Up until the late 18th Century travelling around rural Devon was something of a nightmare. Most roads were little more than an unmade tracks which were barely wide enough for a single person and a horse to travel along let alone trying to pass on-comers. Vehicular transport was almost unheard of. Heavy goods were usually laboriously carried by pack horses when it became no longer possible to transport them further inland by river.
The rivers Taw and Torridge were the principal routes inland for these goods as far as the heights of the tides allowed.
Not only was transport across the county very primitive at this time so was the standard of agriculture and the area was very poor due to the heavy, infertile clay soils.
Since Roman times it has been known the soil fertility could be dramatically improved by the action of regularly spreading lime across the fields. Crushing lime stone to a powder was beyond the technology of the day and an alternative to this was to spread sand rich in the crushed shell of marine animals since the predominant constituent of shell is calcium.
Farming communities close to the sea took full advantage of calcium rich sand and it was hauled away in huge quantities.
At Bude it had been a long practise of local farmers to remove sand from the beach and transport it inland by pack horse. Engineer, James Green was employed to design and oversee the construction of a canal to fully exploit this custom. To compliment the canal, which was entered directly from the sea, a narrow gauge railway system was built across the beach and trucks, filled with sand, were run up an incline and dumped straight into waiting tub-boats.
Despite the huge deposits of sand at the double estuary of the Taw and Torridge rivers which was good for construction, it was of little use to agriculture since it was not shell bearing. However a long standing trade between the communities of South Wales and North Devon in coal and limestone already existed along the coast and up the rivers for short distances.
Crushing lime stone was not possible but reducing it to a manageable substance by burning it was. All along the North Devon coast as well as on the banks of the two rivers and on many of their subsidiaries lime kilns were built.