local council (Bude-Stratton Town Council) in 1998, and revised in 2009, it is an excellent read and well illustrated. I certainly got more from this book than the much longer but more erudite Helen Harris book; maybe it's the heavy use of illustrations that modern books have. I certainly did not fully understand the mechanisms used to power the inclined planes until I read the newer book. It could be a great resource if you plan to walk along the course of the canal or investigate the sites of the inclined planes.

Falcon Hotel and restored canal basin

Detail of display showing one type of mechanism used to power the inclined planes - "bucket & well"

I also bought a small pamphlet published by the BCHS - The Bude Canal some interesting facts. Designed for the casual visitor, it certainly helps flesh out some of the detail about the canal that actually isn't in other books. It costs about £2.00. There is a great drawing of the tub-boats (complete with wheels for negotiating the inclined planes) and some brilliant pictures showing how sand was transported by a narrow gauge horse drawn railway from the beach to the basin just above the sea lock where it was emptied into either sea going vessels for export or tub boats for farms inland.

Railway used to transport sand from the beach to the canal basin

The BCHS also do guided walks along the route of the canal during the summer.