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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Fresh hope for 'floating railway'
Bude Canal
Little water remains in the Bude Canal
Efforts are being made to restore a canal that once carried floating "trains"

The 35-mile Bude Canal, which ran through Devon and Cornwall, was used by so-called tub boats fitted with wheels.

Instead of rising through conventional locks, they would be linked together and winched up inclines on rails.

People in Devon and Cornwall are being consulted on 3m restoration plans for the mostly-dry canal.

The oak gates of a sea lock at Bude were replaced this year at a cost of more than 500,000.

Sea lock
The sea lock gates at Bude cost 500,000 to restore
The canal, built in the 1820s, carried calcium-rich sand to improve farmers' soil.

Two arms ran to Launceston, in north Cornwall, and to Holsworthy in Devon.

It was one of several West Country waterways - others were built at Tiverton, Tavistock and Exeter.

Most of it has dried out, except for a short stretch where it meets the sea at Bude, and an area of marsh and rare grassland nearby.

Floating wagons

The marsh section cannot be re-connected to the rest of the canal because it would upset the delicate ecology.

Little remains of the spectacular engineering incline planes that carried tub-boats to 430 feet above sea level within six miles of the coast.

The canal banks contain rare grasses
David Brown, chief executive of North Cornwall District Council, says the squat wooden boats were linked together like railway wagons.

He said: "It's very interesting industrial archaeology.

"It's not merely a canal - it's also a railway.

"It had these little wooden boats with wheels underneath them, and enormous wheels to drag them up the inclines."

The boats were hauled up hill on steep rails.

Oak gates

No complete tub boats survive and little remains of the winch machinery.

Local people are now being asked what parts of the canal they would like restored.

Mr Brown said: "It would be lovely to open the whole thing, but that's not practical."

He added that restoring the gates on the sea lock this year was a massive logistical headache.

"It is a listed structure and English Heritage insisted we used green oak.

"They're under water or covered in barnacles most of the time.

"We had to go to the Netherlands to find a contractor who could supply them."

When they arrived, they did not fit. An extra section had to be attached to each gate.

See also:

27 Jun 00 | UK
Boost for forgotten canals
13 Sep 99 | Scotland
Prescott makes canal splash
21 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
Canals making a comeback
18 Feb 99 | UK
Cash help for UK canals
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