Living in north Devon, and variety being the spice of life, we ventured over the Cornish border to nearby Bude to do the canal walk. We had chosen one of those bright but frosty February mornings and the wind chill factor made scarves, gloves and ear-covering hats an absolute necessity!
The walk starts conveniently next to the tourist information centre in the long stay car park (£3.10 for three hours) and for the first half you walk along the left bank as you go inland. Being an old canal tow path, the terrain is obviously flat but unlike many canals which can be closed in by banks and hedges, this one features a delightful open view to the left across the low lying Bude marshes nature reserve which is a designated bird sanctuary. After the first few hundred yards the modern houses on the opposite bank change to traditional styled properties and ultimately the Bude Gig boathouse before giving way to open countryside where we noticed a grey heron dozing amongst the reeds in the morning sun.
This was easy walking for the towpath was well tarmaced and easily wide enough for two, or even three people to walk abreast. To the left was a low thorn hedge populated by sparrows and robins – the latter being so tame that they hardly moved as we walked within inches of them. Delightful!
After about a mile we came to a gate protecting the path from a minor road that crossed the canal. Here you change sides and walk on the right of the canal, passing a long, low old farmhouse sheltering behind a stand of trees. The flat valley to the left continues but trees crowd the path on your right shoulder and again wild life in the form of a variety of bird life is abundant. Even though we didn’t notice it, there must be a slight incline on this section for we passed two well-kept lock gates in close proximity to each other. Whether these are still used we couldn’t guess, for the modern objective of the waterway seems to be to hold the level for the enjoyment of anglers and canoeists from the Bude Outdoor Activities centre.
After the second lock we noticed that the river divides on the opposite bank with a specialist ‘Alaskan ‘A’ fish ladder’ weir, designed to allow sea trout and eels, the latter in bound from the Sargasso Sea, to make their way up stream to spawn.
Shortly afterwards the pathway passes a man-made lake beside which, hurrah! there was a wonderful coffee house & bistro. It transpired that this was part of the Whalesborough self catering holiday complex and on entry we discovered a spacious, Scandinavian style, glass-fronted restaurant overlooking the fishing lake and bird sanctuary and adjacent Falconry. Doubling as an interactive wildlife centre, the restaurant’s walls are covered with beautiful photographs of the animal and bird life to be found during the different seasons around the area and are usefully captioned (we discovered that the collective noun for Goldfinches is a ‘Charm’ and that the male and female hare is called `Jack and Jill’ respectively). Still feeling the chill we settled for deep bowls of potato and leak soup, which came, unusually, with sun dried tomato savoury scones – delicious!
Refreshed and rested, we turned our faces coastward and retraced our footsteps until we branched off at the head of the cycle path, which runs through the nature reserve and along the river Neet back to the Tourist Information Centre. All in all, even allowing for the restaurant stop, about two and quarter hours walk.
Note for first time walkers – when you complete this ramble, it is worth making the 200 yard stroll alongside the canal towards the sea which brings you to the sea lock, one of only seven in the country. The ‘harbour’ area here is superb, although best seen in warmer weather than we experienced, as there are plenty of charming cafes and tea rooms to sit out side and enjoy the harbour environment.