Operation of the Canal
As had been envisaged, the main use of the Canal was the carriage of sea sand from Bude to the interior. Other goods – coal, timber, iron, bricks – were also imported to Bude and brought inland by the Canal, while farm produce was exported. The Canal was much welcomed locally and when, for example, the first boats arrived at Holsworthy in 1823 there were great celebrations in and around the town
While the lowest section – Bude to Helebridge – was designed to be used by barges, most of the system was designed for use by tub boats. On the lowest section the barges were raised and lowered by locks at Rodds Bridge and Whalesborough, but on the inland branches the tub boats were winched up and down the hills using a system of “inclined planes”. To this end, the tub boats were fitted with wheels, which engaged with rails on arrival at the top or bottom of the inclined plane. This was effectively a steep, smooth slope with two sets of rails secured to the ground with stone setts. The tub boats were raised and lowered on the incline by being attached to a continuous chain driven either by the weight of water in enormous buckets lowered into two great wells as at Hobbacott, or by giant water wheels built underground at the other five inclines at Marhamchurch, Vealand, Merrifield, North Tamerton and Werrington.
Although never a great commercial success, the Canal proved to be a boon to the remote inland communities in an era of poor transport facilities in the rural areas.
However, the railway reached Holsworthy in 1879 bringing in manufactured fertilizer which reduced demand for sand from Bude. This had a dire effect on the Canal’s trade.