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Bude Canal

Introduction

The Bude Canal, built between 1819 and 1826, extends 35 miles inland from Bude and was used to transport sea sand, coal and slate. It became the first canal in the UK and second in the world to use water-powered tub-boat inclines, and it had the most inclined planes of any waterway.

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In 2006 the Bude Canal Regeneration Project began work on a £5 million facelift, aiming to restore the first two miles of the canal from the sea lock to Helebridge. This project currently remains ongoing.

The site is free to visit and is open any reasonable time in daylight hours.

There is a small free car park at Helebridge next to the canal, and a pay and display car park in Bude, also next to the canal.

There are various refreshment facilities available within Bude town, and also The Weir cafe is situated along the route of the canal near Helebridge.

There are regular bus services to Bude and Helebridge. Visit the Traveline website for customised sustainable transport options.

View our interactive Access to Monuments map to find this and other nearby sites.

Sea-sand from the shelly beach at Bude had for centuries been used to manure the acid soils of the surrounding farmland, as an alternative to burnt lime which was used for the same purpose in the southern part of the county. The sand was transported over the rudimentary roads of the time by pack-mules or horse and cart.

Schemes for a canal to connect the beach at Bude Haven and the farming hinterland of north Cornwall were proposed in 1774 by John Edyvean who envisaged a 95 mile waterway from Bude Harbour to the River Tamar, connecting the Bristol Channel with the English Channel. Its main purpose would be to transport lime-rich sea-sand inland, to use as a manure on farms where soils were acidic and unproductive. Other cargoes, such as coal, culm, slate, timber, iron and bricks could also be carried and farm produce exported. It was proposed again in 1793, however the scheme was proved too ambitious and was abandoned.

It was not until 1817 that James Green (a civil engineer) and Thomas Shearm were asked to produce a new survey and report due to renewed local interest. This proposed a 19ft wide canal, consisting of a two mile stretch navigable by barge from Bude to Helebridge; plus another 33 miles of narrow tub-boat canal dividing into three branches running roughly north, east and south, where wheeled ‘youb-boats’ would be pulled by horses, then winched up a system of ‘inclined planes’ to get over the hills. Also proposed was the building of a sea lock, a breakwater and moving the mouth of the River need, whilst water would be supplied from the specially formed Lower Tamar Lake. On the basis of this a second Act of Parliament was passed in 1819. This estimated a cost of a little over £90,000 for an inland navigation. James Green himself had enough confidence to back the project with £3,000 of his own money. A tub boat can be viewed at the Barge Workshop at Helebridge. Opening times are variable throughout the year so please check with the Bude Canal and Harbour Society if you are interested in visiting.

Earl Stanhope, a major shareholder, ceremonially began the work on 23rd July 1819. Four years later, much of the line was opened through to Holsworthy. The Druxton Branch near Launceston was finished in 1825, completing the canal.

It was 35 ½ miles in total as built, with terminals at Virworthy Wharf one mile south of Tamar Lake, Blagdonmoor Wharf near Holsworthy, and Druxton Wharf near Launceston. It was a unique, pioneering feat of 19th century engineering. The works included one major aqueduct over the river Tamar at Burmsdon, a sea-lock and breakwater at Bude, two locks on the barge section and six inclined planes.

After 1865 there was increasing competition from railways and in succeeding years traffic declined, eventually with only one trader left carrying goods on the canal.

In 1891, the company obtained an Act which enabled it to close all of the canal except the barge section and the feeder branch to Tamar Lake. Land was sold off, most of the staff were dismissed and the inclined plane machinery was dismantled. In 1901, the newly formed Stratton and Bude Urban Council bought the surviving canal and the harbour for £8,000. Today, much of the canal survives as earthworks, including the inclined planes and long sections of the canal cut.