Tuesday, 22 November 2011


I've gone down to Boscastle for a few days. The weather on the way down was foul, driving rain and howling wind, and I was pleased I'd packed quite a few books to read. "I'm not going to get much walking done this week," I thought ruefully. I had arrived at five o'clock last night and had got a soaking trudging up the hill to the pub. But amazingly this morning had dawned bright and clear. Aside from the fleeting visit in April (see post dated 08 April 2011), I had not visited Boscastle before, so decided today to explore the cliffs and the area around the village.

The youth hostel sits right on the harbour, which is why it took such a hammering in the 2004 floods. The building next to it, the Harbour Light, dating from the sixteen century had been completely demolished and the youth hostel itself had been badly damaged. But now it has been completely refurbished, and to a very high standard. Staying there for £10 a night but an absolute bargain. As for the Habour Light next door, that has been completely re-built, resemblingas much as possible the old building that had been destroyed.

The South West Coast path is right behind the hostel so I decided to start my exploration here. The path leads past a small row of cottages known as Penally Terrace. They seem to be mainly holiday cottages now but once housed people working in Boscastle's thriving fishing industry and at the rear were purpose built fish cellars. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Boscastle had a thriving trade exporting pilchards, mainly to Italy. The arrival of the railway at Camelford in 1893 put an end to the seabourne trade however.
The coast path heads of to the right, but I detoured up to Penally Point, the cliff at the end of the harbour, also known as Queen Victoria's Head, due to it's resemblance to her profile. You can sort of see it if you squint and catch it at the right angle...The rock at the top has been worn smooth, no doubt by people like me who discover that the only place in the village that  you can get a phone signal is at the top of the cliff.

The best thing about Penally Point however is the blow-hole, a hole which goes right through the bottom of the cliff. At low tide the sea makes a glorious booming noise as the water rushes through, and when the conditions are right the sea sprays right out across the harbour. It is possible to scuba dive through the blowhole when conditions are calm and there is not too much swell from the sea.
From Penally Point its a down and up to Penally Hill, where a weather vane in the shape of a fish tells sailors the wind direction, as it's not possible to judge this from the calm of Bostcastle Harbour. Considering it was November and yesterday had been awful, I was pleased that the sun was attempting to shine as I made my way along the path to Pentargon waterfall. At times the path ran un-nervingly close to the edge of the cliff and notices warned the unwary. It was not so much the 'steep' as the 'crumbling' bit that un-nerved me, especially after the downpours of the day before.

It was soon after Pentargan waterfall that I began to realise how hopelessly unfit I was. The path climbs steeply up and around the cliff and I was wheezing and gasping for breath. I dragged myself up the path, ever thankful for the nice, thoughtful people who had put benches along the way to remember loved ones. 'How much nicer than a vase or a big headstone in a forgotten cemetary,' I thought, as I slumped gratefully onto the seat. By the time I had struggled up Fire Beacon Point I had had enough of the climbs. My fitness definitely needed working on. I headed on a path inland and picked up a lane near Manor Farm. A swift change of route was required when I was chased by a farm dog - this seemed to be a feature of man of my walks in Cornwall, but eventually I crossed the B3263 and made may way down the steep lane to New Mills in the Valency Valley. New Mills is a cluster of cottages and the path went along the front of one of them before turning into a very pleasant, if somewhat muddy, path alongside the River Valency. As it meandered and tinkled along, it was hard to believe that this river had been the cause of so much destruction a few years previously. I appreciated the lack of gradient very much and fair skipped my way into the carpark at Boscastle where the path comes to an end.

I decided that I had earned a pint. I knew that there were three pubs in the village, two I had spotted though not yet tried, so where was the third? I asked directions in one of the shops and he pointed me up the hill. I then realised that Boscastle is in fact two villages - the one on the harbour and the one on the hill. They have gradually been merging as new places are built, but are still distinct. The harbour area had built around the sea trade, whilst the upper partof Boscastle had grown up around the Norman castle built by Bottreaux, and from whom Boscastle derives its name. Nothing remains of the castle now, which is simply a picnic area with nice views, easily accessible from the road up the hill.

And what a hill! The Old Road climbs steeply up, and then flattens out as it bends to the left. This is cruel as a right hand bend reveals this plateau to be merely a resting point before the hill climbs up even more steeply. There are, however, some wonderful old cottages flanking the road, with fantastic names: Tinkers, Sharrocks, Smugglers, Kiddlywink. (Kiddlywink, by the way, is an old Cornish name for a beershop.)

Finally the pub sign for the Napoleon Inn came into view and I staggered gratefully across the threshold and towards the bar. The "Nap" is a lovely sixteenth century building, with huge walls and flagstone floors. They also sell beer straight from the barrel which, of course, I wholeheartedly approved of. The pub is owned by St Austell Brewery and I had a pint of Trelawney and a pint of Tribute, both of which were excellent. Going down the hill was much easier than climbing up it, especially after a couple of pints. As I headed back to the hostel I considered that all-in-all it had been quite a successful day.

My route is here.

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