Widemouth to Bude

The walk follows the coast north from Widemouth Bay to Bude, passing Phillip's Point Nature reserve, over Efford Down, to the watchtower at Compass Point. The route then turns inland at the Bude breakwater and follows the canal from the sea lock into Bude. The walk continues along the canal towpath to Helebridge and then follows footpaths over fields from Whalesborough to the coast.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111 (scan QR code on right to order from Amazon)
  • Distance: 6.2 miles/10 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: the northern edge of Widemouth Bay beach
  • Parking: Widemouth Bay car park. Satnav: EX230AH
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers in summer

Maps for this walk

(dark blue corner = laminated version)

Highlights

  • Wildflowers and clifftop scenery at Phillip's Point Nature Reserve
  • Panoramic coastal views from the Compass Point watchtower
  • Shops and cafés in the small seaside resort of Bude
  • Wildlife and aquatic plants along Bude Canal
  • Sandy beaches of Widemouth Sand and Crooklets at Bude

Adjoining walks

Directions

  1. If you are facing the sea, make your way to the top-right corner of the beach. Follow the path leading from the top corner of the beach and over a footbridge. Continue on the path until it crosses a driveway.

    Widemouth Bay is the southernmost of the sandy beaches around Bude. As the name implies, this is a substantial stretch of sand and faces west into the Atlantic. Consequently, when there is a big surf running, there can be some absolutely monster waves at Widemouth which can make you wonder why going surfing seemed like a good idea at the time. In the autumn and winter, it's a good place to see expert surfers.

    In the past, sloops from Wales would use Widemouth as a port (in the most basic sense), unloading goods such as coal and limestone; and taking Cornish wares back to Wales such as granite, slate, tin, copper and even Cornish pasties! The beaches in the bay are now the landing points for many Transatlantic cables linking the USA and UK, supporting an altogether different kind of surfing.

  2. Cross the drive, and follow the path ahead over a second drive to a waymark. Then follow the waymarked path ahead along the coast bearing left to reach a circle of large stones on the headland (Lower Longbeak).

    Salthouse cottage (where the path crosses the two drives) was a salt store built in the 18th Century. Salt was an important part of the pilchard industry and the main means to preserve meat and fish for domestic consumption. In some parts of Cornwall, salted conger eels were hung from the rafters and sliced like bacon.

  3. At the rock circle, turn right to follow the path along the coast until you reach a fork in the path.
  4. Take the first turning left and follow the coast path over the next headland (Higher Longbeak) until eventually you reach the Phillip's Point nature reserve sign.

    Phillips Point nature reserve is located on the seaward side of the Widemouth to Bude coast road. The small reserve is owned by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and is a good spot for seals. It has magnificent vertical and slumping high cliffs with spectacular views to Hartland Point and Widemouth on a clear day.

  5. From the nature reserve sign, follow the coast path until you reach a pair of benches next to the Upton Cross B&B sign.

    There is another tiny wildlife reserve in Upton, preserving the Culm grassland that supports a diverse range of plants and butterflies.

  6. At the pair of benches, bear left on the path, following a fence to reach a kissing gate.

    The geological formation known known as the Culm Measures stretches from Dartmoor to north Devon and across northeast Cornwall as far west as Bodmin Moor. It is a 2-3 mile deep sequence of sedimentary rocks laid down during the Carboniferous period and named after a soft sooty coal known as culm which found occasionally within it. The heavy clay soils result in wet grassland and heath which is unlike any other in England and supports a wide diversity of species including rare orchids and the marsh fritillary butterfly. Over 90% of the culm grassland was lost during the 20th Century, and a number of wildlife organisations are now working together to protect what remains.

  7. Go through the kissing gate and follow the path past the collapsed cliff until you reach another kissing gate.
  8. Go through the kissing gate and make your way along the left side of the field to the gateway ahead at the bottom of the hill.
  9. Go through the gateway and continue straight ahead, towards the bench and waymark at the top of the hill. Once you reach the bench, continue to the trig point.

    To your left, on a clear day you can see the headlands of The Rumps (most distant, with the islands of The Mouls and Gulland out from it), Tintagel Head (with Castle Island and the large rectangular Castle Hotel to the left of it), Cambeak (the beak-shaped headland) and the less distinct and closest Dizzard Point.

  10. From the trig point, follow the coast path through a gate, until you reach the a stone tower.

    The headland on which the tower stands is called Compass Point.

    Compass Point is a protruding rocky headland just to the south of Bude's breakwater and Summerleaze beach. The coastguard watch tower at Compass Point was built by the Acland family in 1840 and is known as "The Storm Tower" or "The Pepperpot". It is built of local sandstone and based on the Temple of Winds in Athens. In 1900 it was moved inland to its current position as the location where it was originally built was being eroded.

    The summit at Compass Point is an excellent viewpoint from which you can see Trevose Head to the South (and its lighthouse in the evening) and the island of Lundy to the North. There is a topograph here which shows the headlands and moorland summits visible on a clear day.

  11. From the watchtower, keep left and follow the grassy path down until it emerges on a surfaced path at the bottom of a flight of steps at a waymark.

    You can turn left at this point to visit Bude's breakwater, from which there are good views back into Summerleaze beach.

    The breakwater at Bude is located on the south of Summerleaze beach where the River Neet enters the sea. The original breakwater was built in the 1820s as part of the canal construction work and was shorter than the current one. It was destroyed in a terrible storm in February 1838 and was replaced by the existing breakwater in 1843. The metal support for the Barrel on Barrel Rock at the end of the Breakwater, was once the propeller shaft of the SS Belem, wrecked at Northcott Mouth.

  12. Turn right onto the path and follow it until you reach a signpost.

    At the top of the beach, the Bude Canal meets the River Neet which forms the channel up the beach.

    Bude Canal runs from Helebridge, through the centre of Bude, to the sea lock near Summerleaze beach. The canal was built in the 1820s to carry sea sand and lime inland for use as fertiliser and the original canal system spanned 35 miles reaching Launceston. The canal closed in 1901 when competition from the railway, bringing cheap manufactured fertilisers, rendered it uneconomical. Today, roughly 2 miles of canal remain filled with water.

  13. At the signpost, turn left down the steps and then walk straight ahead to join the road ahead. Follow the road past the sea lock and up the side of the canal until you reach the Falcon Hotel.

    When the Bude Canal was built at the start of the 1820s, a lock was constructed at the seaward entrance to allow sailing vessels of up to 100 tons to be admitted to the basin for trading. In 1835, the Sea Lock was badly damaged by a storm. It was subsequently rebuilt, and the opportunity was taken to enlarge it to its current dimensions which could accomodate larger seagoing vessels of up to 300 tons.

    In 2000, the sea lock had a complete refurbishment which included 2 new sets of gates. Only 8 years later, the new gates were lifted and damaged when a storm coincided with a very high tide; this broke the seal and caused the canal to start to drain. An emergency dam was built to protect the wildlife in the canal whilst the gates were repaired.

  14. At the Falcon Hotel, cross the bridge to the road crossing and cross this to the other side. From here, follow the sloping path down to the canal towpath.

    The Falcon Hotel is situated alongside Bude Canal, just below the bridge. The Falcon Hotel was established in 1798 and the current building dates from about 1825, enlarged in the 1870s and then again in 1912, when the central tower was added and several cottages in Falcon Terrace were absorbed. It is thought to be the oldest coaching house in North Cornwall and was once the headquarters for four-horse coaches running between Bideford, Clovelly, Bude, Boscastle, Tintagel and Newquay.

  15. Follow the towpath up the canal, keeping right where the cycle path forks to the left. Continue past the bird hide, until you reach Rodd's Bridge where the path ends at a lane crossing the canal.

    The bird hide overlooks the Bude Marshes nature reserve. You can also sometimes see kingfishers on the canal.

    Bude Marshes is an area of wetlands located on the south-west edge of Bude, along the northern bank of the Bude Canal, not far along from the Visitor's Centre. The marshland is the fourth largest area of reed in the county and provides valuable habitat for wintering migrant and breeding birds.

    Kingfishers are found near slow-moving or still water where they dive to catch fish. The Kingfisher is able to switch between light receptors in the main central area of its eye and a forward-facing set when it enters water, allowing it to judge distances accurately underwater. It is estimated that a female needs to eat over twice her own body weight in order to increase her condition sufficiently for egg laying.

    The unmistakable metallic blue and orange birds fly fast and low over the surface of the water so may only be apparent as a blue flash. The pigment in their feathers is actually brown but the microstructure of their features results in light interference patterns which generate the brilliant iridescent blue and orange colours. Unfortunately the result, during Victorian times, was that kingfishers were extensively killed for display in glass cases and for use in hat making. The population has since recovered and is now limited by the availability of suitable waterways.

  16. At Rodd's Bridge, cross the canal then turn left onto the towpath on the other side. Continue ascending the canal, past two locks, until you reach another bridge.

    Large amounts of wild garlic can be found in the wooded areas near the locks during spring.

    Wild garlic is best harvested in early spring before it flowers and the leaves start to die off. Unlike domestic garlic, the leaves are the useful bit rather than the bulb, so cut/pull off the leaves (don't pull up the plants). The leaves are quite delicate, so you can use quite large quantities in cooking; therefore, harvest it in the kind of quantities that you'd buy salad leaves from the supermarket. There are some lillies that look fairly similar (and some are poisonous) but the smell is the giveaway: if it doesn't smell of garlic/onions, then it's not wild garlic.

  17. Follow the towpath past the weir, until you reach a footbridge at a fork in the canal.

    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".

  18. Follow the path straight ahead, signposted to Widemouth Bay, passing a fishing lake on your right. Walk through the car park until you reach the driveway.

    To deal with the rising land and poor supply of water, the Bude canal included "inclined planes" (hills in a canal!) which were cheaper to construct, saved water and were quicker to use than a flight of locks.

    The 20ft long canal boats had wheels, and the boats laden with 20 tons of cargo were hauled uphill on rails. Power was provided by waterwheels or, in one instance, a very large bucket of water which acted as a counterweight as it was lowered down a shaft.

    The Barge Workshop at Helebridge - a small museum, opened on Sundays during the summer by volunteers - houses the only known example of a Bude Canal tub boat. Despite being at the bottom of the canal until 1976, this is substantially complete, including its wheels.

  19. Turn right up the drive and follow it until you reach a public footpath sign. Turn left in the direction indicated to a kissing gate next to an information board.

    Whalesborough is an ancient settlement, mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Walesbrau. The Whalesborough tea room/bistro, at the top of the drive, has information about the local wildlife in the form of some interactive displays.

  20. Go through the kissing gate and bear right on the track into the field, heading uphill to a gate.

    Whalesborough Farm, overlooking the Bude Canal near Helebridge, started making cheese in 1999. Since then they have won national awards for their cheeses which are stocked by The Eden Project and Fortnum and Mason amongst others, and their cheese has even been served in the Houses of Parliament!

  21. Go through the gate and follow the path across the next field, to the gateway.

    The red bunny signs may look like killer rabid rabbits, but they are hares; there is a resident population in this area.

    Unlike rabbits, hares spend all their time above ground and are able to reach speeds of 35mph to escape from predators which include foxes and buzzards. Hares are now rare or even locally extinct in areas of South West England, yet in the late 1800s there were around 4 million hares distributed throughout Britain. Their decline isn't fully understood but is thought to be linked to changes in farming practices, together with hares' need to feed throughout the year as they neither hibernate nor store large amounts of fat. In the past, the dairy farms of the South West had hay meadows which contained a wide range of plants providing hares with something to eat whatever the season. Since the Second World War, 95% of the hay meadows have been lost, largely replaced by sileage production using fields sown with pure grass. Since the end of the 20th Century, there has been some diversification of farming in Cornwall and it's possible, particularly if this isn't too intensive, that this may create conditions that are more favourable for hares. The Hare Preservation Trust are interested in any sightings of hares to help build up an understanding of where the habitat is most suitable; they have an online survey which you can use to notify them of any hare sightings.

  22. Go through the gateway and keep ahead past the gateway on the left. Follow the left hedge of the field to a kissing gate.
  23. Go through the gate and follow the path ahead to a gateway in the far left corner.

    In the 1800s, using turnips in a crop rotation was a popular means of enriching the nitrogen content of the soil. However, this crop also depletes the lime content of the soil and so the practice was less common in Cornwall than elsewhere in the country. Where turnips were grown, this could well have further fuelled the demand for lime-rich shell sand to be brought inland by horse, the railway along the Camel, or via Bude canal.

  24. Go straight through the gateway. On the other side, where a number of other paths converge, go straight ahead and follow the path along the right hedge. At the far side of the field, make for the kissing gate next to the gateway onto the road.
  25. Go through the gate and cross the road. Then take the right of the two tracks, marked as a public footpath until you reach a footpath sign.
  26. At the footpath sign, turn left and follow the path back to Widemouth Bay.

    At the rightmost end of Widemouth Bay is a fossil bed.

    There is a fossil bed at the northern end of Widemouth Bay. The bed contains fossilised remains of fish from the Carboniferous period. The fossils are quite difficult to locate as they only occur in certain rock layers. The place to look is in buff-coloured shales between sandstone and siltstone layers.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa
  • If you have a large dog, let us know if you find problems with the stiles on this walk (e.g. require the dog to be lifted over). A rough idea of how many problematic stiles there are is also useful.

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

A free way to not kill penguins: discarded ink cartridges float in rainwater, can wash into rivers, be broken up by the sea into reflective shards eaten by dopey fish, and build up in the stomachs of seabbirds, causing them to starve to death. Google "stinkyink" and click on "free recycling" for a freepost label.
If you found this page useful, please could you
our page on Facebook?