There are various ways to get from Marhamchurch to Bude. By car is the obvious one, parking not usually a problem with two large car parks at the bottom of the town and a smaller one at the end of the Wharf. A bus stops occasionally in Marhamchurch by the church during the day. If you want some exercise Bude is an easy walk along the canal towpath. Cross the main road at Helebridge, the footbridge over the River Strat, fields to the left and to the right the canal, reed beds with marsh land beyond, harbouring birds of more than just passing interest to ornithologists. Arrive at Bude where the low road bridge crosses the canal, the Falcon Inn stands staring towards the main town, eager ducks squabbling over every piece of bread.
The North Cornwall coast is rocky and rugged, cliffs punctuated by bays and coves with golden sand beaches. Bude town surrounds two of these beaches, named Summerleaze and Crooklets, which become one at low tide. Summerleaze is partly sheltered behind the breakwater built to protect the outlet of the Bude canal, impressive lock gates being one of the few examples of a sea lock in the world.
Around the breakwater at low tide; rocks to climb over, little rockpools with small crabs, tiny fish, limpets, mussels and sea anemones. The shallow and slow flowing River Strat separates this area from the main beach, but a footbridge across the inner lock gates by the lifeboat house connects the two. Go past the lifeboat house towards the pretty cottages surrounding the small harbour and a footpath leads to the downs, the cliffs overlooking Bude and the coastline in both directions, Lundy Island visible on a clear day.
Over the footbridge, the wide expanse of beach is soft and dry where the tides rarely reach, but as you cross to the northern side a fresh water flow fans out over the sand obliging you to pick your way or have very wet feet!
Beyond the beach huts is the man made sea water pool, cleansed on a high tide, deep enough to swim. Above the row of huts, a restaurant aptly named Life’s A Beach. Lunchtime snacks, great evening meals, it’s appearance is deceptive.
Back by the sea lock, walk along the wharf beside the canal, passing the slim remnants of the reason for the existence of the place, why the canal was built. A couple of places offering meals, drinks and a tasty array of ice cream flavours. Don’t go without sampling at least one genuine Cornish ice cream. Here you can hire a rowing boat for an energetic – or if you cannot row, hilarious – adventure back along the canal. Pass the fire station, Bude Light 2000, the town’s acknowledgement to the 21st century. Crazy golf is the next amusement, followed by tennis and bowls.
Over the river bridge and wander into the main part of the town. The Strand, the High Street, trinket shops, surf gear. One of the specialist board makers has a place right in the centre of town, and another in Malibu California. Odd to think of Bude and Malibu in the same context, but finding connections other than Zuma Jay and a beach is tough. There’s plenty of casual wear on offer and you can buy most things you need somewhere in town. Especially ice creams and pasties.
The large, tasty pasties bought from the local bakeries bear no resemblance to those exported to the rest of the country in small plastic wrappers. It’s tough for the EU to regulate that one.
Bude is ‘about an hour’ away from anything like a large town or city. Bideford, Barnstaple, Exeter, Plymouth, Truro. All ‘about an hour’. The train used to stop here years ago. Across the other side of the marshy land from the canal is the evidence. The old railway embankment and the bridge over the narrow roadway all that is left to remind us that the age of steam once lived in North Cornwall. Diesel locomotives were a thing of the future when they removed this particular branch line. Coaches masquerading as buses now ply the route to Exeter and Plymouth, so you can actually get here by public transport, but you won’t get much beyond Bude itself.
The golf club buildings are on the north side of the town centre. From there to the sea the land sweeps down towards the houses of Flexbury and Crooklets beach car park, next to which is a concrete area often deserted, custom made for skateboarders. Every town should have one. Up past Budehaven school is the leisure centre, swimming pool complete with wave machine. Serious swimmers should pick their moments. Across the car park, ten pin bowling and a soft play area for the little ones.
The pubs have been busy since lunchtime, and by early evening are getting very lively. Meeting up with friends before getting a taxi or the nominated driver to ferry folk to the clubs, several of which are a little way out of town. Or if loud music is not to your taste, a couple of drinks and a quiet amble back along the canal by the light of the setting sun.