Bude to Northcott Mouth

The walk passes Bude Castle and heads towards Summerleaze beach to reach the coast above Bude Sea Pool. From here the route follows the Coast Path to the beaches of Maer and Northcott Mouth. The return to Bude is fairly quick and easy, along bridleways and through the town and following the River Neet to complete the circular route.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111,126 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 3.5 miles/5.6 km
  • Grade: Easy
  • Start from: Bude Tourist Information Centre
  • Parking: Bude Tourist Info Car Park. Satnav: EX238LE
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers in the summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Shops and cafés in the small seaside resort of Bude
  • Sandy beaches at Summerleaze, Crooklets and Northcott Mouth
  • Panoramic coastal views, south to Tintagel Island, and north to Morwenstow
  • Coastal rock formations at Crooklets and Northcott Mouth
  • Wading birds including Herons and Egrets in the River Neet at Bude

Alternative walks in same location

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. Cross the car park to the Post Office. Follow Ergue-Gaberic Way from the Post Office to the Parkhouse Centre entrance.

    Bude is a small resort town on the northern part of the North Cornish coast. The Bedes, meaning wise men, attended the chapel on the rock and consequently the location was refered to as "Bede's Haven". In Cornish it was known as Porthbud. Locals pronounce it "bood" which probably stems from the Cornish version of the name.

    In Victorian times, Bude was a popular seaside resort and many of the Victorian buildings remain. In more recent times, Bude has become famous for its Jazz Festival in August. There is a Tourist Information Centre in the main car park.

  2. At the Parkhouse Centre entrance, keep right and follow Ergue-Gaberic Way to reach a footbridge over the river.

    The elaborate stone building that you can see on the left is Bude Castle.

    Bude Castle is located to the west of Bude town centre close to Summerleaze Beach, on an island of land between Bude Canal and the River Neet. The Victorian engineer and inventor Sir Goldsworthy Gurney built his home here in a location originally on the sand, challenged by the locals who said it couldn't be done. "Wait and see..." was Gurney's reply and the result (Bude Castle) is now a heritage centre which rests on an innovative concrete raft foundation.

    Gurney invented limelight and his Bude Lights (oxygen-accelerated oil lamps) which were used to light the House of Commons for more than 60 years. His other achievements included extinguishing a mine fire known as "the burning waste of Clackmannan" that had been burning for 30 years by using a steam jet to smother it with a mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide and subsequently a spray of water to cool the mine.

    The 9 metre conical monument of polished concrete erected outside Bude Castle is named the Bude Light in dedication to Gurney, painted in the colours of sea, sky and sand and lit with fibre-optics which are a little more suited to both the outdoors and health-and-safety than his original lighting systems involving naked flames and pure oxygen.

  3. Cross the footbridge then cross over the lane and climb the steps, then turn left to reach the path. Follow this until it ends on a lane opposite some railings.

    This footbridge is known as Nanny Moore's Bridge.

    Nanny Moore's Bridge is a footbridge that crosses the River Neet in Bude. The bridge was formerly known as Bude Bridge but renamed in the early 1800s after a widow who lived in one of the Leven Cottages next to the bridge. It was built originally for packhorses and carts as well as pedestrians and led to Efford Mill (which became the cottages). The end section is cantilevered so it can be lifted to allow boats through.

  4. Cross the lane and take the path behind the railings. Follow the path until it ends on a lane opposite Atlantic House.

    The widow known as Nanny Moore was an attendant (known as a "dipper") to the bathing machines on Bude beach in the early-mid 19th Century, when the Victorians had decided that bathing in the cold sea was good for one's health. Her role was to assist bathers in immersing themselves, especially when the temperature of the water sapped the courage of the more timid! She died in 1853 and is buried in St Michael's churchyard.

  5. Turn left and follow the lane past Atlantic House until you reach the end of the lane where a path departs ahead.

    The bathing machine was a device, popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, which purported "the most refined female is enabled to enjoy the advantages of the sea with the strictest delicacy". Bathers entered the small room of the machine whilst it was on the beach and once inside changed into their bathing suits. The device was then hauled out into the sea either by horses or strong locals. Once in the water, the occupants disembarked down steps from the sea side. It was considered essential that the machine blocked any view of the bather from the shore. Men and women were usually segregated, so nobody of the opposite sex might catch sight of them in their bathing suits, which (although modest by modern standards) were not considered proper clothing in which to be seen.

  6. Follow the path ahead and continue until it forks around a grassy island.

    The protruding rocks on the left of the beach and river channel are where the ship Bencoolen was wrecked.

    The Bencoolen was a ship wrecked off Summerleaze beach near Bude. On its way from Liverpool to Bombay, the Bencoolen - a 1415-ton cargo vessel - met gale force winds off the North Cornish coast on October 21 1862, breaking its main mast and leaving the captain unable to steer. At roughly 3pm the ship ran aground on Summerleaze beach, just metres from safety. The sea was too rough to launch the lifeboat, so the rocket brigade were deployed.

    "In five minutes the rocket apparatus was put to work; the first rocket fell short, the next failed, the third fell over the ship where the despairing crew huddled on the poop. A man who rushed forward and clutched the line was washed overboard with it in his hand. A huge roller then broke over the apparatus rendering it useless."
    "Within two hours from the time she struck, she was in fragments, and 24 men had drowned within a cable's length of the breakwater at Bude. Of the 33 crew, only six were rescued alive."

    The figurehead that was recovered from the ship is on display at the Heritage centre in Bude Castle.

  7. Walk past the grassy island, then take the rightmost of the surfaced paths until you reach the lifeguard hut for Bude Sea Pool.

    Bude Sea Pool is located on Summerlease Beach. After "tragic happenings... through people bathing at low water", the Sea Pool was created in the 1930s in the bay known as "Saturday's Pit". The local newspaper stated it was now possible to "proclaim worldwide that there was absolutely safe bathing at Bude... In all probability precious lives will be saved". Due to budget cuts in 2010, Cornwall Council ceased funding for the pool and it is currently being run by a local charity appropriately named "Friends of Bude Sea Pool" (formerly SOS = Save our Sea Pool).

  8. Turn right at the lifeguard hut and follow the surfaced path behind the sea pool until you reach a number of beach huts.

    The cliffs at the far end of the pool are known as the "Bude Fish Bed".

    The cliffs at the northern end of Bude Sea Pool are known as the "Bude Fish Bed". They are so named because they are some of the most fossiliferous in the area. There is a black shale layer just over 4 metres thick which contains the fish fossils and also some crustaceans.

  9. Go down the steps in front of the beach huts then continue ahead across the tarmac towards the Surf Lifesaving Club to reach a footbridge.

    Next to the sea pool on Summerleaze beach is a long rock known as Coach Rock. At the bottom of this is a metal cross, erected in 1840. This is a Half Tide Cross and lives up to its name when the water is level with arms of the cross, marking the tide being half in, or out, depending on whether your cider glass is half full or half empty.

  10. Cross the bridge and bear left past the Surf Lifesaving Club to reach a flight of steps.

    The six-oared elm boats known as Pilot Gigs were general-purpose work boats, but one of their uses was to transport the pilot to and from a ship, which resulted in the name. The first boat to meet a ship gained the business of transporting the captain (and thus being paid) and thus a "race" came into being, with different boats competing for business. Today, Gig Racing is of a recreational nature, but the boats are still built to the exact well-documented specification of the originals. Elm wood is highly resistant to water, so much so, that town water mains were made of elm before the widespread availability of iron.

  11. Climb the steps and follow the path until it emerges on a track.

    The beach sand and sandstone around Bude was used as a source of lime to improve the fertility of the acid soils further inland.

    "the quantity which is every season carried away from different parts of the coast for the purpose of manure almost exceeds belief. From Bude, in the parish of Stratton, it has been ascertained that in one day as many as four thousand horse loads have been taken."
    Transactions of the Royal Geological Society of Cornwall 1818.
  12. Turn left and follow the track and a short path up a flight of steps to reach a kissing gate.
  13. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path ahead waymarked for Northcott Mouth until it forks into a pair of grassy paths.
  14. Keep left at the fork and follow the path to a gap through a bank, shortly before it forks.
  15. At the fork, keep left along the well-worn coast path. Follow the coast path across the cliffs until you eventually reach a gate beside a large white bungalow.

    A few different factors all combine to vary the colour of the sea:

    A glass in your hand might lure you into thinking otherwise, but pure water is faintly blue. The main wavelengths that the chemical bonds in water absorb are either in the infra-red or ultra-violet, and not in the visible spectrum, which is why a glass of pure water does not look coloured. However one fairly obscure harmonic of the vibrations in the water molecule corresponds to the wavelength of red light and so water very weakly absorbs the red from white light, giving it a very slightly blue tinge. If there is enough water, both the blue tinge and reflection of blue light by any suspended particles make it look blue.

    Another factor is that the surface of the ocean acts as a mirror and reflects the colour of the sky and this is why it may appear grey under a cloudy sky. Under a blue sky, this intensifies the blueness.

    In shallow water, the sand which is golden in Cornwall due to fragments of seashell, reflects yellow light and this combines with the blue from seawater to generate colours from green to turquoise. The ocean also sometimes appears green due to the presence of planktonic plant life.

    The Cornish language has a word glas (often appearing in place names as "glaze") which is the Swiss Army Knife of sea colour descriptions. It means blue, or green, or grey.

  16. Go through the gate and follow the track a short distance to a waymark on the left just past Northcott House.

    Northcott Mouth, situated just north of Bude, marks the southernmost end of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which runs to the Devon border. The beach is confined to a rocky cove at high tide, but as the tide goes out, sand is exposed which eventually joins up with the neighbouring beaches forming a continuous corridor from Sandymouth to Bude. The upended strata forming ridges along the beach trap seawater, creating a number of rockpools at low tide. The tidal range here can reach roughly 7 metres so be careful not to get cut off by the incoming tide.

  17. At the waymark, bear left onto the path and follow it past another waymark and down to the lifeguard hut.

    The shipwreck that can be seen at low tide at Northcott Mouth at the northern end near Menachurch Point is of the SS Belém. The ship ran aground on the 20th November 1917 and 33 men were rescued. The Belém was a steam-powered cargo ship, originally built in Germany in 1890, and had recently been bought by a Portugese freight company. The visible remains include the propeller shaft and the boilers. Another section of the propeller shaft was used as the support for the barrel on Barrel Rock, on the end of Bude Breakwater.

  18. At the Lifeguard Hut, bear right onto the lane and follow it uphill to a bridleway which departs from the right beside the green Northcott Mouth sign.

    Sandeels are small slender fish found shoaling around the beaches in Cornwall. If you put on a mask and snorkel, you're almost guaranteed to see some, often swimming around your feet.

    The name is confusing as sandeels are not eels, just long, thin fish (like barracuda, but a lot smaller!). The sand part is because they burrow into the sand if alarmed. There are two main types present in Cornwall: Lesser Sandeels are the small ones you're likely to see by the shore, Greater Sandeels are chunkier and about the length of your foot; they can sometimes be seen shoaling in deeper water, occasionally joining in with a shoal of Lesser Sandeels.

    Sandeels are a vital part of the food chain, supporting many sea birds including puffins and larger fish such as sea bass. Consequently they are a favourite bait for anglers, and in Cornwall a curved iron bar known as a vingler was traditionally used to snag buried sandeels.

    Sandeels eat zooplankton and are therefore snookered by Global Warming causing phytoplankton to bloom early resulting in the zooplankton being undernourished. Industrial fishing for sandeels for use in fertilizers (e.g. "fish, blood and bone") has also damaged the population.

  19. Turn right onto the bridleway and follow it past the parking area to a gate.
  20. Go through the gate and follow the left hedge to a gateway on the far side of the field.
  21. Go through the gateway and follow the track along the left hedge until it eventually ends at a gate onto a lane.

    You may see migratory birds passing overhead on their way to the Maer Lake wildlife reserve which roughly a quarter of a mile inland from the track.

    Maer Lake is owned jointly between the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the Cornwall Birdwatching and Preservation Society. It consists of 25 acres of wetland meadow with open water and provides an internationally-acknowledged resting and feeding site for migrating birds. Note there is no access inside the reserve; viewing is strictly only from the private road above the reserve.

  22. Go through the pedestrian gate on the right of the gate and continue a short distance along the lane to reach a narrow winding path on the right, just past the wall and before the turning area.
  23. Turn right and follow the narrow path to emerge onto a track.
  24. Keep left and follow the track downhill passing the houses on your left until it ends in a junction.
  25. At the junction, continue ahead and walk inside the wall along the front of the car park to reach the pavement from the car park entrance. Continue on the pavement and follow it past Sainsbury's to a junction.
  26. At the junction, continue ahead down the hill, past the Post Office, until the road ends at a junction and roundabout.
  27. Continue ahead across the roundabout to reach the pavement alongside the river. Bear left and follow the pavement upriver until you reach a junction.

    The confluence of rivers Neet and Strat occurs upstream of Bude at Helebridge. From this point downstream, there has been controversy over whether the river should be called the Neet or the Strat. Historically the residents of Stratton seemed to prefer the name shared with their settlement whereas some Bude residents referred to the "Strat" as a "vulgarism". This has never been formally resolved, and on Ornance Survey maps, the river is now diplomatically known as the "Neet or Strat".

  28. Turn right at the junction and cross the pedestrian bridge. Follow the road a short distance to the entrance to the car park, to complete the circular walk.

    Fairly large mullet can sometimes be seen in the river.

    Grey mullet are related to the perch family (such as the bass) and surprisingly unrelated to the "red mullet" (which is in fact a type of goatfish). Mullet caught in the open sea are excellent eating fish and can be used in similar dishes to bass. However, those living in muddy water (such as the harbour) generally taste of mud. This can apparently be diminished by soaking them in acidic, salty water but the flavour is still described as "earthy".

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