This is one of our favourite walks and one which, I imagine, many Chronicle readers will already be familiar with, but if you haven’t yet ventured forth along this beautiful stretch of the SW coast path, then you’re in for a treat.
Allow about an hour and a half to get round – longer if you like to stop and savour the amazing views.
Start in Bude, leaving your car in the quay car park or, if you want to save a bob or two like your Yorkshire neighbours, use the car park that serves the Parkhouse Centre near the Bude Light at 60p an hour instead of £2 for up to 2 hours. Put the savings towards a Kelly’s ice cream on the quay and you’ll effectively get it for half-price – doubly delicious!
Licking your way through a Butterscotch Crunch or Lemon Meringue cone also helps take your mind off the hurricane that often hits you as you round the corner and make your way along the canal towards the lock gates and harbour. With your head down against the buffeting wind, you may notice a small section of rail exposed on the path. In the 19th century, trucks laden with lime-rich sand ran along these rails before depositing their load into tub boats waiting at the canalside. The sand acted as a valuable fertilizer, helping improve the poor soil of outlying farmland.
Cross the canal over the top of the sea gates – but not before you’ve marvelled at the number of lightly-attired young and old, prepared to endure temperatures close to freezing, enjoying the delights of Summerleaze Beach.
Stepping down from the lock brings you to a small working section of the harbour where there’s usually a picturesque pile of lobster pots and an old sea salt or two. From here, you’ll see some old stone steps built against the wall opposite. Turn right at the top of these and along the road to more steps which take you up onto the coast path.
Turn right again at the top and follow the narrow, hedge-bordered path until it opens out onto the grassy cliff top. Benches along the way afford a fantastic 180 degree vista over the beach and breakwater to the sea pool and over the far cliffs to GCHQ Morwenstow (and give a wave to ex-Sheepwasher, Sharon – she can probably see and hear you from there!).
Ahead of you is the Compass Tower, an eight-sided storm tower known locally as “The Pepper Pot”. Built in the 1820s to shelter the coastguard, it doesn’t actually bear a lot of close scrutiny, but is worth the short detour from the route once. Back on the beaten path, with the waves breaking over rocky ridges far below, pass through a kissing gate – mwah! – and crest the hill to discover Efford Beacon trig point at the highest point of the walk – an altitude of 62m or 203ft – with glorious 360 degree views this time. On a clear day, you’ll even be rewarded with views to Dartmoor and Lundy. And, strangely enough, you’ll become aware that the wind has dropped here, so linger and enjoy the view of the coastline stretching away from you in a series of craggy headlands silhouetted against the sea and sky.
To a soundtrack of Skylarks, let the grassy slope pull you down towards the muddy gap in the wall before striding up the other side to another kissing gate – mwah, mwah! Eventually you’ll pass an intriguingly fenced off lump of rusting iron. It obviously has some importance with somebody but I can find no mention of it anywhere. Does anyone else know its former or, indeed, current purpose?
Maybe it’s linked in some way to the large slabs of cliff which have slipped in front of it. The crumbling edges, though prettily bordered in pink Thrift at the moment, must be a constant threat to the houses which appear ahead. Slip past their back gardens along a narrow path, at the end of which you can rest on one of the benches and enjoy a last view of the coast across Widemouth Bay. Often parked nearby is a wheelbarrow crammed with second-hand books for sale, which may provide an excuse to loiter for longer.
The coast path runs alongside the main road here at Upton, but we leave it at this point to cross over and take the road marked as “Unsuitable for long vehicles” which leads down to Rodd’s Bridge.
Accompanied by myriad butterflies, you’ll soon find yourself peeling off a layer or two in this leafy, sheltered lane. A brief gap in the high hedges reveals a view over fields back towards Bude, and you may spot the resident llamas. But, further down, are the real stars – Norbert, Clarissa and Peggy, Kune-Kune pigs, like those kept by Gary and Erica Fisher.
Cross the canal and turn left through the gate onto the tarmac towpath. Not surprisingly, this long, flat motorway route, which runs from the Wier cafe and bistro near Whalesborough Farm back to Bude, is popular with dog walkers, pram-pushers, joggers, and strollers. And, in the open season, anglers line the canalside, perched on their little stools, hoping to hook maybe a carp or bream. In April and May, however, we saw rudd sharing their watery home with young canoeists who were having a great time, soaked to the skin, providing noisy entertainment to onlookers, but under the close supervision of their team leaders from Adventure International in Bude.
Wildlife of a different kind can be viewed from the hide looking out over Bude Marshes Nature Reserve. However, the ducks, geese and moorhens seem to prefer the canal where there are often rich pickings from small children. The Crescent car park and tourist information centre mark the end of the walk.
Pop into the loos here before you cross the road for a pasty from the Post Office, or something more substantial from the Olive Tree on the Wharf. Across the bridge The Falcon Inn and Brendon Arms also offer refuelling opportunities. But it’s the Olive Tree that gets my vote – tea and cake with a never-ending, entertaining parade of passers-by.
June 2012 (Summer issue)