If a long walk on a sandy beach appeals to you while you are staying in your holiday cottage then the walk from Bude to Sandymouth is the best North Cornwall has to offer. At low tide nearly 3 miles of beach is exposed and the walk passes below cliffs that are full of interest.
This walk is tide dependent and unless you wish to clamber over rocks you will only be able to do it in one direction and will need to return along the cliff path. Don’t let this put you off crossing the rocks as the rock pools are full of life but beware that where they are not covered in barnacles the carboniferous sandstone can be slippery especially in areas with any seaweed.
You can park at either end. Sandymouth is owned by the National Trust but the car park is only manned in high summer and you can park there for free if you are not a member during the rest of the year. If you are doing this walk in summer, or at other popular times of the year, then there is a good and popular cafe open at Sandymouth. At the Bude end if you are early enough you can park along Breakwater Road on the south side of the canal, otherwise use the Tourist Information Centre carpark.
I will assume that you are heading up the beach first, for which you will need to be starting off not more than an hour before low tide and not more than half an hour after it.
Walk down the canal on either side (you can cross the sea lock gates if necessary) and drop down the steps to the ‘sand bridge’ across the River Neet, where sand used to be loaded onto the the little railway to be moved up to the canal and transported inland by barge to improve the soil for agriculture.
Cross Summerleaze Beach below the open air lido (one of the very few pools refreshed by sea water in the country) noting a cross at the end of the first long spur of rock. This is the half tide marker. Also note ‘Barrel Rock’ at the end of the breakwater (which will become relevant later in the walk). Cross Middle Beach and head on for Crooklets Beach, much loved by surfers. If you are unable to get around the bottom of the rocks separating the two beaches then they can be breached a little further up.
At the far side of Crooklets Beach you can make your way around the bottom of the impressive sharp rocks known as ‘The Wrangles’, scene of a dramatic rescue of a couple of schoolboys a few years ago. If the tide is not out though then you will need to cross the rocks which is best achieved near the base of the cliffs, rather than near the shoreline. From here your way should be clear all the way to Northcott Mouth.
There are impressive cliffs along this section with the dramatic folding from the Variscan Orogeny that Bude is famous for. You can keep to the shoreline for this section of the walk or track the base of the cliffs to more closely inspect these fascinating rock formations. Narrow passages open up in most sections where seemingly impenetrable ridges protrude from the cliffs.
Escape is possible to the clifftop about half way along at an area known as ‘Earthquake’ which is recognisable by the life saving equipment at its base. Should you walk up at this point you will appreciate from the deep chasms on either side how the area got its name.
The house on the cliff edge lets you know when you are approaching Northcott Mouth, where you can shorten your walk if you wish, or vist the ice cream van in the summer for refreshments.To reach Sandymouth you know have to pass the rocky base of Menachurch Point. If you do not fancy a long clamber over the rocks then you definitely need the tide to be near its lowest point here. As you pass the point with its impressive cliff face you will reach some peculiar barnacle and mussel encrusted objects protruding from the sand. These are the remains of a ship, the SS Belem, wrecked in 1917. If you have a good look around this area, and the sand level is low, you will find many parts of this wreck. It is the propellor shaft from the SS Belem that stands on the end of the Breakwater at Bude.
You are now on the glorious beach of Sandymouth, the best beach in North Cornwall in the opinion of the author, which you can walk along unobstructed for a couple of miles now. In the distance you will see Lower Sharpnose Point, topped by the satellite dishes of GCHQ Bude, and if conditions are right, Lundy Island sticking out beyond, almost like a more distant headland.
As you walk along the beach there appears to be no easy way up the cliffs. The exit is, indeed, quite hidden until you are almost past it. From a distance, and anytime other than high summer (when you will be able to spot it from the concentration of people near it), the key is that it lies between the two waterfalls.Before leaving the beach, however, it is worth carrying on another few hundred yards as the cliffs and rock formations here are spectacular. It is actually possible to continue on at shore level from the end of the beach to Duckpool/Coombe Valley, but this involves a long scramble over rocks with one quite tricky section. I will cover this in another post.
Leave the beach by path to the right of the pretty waterfall which jets some distance from the cliff. The South West Coast Path crosses just below the cafe so turn right here and continue up a short hill. The path now gently undulates along the cliff tops with lovely views up and down the coast and down onto the beach. You will pass the remains of a firing range on your way up to Bucket Hill with its well preserved bronze age tumulus before topping Menachurch Point. Shortly after there is a steep descent down steps to Northcott Mouth.
The path climbs gently on leaving the mouth, passing inland of Northcott House on a short section of track. Take the righthand of the two paths beyond this gate and continue easily over Maer Down with good views of the Bude beaches.
At Crooklets cross the stream at the bridge and head up past the beach huts on a tarmac path that tops the cliff edge, looking down on the beaches and the lido before turning inland and passing above the very good ‘Life’s a Beach’ (cafe by day, seafood restaurant at night) to reach Summerleaze Crescent, a road with a mixture of Victorian houses and hotels. After a short distance a diagonal path heads down towards an obvious footbridge across the river.
On crossing Nanny Moore’s bridge head past the tennis courts and Bude Castle to reach the canal and your starting point.