Widemouth to Bude

A circular walk from Widemouth Bay along the Coast Path though the Phillips Point nature reserve to The Storm Tower at Compass Point and then along the Bude Canal to Whalesborough, returning across the fields to Widemouth.

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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.

Considerations

  • Route includes paths close to unfenced cliff edges.

Reviews

Had a wonderful walk today, thanks to your website. Widemouth Bay to Bude. A most pleasant time was had. 2 or 3 moderate climbs, but nothing too strenuous and, of course some stunning views of our beautiful coastline. Thoroughly recommended!!

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 111
  • Distance: 6.2 miles/10 km
  • Grade: Easy-moderate
  • Start from: the northern edge of Widemouth Bay beach
  • Parking: Widemouth Bay car park EX230AH
  • Recommended footwear: walking shoes or trainers in summer

OS maps for this walk

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

Highlights

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

Pubs on or near the route

  • Bay View Inn
  • The Brendon Arms

Alternative walks

Directions

  1. If you are facing the sea, make your way to the top-right corner of the beach. Climb over the granite boulders and follow the path to the left. 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 to a fork in the path at a waymark just after a bench.

    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 fork, bear left to reach a circle of large stones on the headland (Lower Longbeak).
  4. At the rock circle, turn right to follow the path along the coast until you reach a fork in the path.

    Curlews are the largest brown wading bird in Cornwall and easily recognisable by their ridiculously long and slightly curved bill. This has evolved for probing for invertebrates such as ragworms deep in the estuary mud. It gets its name from the call which is along the lines of "cur-lee".

    Roughly a quarter of the world's population lives in the British Isles but the population has declined rapidly and it is now on the Red List of most endangered species. It is thought that increased predation from the growing fox and crow population could be one of the factors driving the decline. Curlews nest on the ground which makes their chicks particularly vulnerable to land-based predators.

  5. 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 just after the gap in the hedge.

    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.

  6. From the nature reserve sign, follow the coast path until you reach a coast path sign 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.

  7. At the sign, join the pavement and follow this past the houses to a gateway on the left with a metal gate and Coast Path sign.

    The geological formation 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.

  8. Go through the gateway (indicated for Bude) and follow the path past the collapsed cliff until you reach a kissing gate.

    In Cornwall, cliffs erode at an average rate of between roughly 3cm - 30cm per year depending on the hardness of the rocks and location. In reality this often happens in infrequent sudden collapses rather than as a steady, gradual process. It was found that one massive storm in 2014 caused around 100 times the average amount of erosion. There are obvious implications from climate change leading to more frequent or more intense storms.

  9. Go through the kissing gate and continue ahead across the field to the gateway at the bottom of the hill.

    Clover is a native plant and a member of the legume (pea and bean) family. It is also sown as a fodder crop and as "green manure" as it improves soil fertility. The two most common species are known simply as white clover and red clover, based on the colour of their flowers, with the latter generally being a slightly larger plant. Red clover leaves also have a white V shape.

  10. Go through the gateway and keep left along the coast, towards the waymark at the top of the hill. Once you reach this, 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. On a really clear day, what looks like a large, round island behind The Mouls and Gulland is actually Trevose Head but the lower section of it is hidden behind the horizon.

    Due to the curvature of the earth, the distance you can see to the horizon depends on your height above sea level. This increases with the square root of height (i.e. with diminishing returns). An adult typically sees the horizon about 3 miles from the beach. From the top of a 100 foot lighthouse, it is about 12 miles away. At the top of the highest cliff in Cornwall it is roughly 33 miles out but if a 100ft tower were built all the way up here, it would only allow an extra 2 miles to be seen.

  11. From the trig point, follow the coast path to a kissing gate.

    The process of placing trig points on top of prominent hills and mountains began in 1935 to assist in the retriangulation of Great Britain - a project which to improve the accuracy of maps which took three decades.

    The brass plate with three arms and central depression was used to mount a theodolite which was used to measure the angles between neighbouring trig points very accurately. These angles allowed the construction of a system of triangles which covered the entire country and provided a measurement system accurate to around 20 metres.

  12. Go through the gate and follow the path to 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.

  13. From the watchtower, keep left on the cliff-edge path and follow this until it descends flight of steps to emerge onto a surfaced path 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.

  14. 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.

  15. At the signpost, turn left down the steps and then walk straight ahead to join the road and reach the sea lock. Follow the path over the top of the lock gates and turn right onto the path on the other side of the canal. Follow this to reach a car park.

    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.

  16. Keep following along the edge of the canal to reach the bridge and turn right to reach the pedestrian crossing. Cross this to the pedestrian gate on other side. Go through this and 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.

  17. 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, 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.

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

    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.

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

    The Fish Pass is situated on the wier near Rodd's Bridge. The Fish Pass is a concrete channel along one edge of the wier, down which water flows from the canal to the river. The channel contains a series of alumium baffles, which create turbulence, slowing the water down and increasing the depth. This allows fish to swim along the channel and commute between the river and canal. Alongside this is an Eel Pass which consists of bristles that the eels can get a grip on, and a pool half-way up so they can have a rest.

  20. Follow the path straight ahead past a redundant stile and into a car park. Walk through the car park until you reach a gate on the right at the far end.

    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.

  21. Go through the gate on the right and follow the path until you reach a public footpath sign. Turn left through the pedestrian gate to cross the drive and reach a 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.

    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!

  22. Go through the kissing gate and bear right to the brow of the hill then head to the waymarked gate in the top hedge.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access team:

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergiences use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  23. Go through the kissing gate to the right of the gate and follow the path across the next field to the gateway.

    Pineapple weed is related to chamomile and is consequently also known as false chamomile. It's able to colonise poor soils on waste ground including cracks between paving. The flowers resembling little yellow balls are also quite distinctive but even more so is the pineapple scent when is trodden on or squeezed. The leaves can be eaten in salads and the leaves and flowers can also be dried to make tea.

  24. Go through the gateway and keep ahead past the gateway on the left. Follow the left hedge of the field to the remains of a pedestrian gate marked with a red rabbit sign.

    The red bunny signs are actually 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.

  25. Go through the gateway and follow the path ahead to a gateway in the far left corner.

    The fields here are rotated between arable crops such as oil-seed rape and barley.

    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.

  26. 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 gateway onto the road.

    Skylarks are the most common member of the lark family in Britain are often known simply as "larks".

    Almost all European countries have reported a rapid decline in lark numbers over recent years. In Britain, two-thirds of the population has disappeared in 30 years. This is thought mainly to be due to intensive agriculture and particularly the autumn sowing of cereals. When cereals were sown in the spring, the fields of stubble that remained after harvest provided an environment where larks could nest during the winter.

  27. Cross the road then take the right of the two gravel tracks, marked "To the Coastpath" until you reach a footpath sign.
  28. 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

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.

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