Classic beach walk that's salty, short and sweet
People often ask why these newspaper walks haven't come out in book form, and it's a question I ponder long and loud over myself. Maybe one day they will – and when they are gathered together in their different geographic or subject areas, a good idea for one in the series would be a book focusing on hikes that include stretches of beach.
A true classic of this genre is to be found at Bude. It's short and sweet – but oh so incredibly salty and invigorating that even a less-than-fit mate of mine who joined me along its three humble miles this week pronounced himself to have been reborn.
His vow never to smoke a cigarette again, now that he had tasted the pure exhilarating pleasure of ozone rich Atlantic air, lasted at least four hours. Which for him was something of a record.
So how do we go about this extremely easy-to-follow hike that takes us gently up rolling down-lands only to drop us back to sea-level so that we can return a long the dead flat sands of a truly wondrous beach?
Well, the first thing to say is that we only go about it IF the tide is right.
The great beach which stretches north of Bude is backed by numerous reefs that stretch seawards from the cliffs – and you could easily walk half way, only to find yourself cut off by an incoming tide.
In one or two places this could be dangerous because the waves go right up to the cliffs. Even if your name was Chris Bonnington you'd have no way of escape.
I was in Bude last week after visiting Holsworthy, eight miles distant, for the WMN Market Town series – and the reason I extended my journey was that the sun was out and burning hot and it seemed like a very good moment to at least see the seaside before June's ubiquitous clouds returned.
About 10,000 others had come to the same conclusion and the whole high-days-and-holidays half-term atmosphere was very jolly indeed. Few, though, were doing any traipsing – I'd say that fewer than 1 per cent of the crowd walked as much as half a mile along the great golden strand from the town beach.
All the better for us then, as we set out across the pleasant wide open space of Summerleaze Downs – a wonderful bit of open land that would be the envy of any seaside town. It is remarkable that this prime coastal location has never been built upon – though we must turn a blind eye to the large supermarket that dominates the Bude end of the big grassy sward.
Which is easy to do as we are heading in the other direction. We're now in what is grandly known as the Grenville Manor of Stratton – Stratton being a far more important historically speaking than tiny Bedes Haven – as Bude used to be known.
Nowadays the roles are reversed and Stratton is really just a suburb of Bude.
We walk down across the grass to Crooklets Beach – full of little criminals, or so the name might suggest – and find our way on to the South West Coast Path. Actually, Crooklets means "barrow" and two tumuli survive north of the beach and there are occasional finds of Mesolithic waste.
We're now on National Trust-owned Maer Down and we climb quickly up to Wrangle Point which offers the most spectacular views of Bude. Careful as you go along here. The path is close to the unfenced edge and the Trust warns that, at normal times when stock graze on the Down, dog-owners should keep their pets on a lead as several frightened sheep are lost over the edge every year.
Northcott Mouth is an altogether more peaceful place after the busy seaside resort, and it is as good a location as any for a picnic or a rest. A stream tumbles down the valley onto the beach, and beyond that the coast path wends its way to Duckpool.
I was in the company of a friend who really needs to be a lot fitter than he is, so returned to Bude along those easy miles of golden sand. But not before I had inspected a barnacle encrusted girder or two that, I believe, is probably all that is left of the Portuguese steamer Belem – wrecked here on November 20, 1917.
I used the phrase "easy miles" because, as readers will know, there are different types of sand and some does not lend itself to hiking. I am happy to report the grains at Bude are of the non-sinking variety – striding along here is as easy as walking along a pavement. You could even, if you wish, pick a bag of mussels from the rocks nearest the lapping sea – I did on a previous visit and very good they were too.
And so we walk on past our criminal-sounding beach to reach The Breakwater which was built in 1823 to protect the canal, only to be destroyed by storm and built again in 1838. Here you can climb Chapel Rock which is, I am told, the "very soul of Bude" and then proceed inland to the only lock-gates which open directly onto the Atlantic Ocean.
The gates belong, of course, to Bude Canal which was built early in the 1820s to carry calcium-rich sea sand to the farmers up in the Cornish and Devon hill-country where the soil was poor. It was a magnificent engineering feat and stretched nearly 35 miles from Bude to Launceston.
We don't need to go all that way – we just need to stroll back into town to wherever it was we left our car – swearing as we go that we will never again do anything to harm our health, like smoke those horrible cigarettes so beloved by my mate.