Destination Boscastle: A romantic fishing village set in an ancient landscape
19 October 2018
Set between Tintagel and Bude on the rugged north Cornish coast, Boscastle is an enchanting village that’s steeped in history and mythology and is full of tall tales and fables that are just waiting to be discovered.
Sitting at the point where three rivers meet, many of us will have heard of Boscastle because of the devastating flash floods that hit the national headlines in 2004. Since then the village has bounced back and this is a truly romantic spot for a day out, with the river winding down past Cornish stone and white painted cottages to the narrow man-made harbour and out to sea. Boscastle nestles between green valley sides and there’s a real feel of being in a very different and untouched world.
The oldest building here (once a pigsty) has been converted into the higgledy-piggledy Harbour Light Tea Room. Inside you’ll find an amazing photographic record of the flooding as well as Cornish pasties and cream teas that are difficult to beat.
Artists and authors have often been inspired by the rugged remoteness of Boscastle, including the famous Victorian writer Thomas Hardy who worked as an architect on St Juliot’s Church and met his first wife Emma in the village. Hardy’s third book, A Pair of Blue Eyes, was based on his experiences here and you can walk in his footsteps from the old Rectory to the church where you’ll find memorials to both Hardys on the north wall.
The Wellington Hotel boasts Hardy as a previous guest, alongside Sir Henry Irving, and Dambuster Guy Gibson VC. Look for the marker in the bar to see how high the flood waters rose here. And watch out if you choose to stay the night – the Wellington is one of Cornwall’s oldest coaching Inns and is said to be haunted by phantoms reportedly including a coachman with frilly shirt and ponytail, a little girl and a woman who leapt to her death from the tower.
In the 19th century Boscastle was a busy port. It was chosen as the only viable place for a harbour along this 40 mile section of treacherous north Cornish coastline. Before the railway came to Camelford in 1893 it was the only way to bring heavy goods to the area. As many as 200 ships a year would come in and out of here, bringing timber, coal and other heavy goods from south Wales, Bristol and even as far as Canada. Twisting and narrow, the harbour at Boscastle is not the easiest to navigate and Meachard Rock at the mouth of the inlet provides an additional hazard. Boats could not enter here unaided and were towed by a boat called a hobbler rowed by eight oarsmen, whilst more men on shore used ropes to keep ships in the channel.
Around Boscastle you’re truly in the presence of the ancients and the past whispers all around you. Walk out in either direction for spectacular scenery and find clues to more hidden stories. The cliff of Willapark stands sentinel over one side of the harbour and on the summit, where you’ll now see a square whitewashed tower, evidence has been found of an Iron Age cliff castle. Humans have lived on this hill for over 2000 years. Just further inland, there’s one of the three best examples of the medieval Celtic farming method of crop rotation – the Forrabury Stitches.
Over on the other side of the harbour sits Penally Point and beneath it a natural blow- hole known as the Devil’s Bellows. About an hour either side of high- tide this thumps water out and, in the right conditions, it will snort a horizontal waterspout half way across the harbour entrance! Quite a sight.
While you’re in town be sure to plan a visit to the enchanting independent Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. Here you’ll find over 300 intriguing objects of witchcraft, magic and the occult over two floors. And if you want more, why not drink further from the cup of forbidden knowledge with one of the museum’s candlelit evenings (with or without spooky stories) or a tour around Boscastle with local folklorist and author Steve Patterson to discover sea witches and saints.
Finally, for a truly mystical experience make the three-mile pilgrimage to the sacred site of St. Nectan’s Glen – a 60ft high waterfall set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This is one of the UK’s most spectacular and poetic sites, coloured by legends of healing waters, faery lore and mystical spirit guardians. Bring your wellies top addle in the shallow pool and get the best view of the site. Take time out to make your own Boscastle story soon – it’s a great spot to make a legend or two!