Bude Canal, Bude, Cornwall.
Manmade, inland waterway sheltered from all weathers and non-tidal.
Bude canal is very sheltered. Whilst not what you think of when visiting Bude (as the town’s more associated with surfing) the canal can serve as flat water respite when the Atlantic’s not playing ball. The start point is right at Summerleaze Beach and it runs a total of 35 miles. There’s no real flow but a reservoir built at Virworthy does feed the canal so in parts paddlers may experience moving water.
Bude Canal is largely free of problematic hazards. That said there are (unusually) 6 inclined planes for hauling tug boats and two locks you’ll need to portage. Many SUPers won’t get to these though. In places, overhanging tree branches need to be accounted for. And some debris does end up in the water. Wildlife should also be noted and kept away from. Swans, for instance, won’t take kindly for paddlers chasing them!
Access from Bude is super easy. The main town carpark, next to the tourist office, also gives access to Bude Canal. This is the best area to put in. It’ll cost a little amount to launch, which is payable via the tourist office. Across the road (or under the bridge) you’ll find the wharf. You could launch here but it’s best to stick to the other side to be honest. Bude gets really busy in summer and whilst the main car park is large it gets very full at peak times. Some watersports also use Bude Canal for teaching SUP and kayaking. Couple this with walkers along the canal side and you can imagine how it gets. Traffic in summer can also be quite hectic coming in both directions.
The area around Bude Canal is very popular. Along the wharf, you’ll find a bunch of artisan coffee shops, cafes, eateries and ice cream parlors. Many have outside seating space which get full. Then there are the walkers and fishermen/women. Add the two pubs (The Falcon and The Brendon Arms), which are also more or less on the edge of the canal and it’s a very popular spot. Regardless of watersports. 10+
As mentioned above there are loads of amenities. From pubs, to coffee houses, cafes, shops, fast food takeaways and everything else in between Bude’s got the lot. It’s a small Cornish town but there’s plenty going on. And it’s all within easy walking distance. If you can’t find what you’re looking for then on the outskirts you’ll find your usual supermarkets. Head towards Widemouth Bay for even more choice or into the country if you fancy something quieter. For specific SUP goods and such a number of surf shops can be found in Bude. Zuma Jay is one of the longest standing and you can hire and/or get everything you need for watery fun. The Zuma Jay staff are also super knowledgeable and happy to help. If you fancy an actual stand up paddle boarding holiday with guides/coaches and accommodation then check out Outdoor Adventure perched on the southern cliffs of Widemouth Bay.
Bude is a Mecca for surfers. A quintessential Cornish surf town Bude’s two beaches (Summerleaze and Crooklets), plus Widemouth Bay just a short drive away, attracts hordes of visitors every summer. What mightn’t be obvious is Bude also has a canal and tidal river. Both can be paddled on.
The Bude Canal was built to get naturally found minerals in the sand (lime) out to hinterland farming communities for agricultural purposes. The 35 mile stretch is unusual in that it used inclined planes to haul tug boats up along steeper sections. The design of Bude’s canal influenced the more well known Rolle Canal.
From a stand up paddle boarding perspective the Bude Canal can be a welcome find for SUPers not fancying open, tidal water paddling. And/or those looking to get afloat when Mother Nature’s not playing ball ocean side.
Around the wharf area it’s very artisan and bohemian. With coffee shops, tea houses, bars and restaurants you could be somewhere on the French Riviera with the sun shining. And from a paddling point of view the canal’s a lovely spot for some flat water fun.
Putting in adjacent to the tourist office (having paid the launch fee) you can investigate the stretch without fear of tidal implications or huge Atlantic waves. It’s therefore a great location for beginners. And there are a number of schools and guides/coaches ready to help you explore. For those wanting to go it alone this is possible with a decent adventure SUP route usually being about 1-6km. Any longer just isn’t doable in a day and you’d need some serious logistics sorted for any longer.
Around the canal, you’ll discover lots of wildlife – especially birds. It’s best to give these animals space. Swans are in abundance and you don’t want to get on the wrong side of these feathery types! You’ll also come across other paddlers in the form of kayakers and SUPers. Many of the local watersports schools use the canal for paddling antics. If you want a quieter time to paddle the canal then out of season is best. Just keep in mind the water gets much colder than the sea.
For anyone wanting some surf SUP action then Summerleaze Beach is prime. And it’s right next to the canal’s start. Bude also has a tidal sea pool on the beach where SUP is also allowed. Great for beginners! Crooklets beach can be found around the corner and is another choice spot for anyone after waves.
Once finished there’s plenty else to see and do in Bude itself. Eating and drinking establishments are everywhere. And all with different vibes. Head into Widemouth Bay for more and a different SUP spot in the form of its beach. And, of course, being the Cornish coast there’s plenty more to scope out further afield. Seek and ye shall find so the saying goes.
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