Photo: David Smith
As you walk along the Bude Canal from the Cornish coast inland, you might notice something large and strange jutting out from ground near the towpath. These are sculpture seats, shaped like huge ship’s chain links, and they look as though they’ve just been dropped from the sky and embedded in the earth.
These sculptures, by Daniel Sodhi-Miles, were installed as part of restoration works of the first two miles of the canal, from the sea lock near Summerleaze beach to Helebridge. They’re a nod to the canal’s maritime heritage, and are inscribed with Cornish words that relate to the area’s history. One of the inscriptions are a few words of wisdom passed down to former Bude Canal worker John Bennett by his grandfather, who also worked on the canal. It translates as “Don’t be afraid of the sea, respect it. If a man could have the strength of the sea, he’d be a strong man.”
The Bude Canal is England’s most westerly major canal. It was famous for its tub boats; simple, rectangular boats that transported lime-rich sand from the coast to inland farms, to treat the acidic soil. The canal had six inclined planes for the tub boats to navigate, so it became the first canal in the world to install permanent wheels on its tub boats so they could be winched up the planes on underground waterwheels set in pits. The only surviving example of a Bude tub boat is in the Barge Workshop at Helebridge Basin, which is open to the public in the summer months.
Meanwhile, on the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal, there’s a scale model of the solar system. It starts with an enormous sun at Higher Maunsel Lock, with planets radiating along the towpath at proportionally correct sizes and distances apart. Tauntonian inventor and astronomer Pip Youngman designed the Space Walk as a way of challenging our perceptions of space and experiencing the vastness of the Solar System back in 1997. Twenty years on, the Solar Walk is still surprising passers-by and must surely be one of our more unusual points of interest. It’s well worth a visit for a winter walk.