Rocky ramparts between the beaches facing Bude Bay
Narrow, high-banked lanes, some with gradients as steep as 1 in 3, wriggle down from the main coast road to a series of sandy beaches backed by lofty, crumbling cliffs. At low tide many of the beaches merge into one another to create continuous stretches of sand, providing enjoyable beach walking when swift currents make bathing unsafe. Bude, popular with surfers, has a 19th-century canal linked to the Atlantic by a sea lock.
CANAL BY THE SEA Inside Bude Canal’s sea lock, visiting vessels tie up where coastal traders once loaded oats and slate brought down the canal from inland farms and quarries.
Graves in St Gennys’s churchyard, on a hill above Crackington Haven, are reminders that this spectacular part of the Cornish coast has claimed many ships and seafarers. They commemorate seven men who were lost when the Swedish brigantine William was wrecked off Crackington Haven in 1894, and seven others who were drowned six years later when storms claimed the steamer City of Vienna and the barque Capricorna.
The cliffs of Pencannow Point rise to more than 400 ft above Crackington Haven’s beach, where stream-washed shingle gives way to low-tide sand flanked by rocks. Swimmers should keep to the middle of the beach, avoiding the southern side at all times.
Walkers who follow the clifftop path from Crackington Haven to Cambeak and on southwards to Rusey Cliff are rewarded by views of some of the most majestic coastal scenery in Britain. The strip of land, 3 miles long, was given to the National Trust in 1959 by Wing Commander A. G. Parnall to commemorate his brother and other airmen who died during the Battle of Britain in 1940.
Cliffs with strata forced into astonishingly acute angles tower above this small cove. The atmosphere is peaceful, but the shingle beach shelves steeply and is not safe for swimmers. A stream flows down a deep, secluded valley whose sides are climbed by narrow lanes with very steep gradients.
The cliffs between Millook Haven and Chipman Strand are clad with England’s westernmost wood of dwarf oaks. Some acres of clifftop land between Dizzard Point and Chipman Strand were given to the National Trust by the Duchy of Cornwall when the Enterprise Neptune campaign for the preservation of Britain’s coast was launched in 1965.
The ‘hotline’ which spans the Atlantic, linking Downing Street to the White House, runs beneath this popular surfing beach whose sands are overlooked from the south by Penhalt Cliff. Widemouth’s first cable across the Atlantic was laid in 1963 and extended for 3,517 nautical miles to New Jersey. The second provided a link with Nova Scotia, 2,800 nautical miles away in Canada, laid ten years later.
There are surfboards for hire, but bathing is unsafe at low tide, and swimmers must beware of currents which sweep round rocks flanking the sands. A small car park on Penhalt Cliff, high above the beach, offers memorable views up the rugged coast towards Hartland Point.
Extensive sands and white-topped waves surging majestically in from the Atlantic make Bude a surfers’ paradise. Sum-merleaze Beach, nearest to the town, has a wide expanse of firm sand, backed by grassy downs. At the north end of the beach is a large seawater swimming pool, an acre in extent, which is refilled by the tides every day. Crooklets Beach, further north, offers particularly fine surfing. Lifeguards patrol both beaches during the summer. Bathing can be hazardous, particularly at low tide, because of the heavy surf and strong undertow.
Surfers operating from beaches in the North Cornwall District Council’s area must register with the council if their boards are more than 5 ft long. They must also have third-party insurance. A fee has to be paid to the harbourmaster before a boat may be launched.
Bude’s most interesting links with the past are Ebbingford Manor, which dates from the 12th century, and the broad canal whose waters mingle with the sea on Summerleaze Beach. The canal is overlooked by a former blacksmith’s shop where barge-hauling horses were shod. It now houses the Bude-Stratton Historical and Folk Exhibition which illustrates local life over the years. Exhibits include a model of the Ceres, a smack built atSalcombe in 1811. She was the oldest ship on Lloyd’s Register for many years, but went down off Baggy Point, between Appledore and Ilfracombe, while sailing to Bude in 1936.
Bude Castle, which overlooks Summerleaze Beach, was built by Sir Goldswor-thy Gurney in 1830 and is now used as offices by the local council. A notable scientist and inventor, Sir Goldsworthy proved that it was possible to build on shifting sands. His castle stands on a ‘raft’ of concrete and has remained perfectly stable. In 1831, steam carriages designed by Gurney operated the world’s first town-to-town service by self-propelled road vehicles. They had a cruising speed of about 12 mph.
A carnival is held in August. Surfboards may be hired, and there are boat trips, rowing boats for hire on the canal, fishing trips for sharks and other species, coarse fishing in the canal, with a permit, and fishing from the shore. Other attractions include a museum, a nature trail in the grounds of Ebbingford Manor, and inland sailing on Tamar Lakes.
THE JOVIAL POET-PRIEST
The Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker, vicar of Morwenstow from 1834 to 1875, is best known for his poem Song of the Western Men, but he also made a lasting contribution to the Church by originating the Harvest Festival. He was a colourful character, both in dress and manner, and once hoaxed the superstitious villagers by dressing up as a mermaid. Seated on a rock by the seashore he eventually revealed his identity by standing up and singing the National Anthem.
At the seaward end of Breakwater Road in Bude a sea lock marks the entrance to Bude Canal. It is the only lock on this remarkable waterway which ran 35 miles from Bude to Launceston and rose to a height of 350 ft in 6 miles. The change in levels was achieved by inclined planes, or ramps, between each different level and wheeled tub-boats which were pulled up the ramps on metal rails.
Two methods were used to haul the tubs, both employing water power. On all but one gradient the tubs were hooked on to an endless chain which was driven by a waterwheel, but at Hobbacott they were hauled by a water-filled bucket descending into a pit. The bucket held 15 tons of water and was attached to a chain wound round a drum; as the bucket was lowered into the 225 ft deep pit the drum operated a chain wheel which pulled the tubs up the steep incline.
Opened in 1823, Bude Canal was the longest tub-boat canal ever built. It carried sea sand for the fertilisation of inland farms, and on the return trips brought oats and slate to the trading vessels in Bude harbour. The coming of the railway ended the canal’s days, and by the end of the 19th century it had fallen into disuse. Today the waterway runs only as far as Helebridge, but traces of the old inclines can be seen at Mar-hamchurch and Hobbacott.
Little more than 1 mile inland from Bude, Stratton was the scene of a Civil War battle in 1643. A plaque and an obelisk on Stamford Hill mark the ground where the Parliamentarians were defeated by Royalist troops commanded by Sir Bevil Grenville, a descendant of the Elizabethan sea captain Sir Richard Grenville. His servant and bodyguard, Anthony Payne, was 7 ft 4 in. tall, weighed 532 lb and is commemorated by a portrait in the Tree Inn, Sir Bevil’s headquarters. Payne is buried in the local churchyard, where an inscribed tombstone marks his grave. Members of the Sealed Knot organisation re-enact the Battle of Stamford Hill every May.
There is a car park at Northcott Mouth, but the beach is also within easy walking distance of Bude. The path along the clifftop, which belongs to the National Trust, provides fine views, but tide times should be checked before setting out along the shore. The sandy beach is punctuated by rocks, and bathing is unsafe for two hours on either side of low water.
A 2 minute walk, ending in a short flight of steps, leads from the National Trust’s car park to a sandy beach backed by high and remarkably folded cliffs. At low water, when currents make swimming unsafe, the sands run southwards all the way to Bude. Walkers must check the state of the tide before setting out, because the unstable cliffs offer very few escape routes.
An inscribed stone records that William IV contributed £20 towards the bridge under which a stream flows from the beautiful Coombe Valley to Duckpool. A National Trust car park at the foot of Steeple Point overlooks a sandy, shingle-backed beach flanked by impressive but unstable cliffs. It is always unsafe to swim on the north side of Duckpool, and conditions are especially dangerous for two hours on each side of low water.
The tranquil woodlands of Coombe Valley support a rich variety of plants, birds and small mammals, and are explored by nature trails. At the tiny hamlet of Coombe there is a disused watermill dating from 1842. The water wheel and the machinery inside the building are intact.
The land which climbs the valley’s southern slope passes Stowe Barton, a house built by the Grenvilles in the 17th century. Their most famous ancestor, whose home was near by, was Sir Richard Grenville. His last battle with the Spaniards, in 1591, was later immortalised by Tennyson in The Revenge. Separated from the main British fleet near the Azores, the Revenge took on 15 Spanish warships in a battle that raged for hours. Only 20 of the Revenge’s crew survived, and Grenville was mortally wounded.
A grassy parking area is the starting point for the 15 minute walk which leads to this secluded beach where a stream filters through shingle to a stretch of low-tide sand. The last few yards of the walk involve a scramble over rocks. The beach’s isolation makes it unsuitable for swimming at the best of times, and swift currents make conditions particularly dangerous at low water. The path to Stanbury Mouth is overlooked from the south by the white ‘dishes’ of a Ministry of Defence station where communications satellites are tracked.
Narrow lanes run westwards from the coast road to this tiny, isolated village whose name recalls Morwenna, a 9th-century Celtic saint. The ancient church, sheltered by wind-bent trees, is a 10 minute walk from the cliffs where Morwenstow’s most famous vicar, the eccentric Robert Stephen Hawker, built a driftwood hut in which to write his poems. Hawker also built the vicarage whose chimneys are scaled-down replicas of church towers. The land between the church and the cliffs is National Trust property dedicated to Hawker’s memory.
Reached by a narrow, bumpy track which leads to a small car park, the beach at Welcombe Mouth is a mixture of pebbles, rocks and a little low-tide sand. The valley behind the shore, carved by a stream, is a nature reserve. This was the haunt of ‘Cruel’
Coppinger, an 18th-century smuggler and wrecker whose exploits are recalled in the maritime museum at Appledore. David Coppinger was a Dane who landed on the Cornish coast during a storm. He became a smuggler, and he and his gang terrorised the district for many years, until the revenue men made a determined effort to capture him. Coppinger escaped to a waiting ship, and was never seen again.
A steep footpath runs southwards to a secluded rock-and-pebble beach at Mars-land Mouth, where a stream marks the boundary between Devon and Cornwall.