Lizzie PopeSee other travel guides written by Lizzie Pope
When the train came to town in the 19th century, Bude turned from a commercial port into a destination for Victorian seaside holidays. The train may have gone but the tourists haven’t – and that has something to do with the two big beaches right in the centre of town.
When you visit Bude, Cornwall’s most northerly town, you'll find that it mixes old-world charm with modern facilities and is great for seaside caravan holidays in Cornwall. Three main shopping streets slope north-ish away from the beaches on a hill that takes you to an in-town golf course and grass meadow – quite a nice spot for a breezy walk. The shops range from today’s main high street retailers to independents selling clotted cream fudge and Cornish pasties, surfing gear and all your usual souvenirs from Cornish beach holidays, plus a couple of good bookshops where you can buy good books for holiday reading.
But it’s down at the water’s edge where the town really comes alive – and it’s in two distinct areas. There’s the beachfront with the two Bude town beaches Crooklets and Summerleaze. Facing west, they are known to be great surfing beaches, but you’ll find plenty of families simply enjoying the sand. And for those who wish to paddle without getting their feet too wet, the River Neet flows out across the sand, making ripples as it heads towards the sea.
Alongside, you can visit The Bude Canal. This slightly separate waterside area is an absolute delight and just a bit different from your usual seaside resort. The canal is faced with pretty cottages and, when you look west, you will see the slightly surreal vista of both canal, complete with lock gates, and rolling surf.
The Bude Canal was built in the early 19th century to transport sand, coal and limestone to farms in rural North Cornwall and North Devon to improve the crops and soil. As is typical of so many canals, the Bude Canal fell into disuse over the last century. Nature reclaimed much of the land and only a small stretch, from Bude to Helebridge, remained navigable.
However, many original features of the canal have now been restored, including the locks, bridges, towpaths and lower wharf. Go walking along The Bude Canal, which is a lovely place, or hire a boat in Bude from the seafront and go for a quiet paddle.
If you're staying at one of the campsites in Bude you will soon discover that Bude beaches extend beyond the town centre. Drive for just a few minutes and you will come to Duckpool, Northcott and Sandymouth Beaches to the north, Pentire Beach and Widemouth Bay to the south. Widemouth Bay is one of the most popular beaches for surfing near Bude, with a surf school on the beach ready to offer advice to beginners and experienced surfers alike.
Aside from surfing and shopping, there are some excellent walks near Bude, which will allow you to enjoy the town's coastal and inland beauty during your caravan holidays in Bude. The South West Coast Path trips right through the town and out onto the cliff tops, but head inland to Bude Marshes and you’ll find an altogether different landscape. A local nature reserve that covers 14½ acres, you’ll find a diverse habitat of reed bed and wet woodland that’s teeming with wildlife, from dragonflies and damselflies to otters. There have been numerous sightings of otters here, the creatures known to regularly use the area, with the combination of canal, river and marshes providing their ideal habitat. The reserve can be accessed from the canal towpath.
Top five things to do in Bude
When you visit Bude it's all about the beach so why not hire a beach hut, available to rent on a daily basis and great for a picnic? Huts for hire are on Summerleaze and Crooklets Beaches in Bude.
Enjoy a Bude Canoe Experience on Bude Canal. Book a half day canoeing course and learn canoeing skills, explore the canal and see wildlife. With a fully qualified guide, no experience is needed, and all equipment is provided when you learn to canoe.
If you don’t fancy being on the water, visit the Canal Interpretation Centre, next to Bude Tourist Information. Visitors to the centre will find all they need to know about the canal, plus information about walks and leaflets encouraging you to explore the canal and its heritage on foot, as well as by canoe, kayak or rowing boat.
Visit the Heritage Centre at The Castle Bude, right on the seafront. Free to enter, the ancient building includes an art gallery, shop, heritage displays and local archives plus a tea room. Attractive walled gardens provide a really pleasant, sunny place to sit during your caravan holidays in Cornwall.
Go rock pooling during your seaside caravan holidays in Cornwall. Spend a few hours with Shoreline exploring the coastal environment. Shoreline guides will educate you on the diversity of life found in the inter-tidal zone including seaweed, crabs, fish, anemones, starfish and much more. With a bit of luck you might even come across the North Cornish Sea Slug – Onchidella celtica.
When to visit Bude
If you're looking for events in Bude, the biggest (and one of the longest running) is the Bude Jazz Festival, which takes place for five days at the end of August. But of course, no events calendar in Bude would be complete without mentioning surfing events in Cornwall, such as the Black Rock Surf Kayak Contest in April, with two days of surf kayaking competitions for all abilities.
If you're staying at one of the campsites in Bude in May, you could take in the annual Bude Motor and Classic Show run by Bude Motor Club. A free event, it has all types and ages of vehicles on display in addition to live music and food.
If you're looking for Bude events in September, try the Bude for Food Festival, a celebration of the many food producers in Bude who are keen to put the town on the map for food-lovers in place of other well-known Cornish foodie haunts!
Finally, for those wishing to feel invigorated, there’s the Christmas Day Swim when hundreds of swimmers go for a refreshing (or should we say cold?) dip in the sea to help raise money for the Bude Surf Life Saving Club (the oldest in the northern hemisphere) at Crooklets Beach.
How to get to Bude
Take junction 27 off the M5, then the A361 to Barnstaple (dual carriageway but watch for speed cameras), then the A39 to Bude. Take it gently on the A39 when towing caravans in Devon and Cornwall, particularly between Bideford and Bude – it may be an A-road, but it suddenly narrows in places with no warning as the Devon and Cornish ubiquitous sloping walls (wider at the bottom) start to crop up.
An alternative route when heading for your caravan holidays in Bude is to take junction 31 off the M5, then follow the A30 to Okehampton and the A386/A3072 to Bude. And if the campsite you're staying at is off the beaten track, it would be wise to check with the site in advance as they might be able to recommend a route that's good when towing.