Bude Canal, Cornwall

Bude Canal. In 1823 the project was started, and its first job was to carry beach sand and seaweed (to sweeten the acidic moorland soils) some 20 miles inland to Launceston and then for returning cargos of local crops (grain and slate) from that area..The Bude Canal was actually dug for 35 miles before work was abandoned, running from Bude to Holsworthy and on to Launceston. A difficult engineering feat, it used water from the Tamar Lakes to top up its water levels.

The railway eventually stopped all transport on the canal, as it did elsewhere, operations ceased in 1891. The canal was abandoned and without maintenance it very quickly deteriorated. Today only two miles are navigable. There is a canal-side museum that will give you more information.

One of the interesting engineering features were the incline planes which carried the boats to 430 feet above sea level. This enabled a 430 foot raise in the level of the canal within the comparatively short distance (in canal terms) of six miles of sea level at the sea-lock at Bude. Only picks and shovels were used in the construction of the canal, a truly massive feat.

Today only the first two miles of the canal from Bude to Helebridge have water in them and are used by for fishing, walking and boating. Much of the remainder of the canal is overgrown, though canal preservation groups are opening up paths along the route of the old canal.

Bude Canal Regeneration Project started in 1998, is being developed by a local Partnership hoping to attract £4m investment into safeguarding and promoting the canal. The Partnership consists of many local organisations together with a number of statutory authorities such as the local councils, the Environment Agency, South West Water and the South West Regional Development Agency.

Essentially the regeneration scheme aims to restore the canal from Bude to Helebridge to enable navigation by small boats. This will require the restoration of the lock gates, the replacement of Rodd's Bridge with a lift bridge, the reconnection of the canal to its historic destination at Helelbridge Wharf by taking it under the A39 and the dredging of the canal to restore its original canal profile. Bude Canal regeneration plans went on public display in November 2005

Sea-going vessels using the sea locks brought cargoes of limestone, coal and general merchandise. The gales of 1997 damaged the sea locks but government grants have ensured that the locks have now been repaired. English Heritage had Listed the locks and insisted they be reinstated in green oak. The work to replace them was completed in October 2000 at a cost of around £0.5 million.

On the higher wharf, grain and cargo were stored in Pethericks Building, which have been demolished, although one building still remains as housing. Lime kilns operated at the far end of the wharf. Boat building. Some original Wharf buildings survive - the Brasserie, the Bark House and the Museum (which used to be the blacksmith's shop).

The first part of the Bude Canal, from the sea locks to Helebridge, is a conventional lock canal, and is still navigable (the lock gates at Rodds Bridge and Whalesborough have been replaced with concrete spillways). At Helebridge, after crossing the A39, you can see the old wharf area, and the restored barge workshop. Dredging work has been completed on the Middle and Upper Pounds of the Barge Section of the Bude Canal between Rodds Bridge Lock and Whalesborough Farm Bridge.

At Helebridge the metrhod of elevation changes, and instead of locks, the canal climbs its first hill up an inclined plane. Little remains of the incline plain but a model at the museum shows just how it worked. The wheeled, canal tub boats were pulled up this first plane for a distance of 836ft - a lift of 120ft. The canal then travelled through Marhamchurch, to the much larger inclined plane at Hobbacott Down, between Red Post and Stratton. Continuing on to Red Post the canal branches off towards Launceston, following the Tamar Valley, with the other branch heading towards the "port" town of Holsworthy. The Holsworthy leg of the canal also has a branch off towards Tamar Lake, which was originally built to feed the canal with water. The old "Bude Aqueduct" has an interpretation centre at Virworthy Wharf. The Launceston branch nearly reached the navigable upper reaches of the Tamar where it could have become a short cut for shipping from Wales to the English Channel.

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