In a week when parts of northern Britain saw major floods, I spent a day in Boscastle on north Cornwall’s wild coast. This little village hit the headlines in 2004 when disaster struck and the whole place flooded. But there’s more to Boscastle than being famous for its flood – it’s earned a place in my Cornwall top-10.
On 16th August 2004, heavy rain fell for over five hours in the high ground above Boscastle leading to a flash flood, as the River Valency running through the village was deluged. 75 cars were swept out to sea, bridges and whole buildings were destroyed but there were no fatalities or major injuries (according to Wikipedia, one person had a broken thumb).
Many buildings now have markers near their roofs to show where the water-level was at the peak of the flood. My in-laws live just half-an-hour down the road, and they didn’t get a drop of rain that day.
But despite its bête noire, Boscastle remains a beautiful place to visit. So what else is there to do after mulling on flood trivia?
North Cornwall is famed for its rugged coast and cliff-top walks, and there are few better than from Boscastle. Heading left from the harbour looking out to sea, you climb past bracken and wildflowers, and get some cracking views of the harbour behind you, before arriving at the gates to Willa Park.
This is not the home of football’s ‘sleeping giants’ Aston Willa, but a historic headland managed by the National Trust. It is covered in gorse and the remains of medieval farming, and features what appears to be a white castle.
This is not the castle that gave Boscastle its name – it was built in the early 1800s as a summerhouse by a rich landowner, but is now used as a lookout by the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI). At a height of 97m above the cliff edge, it can get very windy here and was perhaps the windiest I have known it to be on my many coastal walks, so I did the sensible thing and walked back to the village.
I’m not normally one for museums when the sun is shining, but the excellent Visitor Centre kept me occupied for an hour or so with its information on the village’s ancient and modern history, bookshop, giftshop and café.
Next door is the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic, founded by an ex-MI6 spy over 50 years ago, and holder of the world’s largest collection of witchcraft related artefacts. Unfortunately it was closed for winter when I visited, but I’ve never been a Harry Potter fan, so no sad loss.
Drinkers have two choices as far as I could see. The Cobweb Inn (The Bridge; www.cobwebinn.com) used to be an off-licence in the 1700s that served the villages 22 pubs with booze brought in straight from the harbour. There is also the Wellington Hotel (Old Road; www.wellingtonhotelboscastle.com) with its turrets on the bottom corner of the steep road that leads to the part of the village where people actually live.
This is also not the castle that gave Boscastle its name. That honour went to Bottreaux Castle, built by the wealthy Bottreaux family in medieval times, but which has now long-gone.
After pottering around the village’s craft shops, it was time for another coastal walk. Looking out to sea and heading right takes you past the village’s YHA youth hostel and some pretty whitewashed slate-roofed cottages towards a craggy, rocky headland. Again, I was in danger of being blown off the cliffs in near 80mph winds, so I chickened out and headed back.
The view of the thick stone Elizabethan-era harbour is at its best from high up here, where the River Valency meets the sea in an S-shaped inlet. There was only one solitary fishing boat moored at the harbour, but in Boscastle’s heyday before the arrival of rail and the improvement of roads, over 300 trade ships a year tied up here with incoming lime, booze and brick and outgoing corn, slate and manganese.
There’s not a great deal to do in Boscastle, but on a sunny day it would just about get a place in my Cornwall top-ten, with its beauty, nature, walks and history.