Boscastle Harbour on the North Cornish coast
Boscastle Harbour from the cliffs
Boats in Boscastle Harbour
Harbour at high tide
Boats beached in Boscastle Harbour at low tide
Boats at low tide
Napoleon Inn in Boscastle
Napoleon Inn
Cobweb Inn in Boscastle
Cobweb Inn
The Strangles beach near Boscastle
The Strangles
Forrabury Church in Boscastle by the coast
Forrabury Church
Minster church in Boscastle
Minster church
Lesnewth church
Lesnewth church
The Celtic wayside cross at Lesnewth church
Lesnewth wayside cross
St Juliot church
St Juliot church
Path to St Juliot church
Path to St Juliot church

Boscastle is a small fishing village located on the North Cornish coast, just north of Tintagel. Boscastle is one of the few sheltered inlets on the North Cornish coast and therefore a likely landing point for tin traders of ancient times, possibly as far back as Phoenician traders in 2000 BC. The river also provided power for a number of mills which date back at least as far as the 12th Century. In more recent times, as well as being a fishing harbour, Boscastle was a small port (similar to the others on the north coast of Cornwall) importing raw materials such as limestone and coal, and exporting slate and other local produce. In Victorian times, as many as 200 vessels came each year, mostly from Bristol and South Wales.

In 1302 the name was recorded as Boterelescastel which meant "castle of the Botterels". It's possible this became shortened to bos because this was the Cornish word for dwelling ("bos-castel" would have been understood by Cornish speakers as "village with the castle" as the word kastell also existed in Cornish).

The site of Bottreaux Castle is located on the west side of the Jordan Valley in Boscastle, about half way down the old main road; there is a signposted path to the old castle site. Bottreaux Castle was the 12th century fortress of the de Botterells which included extensive dungeons. Very little apart from the mound now remains, as over the centuries the residents of Boscastle "reused" stones from the castle to build their houses, but it provides a good view point over the village and harbour.

The steep-sided valley of the river Valency forms a sheltered natural harbour at Boscastle. The two stone harbour walls date back to Elizabethan times, built in 1584. The outer breakwater was built in 1820, but destroyed in 1941 by a drifting mine and then rebuilt by the National Trust.

The harbour was very difficult to approach in a sailing ship and it was not safe for ships to enter under their own sail. On a ship's arrival, a boat with eight men, known as a "hobbler", would go out to tow them into the harbour, whilst men on the shore held the ship in the middle of the channel, using ropes.

There is a large car park with toilets, some shops and several pubs and a cafe on the harbour in a former pilchard cellar.

The Museum of Witchcraft is located in Boscastle, on the north bank of the river, close to the harbour. It's just past the Visitor's Centre and before the Harbour Light café. The 50 year old museum is the largest of its kind in the world. It was badly damaged by the flood in 2004 but has been fully restored.

The Boscastle flood in 2004

The steep Valency Valley acted as a funnel for the dramatic flash flood in 2004 that put Boscastle on (and nearly wiped it off) the map. Over 1.4 billion litres of rain fell in the course of 2 hours which is thought to have been caused by the Brown Willy effect, where the high tors on Bodmin Moor cause the repeated formation of rainclouds which blow along the prevailing wind and then dump their rain. Around 50 cars were swept into the harbour, the bridge was washed away and roads were submerged under 9ft of water. A total of 91 people were rescued in the largest peacetime rescue operation ever carried out in the UK.

Pubs in Boscastle

Boscastle has 3 pubs, each with lots of character:

  • The Cobweb Inn, opposite the car park - previously a wine cellar and flour store dating from the late 1600s, it has traditionally always had cobwebs hung from the roof beams. Apparently this was thought to keep flies off stored wines and spirits.
  • The Wellington Hotel (aka "the welly") is the old village coaching inn, across the road from the Harbour. Some parts of the building are 4 centuries old, but most dates from 1853 when travellers to the area increased. It was once called the Bos Castle Hotel, but was renamed on the death of the Duke of Wellington in 1852.
  • The Napoleon Inn is Boscastle's oldest pub (built in the 16th Century) and is on the hill at the back of Boscastle. It was a recruiting office during the Napoleonic wars. The landlord joined up with Wellington to go to Waterloo and so was called 'Napoleon man' on his return - hence the name of his pub.

Boscastle walks

Short walks around Boscastle

  • You can walk along right-hand side of the harbour past the witches museum along the path to Penally Point where there are excellent views of the harbour and back up the valley.
  • You can walk up the river Valency through the woods to Minster Church (about half an hour). You can walk down the back roads from Minster Church into Boscastle to create a circular walk of about an hour and a half (assuming you stop for a bit to look at Minster Church). The tourist info centre also has a leaflet (70p) describing this walk with lots of good info about the history and wildlife.
  • If you walk along the left-hand side of the harbour you can walk up onto the coast path to Willapark lookout. You can create a circular walk of about an hour by going inland across Forrabury Common to Forrabury Church and back down into Boscastle (and stop for a cup of tea in Forrabury Church).

Other Boscastle walks

  • The tourist info centre next to the Harbour has a leaflet (for £1) for a 3.5 mile "village trail" which has lots of information about the history of the village.
  • The tourist info centre also has a couple of excellent leaflets (50 or 60p) for fairly substantial circular walks (6-8 miles) around Boscastle. As with the others, they have some interesting information about the history of places along the route.
  • There is a treasure trail for Boscastle

Churches in the Boscastle parish

Boscastle has some beautiful old churches. There are seven in the parish, two of which are in Boscastle itself. The four which feature in the walks from the tourist info centre are:

  • Minster (St Merthiana's) Church, in a valley on the outskirts of Boscastle, is on a site which dates back 1500 years to Celtic times. It was originally known as "Tolcarne" which means literally "rocky hole" and has been interpreted as meaning a chapel made from rocks. Parts of the church there today dates back to 1150, built by William de Bottreaux. The church was restored twice after falling into disrepair, so there are some features that date back to the Tudor period and others to Victorian times. Look out for the mysterious carved scissors on the tower wall. No one knows why they're there! Suggestions include a trademark of the stonemason, or an homage to the wool trade which funded the church restoration. In early spring, the church is surrounded by a carpet of daffodils and wild garlic.

  • St. Symphorian's Church, on Forrabury Common above Boscastle, was originally built over 900 years ago and featured in the poetry of J.S. Hawker as "the silent tower of Bottreaux". According to legend, it has no bells because the ship carrying them was hit by a freak wave and went down just off the coast, with only one survivor. In Victorian times, the main part of the church was rebuilt and extended significantly, but the original Norman tower was left intact.

    Forrabury Common, overlooking Boscastle, can be reached via the coast path from Boscastle, or the path from Forrabury church. The Common is divided into 42 plots known as Stitches. This was a mediaeval form of land tenure called Stitch Meal, where long, curving plots of land with 1-2 feet of grass in between, are planted with different crops. The Stitches are most visible between late March and late September; over the winter, the Common is grazed.

  • St Juliot's Church is signposted on the right from the road from Boscastle to Crackington. The church is situated is a beautiful location with its door facing out across the Valency valley. Formerly there was a chapel on the site, dating back to mediaeval times. This was later replaced with a church with a tower dating from the 14th Century and south aisle from the 15th Century. The church was renovated by the author Thomas Hardy. The tower was in such a state of collapse that it needed to be entirely rebuilt, but the 15th Century aisle survived and now forms the nave and chancel.

  • St Michael & All Angels Church in Lesnewth is in a lovely location, just next to a deep-sided stream, marked by an ancient Celtic wayside cross. The original Saxon church was said to be built here in the dip to hide it from marauding Vikings at sea, but they found and pillaged it nonetheless. Sadly, little remains of the Norman church that followed; the present church is mostly Victorian, dominated by an impressively tall 15th century tower. On one of the walls inside is a nicely inscribed slate memorial with a carved coat of arms.

Photos of Boscastle on Flickr

More information about Boscastle