Martin Hesp escapes heat to hike around Bude
I DID this hike when southern England was officially hotter than North Africa.
I promised myself that the moment my working day was done in I'd head for the nearest cool and airy coast.
Which happened to be Bude, a place that is relatively rich in cool perambulations potential.
The resultant walk, though not quite as long as I'd intended thanks to the stifling heat even on the coast, was a wonderful amble along the sea cliffs south of town and then inland to the altogether warmer zone of the River Neet valley.
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We stopped in the big car park adjacent to the Bude Canal and began our mission to find fresh air by crossing the bridge and turning right along the side of the waterway towards the sea. I have written about the glorious Bude Canal before but, for those readers who are unaware of North Cornwall's answer to Suez, Panama and Corinth, here is a basic history.
The waterway 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. Members of the Bude Canal and Harbour Society are particularly proud of the unique inclined planes which carried tub-boats up to 430 feet above sea level within just six miles of the coast.
Like most canals, this one was put-paid-to by the coming of the railways, and finally closed in 1891. But, thanks to the ocean-facing locks, the port of Bude remained in commercial use until the 1930s. By the way – I've been told there are the only lock gates opening directly out onto the Atlantic, and I've often wondered if that's true or not.
But if you are interested in finding out more about this intriguing waterway take a look at the society's informative website at http://www.bude-canal.co.uk – I recommend you do because it is one of the most historic developments of its kind in the country.
However, we must continue seawards, past the big refurbished lock-gates, to the South West Coast Path.
You'll find it tucked away behind Efford Cottage, just south of the lock. Here a gate introduces walkers to the great expanses of Efford Down and the glories of Compass Point.
A town trail leaflet says: "These downs, with their springy turf and furze, give the true feeling of Bude and the spirit of the North Cornish Coast. They have not changed for centuries – it was here that part of the Royalist Army under Sir Ralph Hopton camped on the eve of the Civil War Battle of Stratton on Tuesday May 1643."
I'm not sure about this, but have a feeling the Royalists won the battle the next day. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
The first thing you'll see, perched on the end of the downs, is a strange little building known locally as The Pepperpot. It was built by Sir Thomas Acland some time around 1840 and it is said he modelled this attractive structure on the Temple of the Winds in Athens. Its eight sides indicate the points of the compass but are, alas, seven degrees out of true – thanks to the fact that the building was moved to avoid being toppled over crumbling cliffs. I reckon they'll probably have to move it again soon because the soft cliffs around here are eroding fast.
South we went, over the downs and along the cliff-tops until we reached the Widemouth Bay road. This is where we gave up the struggle thanks to the heat. Even the cliff-top breezes had run out of steam and walking in such conditions is no fun – so we turned down the lane that took us through the hamlet of Upton and landed us on the eastern bank of the canal near Rodd's Bridge.
From Rodd's Bridge it was simply a case of walking north back to Bude along the towpath. It is a very pleasant stretch indeed – made all the merrier by the fact that we were able to turn right near town and cross the Peter Truscott footbridge. This took us on a meander around the Pethericks Mills wetland nature reserve.
A few overheated birds were sauntering among reed beds looking thoroughly fed-up because their beloved wetland was as hard as concrete. A pair of moorhens sat in the shade of a bank and coot did its best to splash a bit of water over some chicks.
We staggered on back down the canal side to the lock-gates where a delightful young French girl in an ice-cream van saved our lives with a couple of cornets of Cornwall's finest. There are times – and in this country they are very, very rare – when even the coolest kinds of walks can be just a few steps too far. But as far as heatwave hikes go, this really is one of the best I know.