Moving on from the historic village of Tintagel, we arrived in the small village of Boscastle, on the River Valency…
Status: Cornwall Unitary Authority & County, Village, England
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: River Valency, The Old Mill, Wellington Hotel, Riverside Hotel, River Jordan, Old Lime Kiln, Harbour, Harbour Walls, Church of St Symphorian, Museum of Witchcraft etc
Boscastle village centre has a number of fine Listed Buildings, many of which dominate the high street and instantly draw the eye, starting with the aptly named “Riverside Hotel”, shown above. Boscastle is historically a fishing port, and whilst you will still see fishing boats aplenty down by the harbour, much of its economy is now geared towards Tourism. The Riverside Hotel began life as a Warehouse in the 19th century, presumably to do with the Fish trade coming in from the Atlantic. It was later converted into housing, first as two individual houses, evident from the two different doors at the front of the building, and then into a Hotel which took over the entire structure.
It sits directly opposite the Valency which runs through the centre of town, although as the locals well know, the river has both it’s benefits and it’s drawbacks. In 2004 the entire village was submerged after the Valency broke its banks during heavy rain, with almost 3 metres worth of water in some places. The village recovered, with modern, up to date flood defenses which proved their metal during similar situations in 2007, keeping the town relatively safe.
On the other side of the river, over a small road bridge are another set of Listed Buildings, backing on to the Riverside Hotel, separated only by the river. The first is the “Old Mill” in the first picture, and as it’s name/position by the Valency suggest, it was built as a Water Mill in the 19th century. The main portion of the Mill is over to the left, whilst the rest of the building was the accompanying Millhouse, the residence of the Mill Owner, which may have previously been a standalone house from the 18th century. The Waterwheel still exists here, although I am unsure whether it’s original or a reconstruction.
The two buildings have since been converted into Shops, along with a number of “Apart-Hotel Suites”. They form part of the “Wellington Hotel”, located behind the Mill. The main building has 14 bedrooms, whilst their 3 aparthotel suites are to be found in the Mill.
The hotel has the appearance almost of a Castle, with a large turret at the Western end. Unlike the other buildings we have looked at, the Wellington is effectively still being used for it’s original purpose. Thought to have started as a 16th century Coaching Inn, the building was later rebuilt in 1853, and turned into a large hotel. Of course Coaching Inn’s were basically the hotels of their day, where weary travellers could rest before continuing their journey, so the Wellington still adheres to this idea.
Boscastle lies in idyllic surroundings, completely surrounded by large, towering hills. Small cottages line the riverbank, and a long path leads from here down the Northern bank towards the harbour itself, on the very edge of the village where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean in a spray of foam and water.
The Valency itself is but a small stream, however it runs through a cutting that allows it to swell to many times its usual size. It really adds to the picturesque quality of the village, and has been at the heart of the local economy for centuries, offering a portal into the sea, and a safe haven for fishing boats inland.
The Valency also meets another river as it passes through Boscastle, called the River Jordan, which flows openly until it reaches the Wellington Hotel, where it retreats underground to meet the Valency.
We set off down the path towards the Harbour, which soon took us past one of the village centres most iconic landmarks, the ruins of a large Lime Kiln. Constructed around the end of the 18th Century, the Kiln used Limestone (which at that time was being imported through boats arriving at Boscastle) to create Quicklime. The substance has a variety of uses, from checking fuel to providing heat and light.
Luckily this one still exists, and you can find out more about it by visiting the Boscastle Visitor Centre, shown to the left.
The Visitor Centre also backs onto the “Museum of Witchcraft”, originally founded in 1951 by Cecil Williamson (1909 – 1999, who did work for MI6 during WWII). The Museum first opened in Castletown, on the Isle of Man, but after a fallout with his friend Gerald, he left the Island and returned to the mainland. The Museum had various homes over the next few years, from Windsor to Gloucestershire, before moving to it’s final home, here at Boscastle, in 1960.
The Museum contains various artefacts related to the occult that Williamson owned as part of his private collection, from old folklore to devil worship. Despite changing hands at least twice since Williamson himself retired in 1996, it remains a popular attraction for the village. You can find out more by visiting their official website here.
Moving past the Museum, we left the “mainland” and set out along the narrow concrete path visible on the right, which takes you all the way to the mouth of the Harbour. The views so far were stunning, but the best was yet to come…
Boscastle Harbour is an incredible place, and with the tide out, the exposed rocks covered with seaweed provided an epic backdrop to the now dwarfed fishing boats, waiting their turn to get back into the open sea. Just to the right of the boats you can see one of the vast Harbour Walls, one of a pair that protect the inlet from the Atlantic.
Our path continued, snaking its way around the Harbour towards the second Wall, a bit further along.
Looking back, the main portion of the village was now far out of site, with a few pleasant looking buildings, topped with slate roofs (slate being one of the exports of the village through this port) nestled cosily between the surrounding hills. The Harbour feels a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the village centre, but as we began to hear the waves just ahead of us, that soon changed.
We finally reached the vast stone Walls that protect Boscastle Harbour from the sea. You can stand atop either of them, depending which side of the river you have walked. We were on the Northern Wall, slightly further West towards the river mouth.
The towering Walls were built in 1584, by Sir Richard Grenville (1542 – 1591, who owned various areas of land in both Cornwall & Devon). Despite Boscastle only being a small village, it had historically been a major port, as it was one of the few ports along this area of the Northern Cornish Coast.
Past the Walls, the Atlantic waves crash heavily against the cliffs, an awe inspiring sight. As mentioned earlier, Limestone was one of the imports brought into Cornwall using this port, along with another important commodity, Coal.
If you look at the top of the cliff in the previous picture, over to the left, you will spot a small square tower in the distance. This is an old lookout station, built by Thomas Rickard Avery at the turn of the 19th century. Whilst he used it as his “Summer House”, with some stunning views out to sea, it was taken over as a lookout for use by the Coastguard. More recently it has been refurbished, and reopened as the Boscastle NCI (National Coastwatch Institution).
Leaving the main portion of the village, around the centre/Harbour, we made our way up towards the local Parish Church (sadly we didn’t have time to visit the famous Minster Church), dedicated to St Symphorian. It covers the Parish of “Forrabury & Minster”, of which Boscastle is the major settlement.
The Church has it’s origins in Norman times, when the original Church was constructed around the start of the 12th Century. Little of this remains, although the British Listed Buildings website notes that a few sections of the Nave/South Transept may be from this period. The rest of the building is made up of various sections from different centuries, although the bulk of the Church was remodelled in 1687. The Tower was first erected in the 15th century, although today only the base is original as the rest was rebuilt around 1760. The next major event for the Church was the Victorian restoration orchestrated by James Piers St Aubyn (1815 -1895, English Architect) who also worked on the Parish Church in Tintagel, our previous destination, in 1866. Today it still serves the community, and if you are following the road North from Padstow/Tintagel to the village it is one of the first buildings you will see, at the top of the cliffs far above Boscastle itself.
Boscastle is a beautiful little village in a picturesque area. You can follow it’s paths around the local hills to take in the unique views, where years of history are hidden all around you. It was time for us to move on, to the nearby village of Port Isaac, nestled in between the cliffs along the coast…