Bude Canal and Coast circular walk

Bude Canal and Coast

A figure-of-8 walk at Bude where the demand for lime-rich sand could not even be met by 4000 horses a day and so a 35 mile canal was built to transport it to the Tamar Valley.

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The route can alternatively be done as two separate shorter circular walks. The first loop is along the canal and returns along the cycle track across Bude Marshes. The second loop of the walk is along the coast past the Sea Pool to Crooklets, returning past the Bude Tunnel and through the town.

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Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111
  • Distance: 3.9 miles/6.3 km
  • Steepness grade: Easy
  • Recommended footwear: Any comfortable shoes (all paths are surfaced)

OS maps for this walk

OS Explorer 111 OS Explorer 111 (laminated version)

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)


  • Shops and cafés in the seaside resort of Bude
  • Sandy beaches at Summerleaze and Crooklets
  • Wildlife including wading birds such as herons and egrets along the River Neet, Bude Canal and in the marshes
  • Historic tidal Sea Pool and Bude Castle, and not-so-historic Bude Tunnel (8th wonder of the world according to Tripadvisor)
  • Option to split into separate 2 mile and 1.7 mile circular walks

Pubs on or near the route

  • Crooklets Inn
  • The Barrel
  • The Bencoolen Inn
  • The Brendon Arms
  • The Carriers Inn
  • The Globe Hotel


  1. Make your way out of the car park on the path near the bridge over the canal and turn left onto the towpath. Follow the towpath up the canal, keeping right where the cycle path forks to the left. Continue past the bird hide, to where the path ends at a gate onto a lane crossing the canal.

    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.

  2. Go through the gate and turn left onto the lane. Follow this until just after a small hump-back bridge, you reach a cycle track joining from either side of the lane.

    You can sometimes see kingfishers on the canal.

    Kingfishers are found near slow-moving or still water where they dive to catch fish, as their name implies, but they also eat many aquatic insects, ranging from dragonfly nymphs to water beetles.

    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.

  3. Turn left and follow the cycle track to reach a junction with a footpath to the left which has a "no cycling" sign.

    National Cycle Route 3 runs 338 miles from Bristol to Land's End. The route is a mixture of lanes, byways and some tracks not open to road traffic including the upper section of the Camel Trail from Wenfordbridge to Dunmere.

  4. Keep right on the cycle track and follow this to where a gravel path departs to the left beside the wooden fences at the Riverlife café and bistro.

    The Romans and Greeks played games which are thought to resemble football with air-filled balls and there is a report of a Roman man being killed whilst being shaved by a barber when a ball was kicked through the window.

    A game involving running with a ball became popular at Rugby school in the 1830s and by the 1850s Rugby School football was spreading across the UK. In 1863, the Football Association was formed which formalised the rules of "soccer" (a late 19th Century Public School slang abbreviation of "association"), distinguishing it from "rugger".

    In Cornwall, the Celtic sport of hurling was already popular and may be why rugby was so enthusiastically adopted in the 19th Century.

  5. Bear left onto the gravel path and follow this until it ends in a junction with a tarmac path.

    In 2013, water voles were re-introduced in the Bude area and have been breeding successfully. The colony is protected by an ongoing programme to monitor and trap mink in the surrounding area.

    Since 1960, 90% of water voles in the UK have been wiped-out and the population is still falling faster than any other wild mammal in the UK. One reason is the intensification of agriculture leading to loss of habitat. A more acute factor is American mink which have escaped or been misguidedly liberated from fur farms. Mink have multiplied in the wild to become the water vole's main predator. Every day, water voles must eat around 80% of their body weight so they spend a lot of time mowing vegetation. When threatened with danger, their instinct is make a dash for water which makes them very vulnerable to predators that are faster swimmers than the voles.

  6. Turn left and follow the path over the bridge and across the marshes to reach the canal. Continue parallel to the canal towpath to re-enter the car park.

    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.

  7. Keep right past the Tourist Information Centre and after the coach park, bear right to a pedestrian gap in the wall.

    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 referred 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.

  8. Exit the car park and turn right. Follow the pavement over the bridge to a pedestrian crossing.

    Although herons primarily eat fish, they will eat frogs, rodents, moles, ducklings and even baby rabbits! They are quite brave birds and will venture into gardens and parks to eat the ornamental fish. They have also been known to visit zoos to steal fish during penguin and seal feeding.

  9. Turn left to cross at the crossing and then follow the pavement alongside the river. Continue to a roundabout with a bus stop.

    Fairly large mullet can sometimes be seen in the river.

    Grey mullet are related to the perch family (which includes bass) and are 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".

  10. Keep left past the bus stop and follow the lane along the river to a bridge with a flight of steps to the right.

    Geese migrate to warmer climates for the winter and fly in a V-shaped formation known as a skein or wedge (on the ground, a collection of geese is known as a gaggle). The V-formation allows birds behind the leader to fly more efficiently as the rising air from flapping wings of the bird ahead helps to support the weight of the one behind. This can increase the range that the bird can fly by over 70%. The birds each take it in turns to do the harder job of flying at the front.

  11. Climb the steps, turn left and walk to where the road ends to reach a path with a black metal bollard (or the steps can be bypassed using the ramp in the car park). Follow the path uphill to where it ends on a lane.

    The 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Turn left and follow the lane past Atlantic House until you reach the end of the lane where a path with a large metal post in the centre 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.

  14. 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 21st 1862, breaking its main mast and leaving the captain unable to steer. At roughly 3 PM 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. Timber from the ship was used to build many of the houses at the time and may have accelerated the expansion of Bude.

  15. Take either of the paths around the grassy island then after it, take the rightmost of the surfaced paths until you reach the lifeguard hut for Bude Sea Pool.

    Bude Sea Pool is located on Summerleaze 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).

  16. Turn right at the lifeguard hut and follow the surfaced path behind the sea pool and across the cliffs to reach another lifeguard hut and then 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.

  17. Go down the steps in front of the beach huts (or along the path behind) 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.

  18. Turn right before the footbridge to keep the river on your left and make your way into car park. Bear right after the toilets to follow along the right-hand edge of the car park past the skate park to reach a tarmacked path leading alongside the road.

    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.
  19. Bear right to join the tarmac path parallel to the road and follow it past Sainsbury's to a junction.

    In 1869, John Sainsbury and his wife opened a grocery shop in Drury Lane, London. Sainsbury's trading ethos was "Quality perfect, prices lower" (stated on their Islington shop in 1882) and this proved immensely popular - by 1922 it had become the UK's largest retailer of groceries. The trading ethos also led to Sainsbury's pioneering the concept of supermarket "own brand" products, undercutting established brands on price. When J. Sainsbury died in 1928, his dying words were "keep the shops well lit".

  20. At the junction, cross over the road then keep right onto the main road and cross over another junction. Continue ahead down the hill, past the Post Office, until the road ends at a junction and roundabout.

    The infamous Bude Tunnel is alongside Sainsbury's.

    The 230ft plastic tunnel from the road to Sainsbury's Car Park made it into the national news after it was ranked as Bude's top tourist attraction on Tripadvisor where it is listed alongside the Taj Mahal as one of the wonders of the world, a "religious experience" and "human miracle". What started out from a few people with a sense of humour has snowballed into a social media phenomenon which has now reached cult status with hundreds of Tripadvisor reviews and even has a "Public Relations Manager for Bude Tunnel" on Tripadvisor who responds to reviews. For Christmas 2018, the tunnel was lit with thirty thousand LEDs to produce a spectacular light show.

  21. Turn right at the bus stop to again walk alongside the river to reach the footbridge.

    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 Ordnance Survey maps, the river is now diplomatically known as the "Neet or Strat".

  22. Cross the footbridge and walk alongside Leven Cottages and the tennis courts to reach a surfaced path on the right immediately after the crazy golf.

    A ball hitting sport documented in AD 945 in China seems to be more-or-less crazy golf, which would make crazy golf the "original" form of golf.

    The form we know today is thought to have evolved from mini golf which was created for Victorian ladies for whom it was unbecoming behaviour to swing a club violently. The St Andrews Ladies' Putting Club, created in the 1860s, is thought to be the first mini golf course.

    In 1916, a miniature golf course in America was created with the holes bordered with flower beds. Then, during the 1920s, a series of short-lived crazes culminated in the Crazy Golf craze of 1930 in which four million Americans played every night! The craze spread into Britain via London and by October of 1930 there were already 60 courses.

  23. Bear right to follow the path to Bude Light (the coloured spike) then bear left to follow the path on the outside of Castle Gardens and through the car park to reach the wharf.

    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.

  24. Turn left and walk along the wharf to reach the road. Turn right to reach the pedestrian crossing on the bridge and cross to the gate on the opposite side of the road. Go through this and follow the path down to the canal to return to the car park.

    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.

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