Sunday, 1 May 2016


In early 2004 Boscastle reached our TV screens with the launch of A Seaside Parish, a series documenting the everyday life of this coastal village, with the lady vicar the star of the show.  The village was portrayed as a close-knit community which, with its scenic location set among the dramatic cliffs of North Cornwall, appeared an idyllic place to live.  Then in August the same year, while the series was still being filmed, all hell let loose with the onset of the great 2004 floods.  Suddenly it was a very different Boscastle filling our screens, with people clinging desperately to roofs waiting to be rescued, cars being carried helplessly down the valley towards the sea and people’s homes, gardens, businesses and lives being ripped apart by the merciless flood waters.  The series gave a sensitive portrayal of the heartrending aftermath of this disaster, which bore an uncanny resemblance to the 1952 Lynmouth flood.

Today this terrible event is firmly in the past, though undoubtedly not forgotten.  Boscastle’s harbour was once a busy commercial port, with coal and timber coming in and slate and china clay going out.  Though this activity has now disappeared, the harbour continues to provide a much-needed shelter for boats on this wild stretch of coastline.  The lively nature of the sea beyond the harbour can be seen in the plumes of spray coming out of a blowhole in the outer harbour.  The village itself has a range of accommodation, including a hotel, the ‘Wellie’, (Wellington) which featured regularly in A Seaside Parish, a small number of shops and eateries, and a Museum of Witchcraft.  I remember visiting the latter as a child and being fascinated by the exhibits.  The museum’s website warns that children of a sensitive disposition may find some of the exhibits ‘controversial’, but I seem to have come out of the experience unscathed!

There is a lovely walk from Boscastle leading up to the Valency Valley and St Juliot’s Church, where Thomas Hardy met Emma, his future wife, while he was working on the church as an architect.  Hardy’s novel ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’ was set in the area. 

Map of the area. 

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Photo by JUweL, via Wikimedia  Commons

Saturday, 23 April 2016


The Church of St Gennys provides a clue to the treacherous nature of the water off the coast of the small coastal village of Crackington Haven.  The graveyard includes memorials to seamen who have lost their lives over the years in a series of shipwrecks.  One such was the Swedish brigantine William which lost 7 men in a storm in 1894.  Just six years later a further 7 men were lost when the steamer City of Vienna and the barque Capricornia were lost to storms.  The harbour here used to be used for importing coal and limestone from Wales, and for exporting the slate that was quarried here, but it has reverted to a sleepy cove with a pebble and sand beach, a pub and a bistro.  Pencarrow Point towers over the beach at a height of over 400 feet, and there is spectacular coastal walking to be had over a stretch of coast towards Boscastle given to the National Trust in 1959 by Wing Commander A. G. Parnall to commemorate the airmen who died during the Battle of Britain, including his brother.   Crackington Haven suffered extensive damage from flooding in the great flood of 2004, of which Boscastle was the more famous victim – more about this in the next post.  The area around the village has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  The latter is partly due to the geology, with the carvoniferous rocks giving rise to the name 'The Crackington Formation'.

Map of the area.

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Photo by Rob Wilcox, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 5 April 2016


Cornish pirates once held sway with a reign of terror here in Widemouth Bay.  The 14th century was a particularly turbulent time, with groups of robbers and pirates at each others’ throats.  Even the local vicar in the nearby village of Poundstock was embroiled in one of the gangs, a fact which resulted in a grisly end when he was murdered by a band of intruders to his church just after Christmas 1357.  His ghost is rumoured to haunt the area still.  Smuggling was also rife, helped along by the numerous isolated inlets and coves in the area.

All these nefarious activities are forgotten today, as Widemouth Bay proves a magnet for beachgoers, surfers and walkers alike.  There is plenty of interest on the beach itself, with a mix of wide stretches of sand, interesting rock formations and rock pools.  On a sunny day it is worth lingering into the evening, as the sunsets here are legendary.  Bathers should take care as the tide comes in very quickly; in the summer there are lifeguards on duty.  For water sports enthusiasts, as well as the obligatory surfing, there is sailing, windsurfing and canoeing.  The beach is backed by a village of low-slung buildings with a small selection of shops, cafes and holiday accommodation.

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Rob Noble, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 31 March 2016


Bude is the first major surfing resort on the Cornwall side of the border along this stretch of coast.  There are two sandy beaches, Summerleaze and Crooklets, with a natural seawater pool set between them fed by the water from the daily high tides – great for safe swimming at low tide.  Summerleaze is backed by a row of colourful beach huts; the existing ones are about to go up for auction, to be replaced by new ones.  The town itself, separated from the beaches by an expanse of grass, has the usual range of shops to be expected in a surfing resort as well as a good range of places to eat and drink.  But Bude is not all about beaches and surfing.  Bude Castle, with its free to enter Heritage Centre, was the home of the Victorian Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, a pioneer in steam-powered transport.  The Heritage Centre includes displays on the area’s geology, on the many shipwrecks which have occurred on this stretch of coast, on Gurney’s achievements, and there is an art gallery.  The castle’s lovely grounds are surrounded by the River Neet on one side and Bude Canal on the other.  The canal was once 35 miles long, but much of the upper part is now overgrown.  Like any popular seaside resort, Bude has a variety of events during the course of the year, from the Bude for Food cookery event to the annual jazz and folk festivals.

For a list of events in Bude, see here 

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Summerleaze Beach. Photo by Tom Jolliffe, via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, 18 March 2016


Most places around the British coast have had one or more eccentric characters enliving the life of the locality.  In the case of Morwenstow, it was the local vicar Robert Stephen Hawker, or Parson Hawker, whose antics during his time at Morwenstow during the mid-19th century could have filled a book. First up there was his chosen attire: he loved bright colours and often wore a long purple coat, or even more unconventional for a clergyman, a yellow horse blanket wrapped around him in the style of a poncho.  His leisure pursuits included a penchant for opium and installing himself in a hut on the cliff which he built himself from the timbers of shipwrecks, where he would indulge in his passion for writing poetry.  One of his most enduring creations was the famous Trelawny song beloved of Cornish patriots.  But he was also a compassionate man and he took a leading role in the rescue of sailors from stricken ships which had come aground on this wild stretch of coast, as well as trying to prevent the locals from looting the wrecks.  His compassion even stretched to mice, when he excommunicated his cat for mousing on Sundays.

The church of St Morwenna presided over by Hawker dates from Norman times and has fine examples of stone carvings and carved bench ends.  As a reminder of the danger of the seas around this coast, over 40 seamen are buried in the churchyard, and the figurehead of one of the wrecks, the Caledonia, is also to be found in the churchyard.  The Caledonia was on its way back to Gloucester from Odessa when it fell victim to a north-westerly gale.  There was only one survivor, who was taken to the Rectory where Hawker made sure he was nursed back to health.  

Map of the area. 

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Vicarage Cliff, site of Hawker's Hut. Photo by David Hawgood, via Wikimedia Commons