The Past, Present and Future of our Unique Bude Sea Canal

Here is a wonderful poem celebrating Bude Sea Canal by Lucille Opie:


Our Canal, unique as it is locked to the sea

Was opened in eighteen twenty-three.

For two miles it meanders to the inclined plane,

A feat of engineering the Victorians rightly claim.

Navigable only to Marhamchurch today

There’s beauty and wildlife enough on display

For both locals and visitors, and when time for leisure

Boating, fishing and walking give much pleasure.


Stand on the beach and watch the mighty Atlantic

Smash against the Breakwater, with waves gigantic.

It has mastered the sea for near two hundred years,

To give shelter to ships and calm mariners fears.

Admire the construction of the massive sea lock,

Watch the gates open that allow ships to dock,

Vessels can be admitted of forty tons or more

And have rudders as long as ten feet at their core.

Think of those who had the vision to start,

Think of the men who, over years played their part.

Smeaton Edyvean Leach; – Fulton & Green too,

Were the engineers responsible to name but a few.

Those men had the innovative engineering skills

Needed to open a waterway up to the hills

With locks, inclined planes of inspirational design

That would leave the sea level far behind.

Think also of the men who had to sweat and toil

To dig out miles of trench and distribute the soil.

Skilled workers were needed, so navvies were sought

To work in gangs.  Five hundred were brought.

They then had to construct and follow to a man

The drawings set down on the engineers’ plan.

There were many problems and hold-ups throughout

And several times, of its success there was some doubt

Celebrations were held when the work was finished

Tho’ the original vision to the Tamar had vanished.

Fertiliser to temper the acid soils was sought, so

Sand, limestone and other goods were brought,

Loaded onto barges and taken to Marhamchurch,

Filled to the gunnels they would dangerously lurch.

A weight of five tons could be drawn by one horse

That could pull the barge with ease along the canal course.


At Hele wharf, the cargo was transferred yet again

To tub boats with wheels to surmount the inclined plane.

From the top, the barges continued their journey

Thro’ Virworthy, Sutcombe, Milton Dameral ’n Thornb’ry.

When the railway came in eighteen ninety-eight

The company closed, no more carrying of freight.

There was a slow decline for a hundred years,

Erosion had set in and great were the fears.

Many were conscious of its uniqueness and potential,

To regenerate and maintain was their duty and essential,

Not just for themselves and the rising tourist trade

But for future generations, efforts should be made.

Then enthusiasts and local supporters too

Met to discuss to see what they could do.

North Cornwall District Council funding sought,

Three and a half million would be enough – it was thought!

Has taken ten years (and more millions) but the end is in sight,

The future of the canal is looking very bright.

The workshops, the cobbles, the Barkhouse too

Fit together on the wharf like a well-worn shoe.

The Interpretation room is progressing on the ground

And an education programme for students has been found.

The excellent Tourist centre at the Crescent has details

Of organised walks along the prodigious canal trails.

Come, – meander to the marshes and dowse for Dragonflies,

Admire the flora ‘n fauna, birds and butterflies.

Watch the defiant ducks and the graceful gliding swans

That nest amongst the reeds in what we call the pond!

As you wander t’wrds Rodds bridge you’ll find perfect peace,

The wonders of nature, they just never seem to cease.

To Hele bridge and beyond the canal has been enhanced,

You will be amazed, and keep pausing, to gaze –  entranced.


1 Comment

  • Avatar Jackie Adams says:

    Lucille, have just read your beautiful poem and just cannot believe what has been achieved in your writing of same. I hope it will be published here and abroad so everyone is aware of the beauty there is in Bude..

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