Boscastle is a somewhat magical village. Set deep in a steep, rocky rift that’s cleaved by the bubbling river down into a beautiful natural harbour, it’s a place with an exceptional amount of history, including the industrial archaeology of the mining era and the remnants of having been a busy port. It has ancient churches, Celtic ruins, and a fair few famous literary connections to boot.
Boscastle has a slightly pagan, spiritual vibe that is arguably more authentic than that of neighbouring Tintagel, and many have commented that the hidden valley of Boscastle has an unusually calming influence on the soul as one descends the winding road towards the town. The pretty, narrow port now lies quiet, sheltered by a pair of harbour walls built in the 1580’s, and the river flows out beneath a lovely bridge into this picturesque and pleasant little inlet.
The South West Coast Path passes right through the village, and indeed Boscastle is very well placed for splendid clifftop walks west to Tintagel, or up the coast to the surfing beaches of Crackington Haven, Widemouth, and onward to Bude.
There is a rocky island called Meachard visible from the northern headland, which was a hazard to shipping in days of yore. Just 300m offshore, only very brave souls would attempt to reach it.
Many have heard of the famous flood of 2004, which destroyed much of the village as rainwater burst the banks of the Valency and hurtled down into the harbour. Miraculously there was no loss of life. In fact, disastrous though the whole event appears, the only reported casualty was someone with a broken thumb! The houses and shops have long since been rebuilt, and the flood defences are now modern capable, appropriate to ensure that there is no repetition of that terrible day. But Boscastle’s history goes back much further, to the Poldarkian times of pilchard fishing and tin mining and beyond to the 2nd century AD. There will have been many more terrible days, as well as triumphant ones, in the long tale of wrecking, smuggling and piracy that accompanied the honest pursuits of fishing, farming and mining.
At the centre of the bit of North Cornwall coastline that’s sometimes called the ‘Sunshine Strip’, Boscastle experiences particularly good weather, with many more hours of sunshine per year than the UK average. The village and harbour are sheltered from prevailing winds and yet receive all day sun – this, combined with the turquoise waters typical of the area, make it a rather pleasant village in which to sojourn. For more detailed information about the Cornish climate, do visit our dedicated weather page, here…
Lying 14 miles (23km) south-west of Bude and 5 (8km) north-east of Tintagel, Boscastle is not far from the A39, known as the Atlantic Highway, one of the best touring roads in the UK. It’s well signposted from Camelford or Davidstow. To get there by public transport, it’s easy to take a train or coach to Exeter, then a bus to Bude and another onwards to Boscastle.
The Pixie House: Originally built as stables in the sixteenth century, and later used as a piggery, this wonderfully topsy-turvy house was destroyed by a floating camper van in the flood of 2004, and has since been restored to its former higgledy-piggledyness. Known by all in Boscastle and beyond as the Pixie House, it was renamed Harbour Light in modern times by owners who were not comfortable with un-Christian mythological constructs. One wonders how they felt about their tearoom’s proximity to the Witchcraft Museum?
The Pilchard Palace has inherited the National Trust shop, which was previously in the Old Forge, and also contains Boscastle Visitor Centre and a café. This was where the pilchards were salted, pressed and packed into casks for shipping. The holes for the pressing equipment can still be observed in the walls of the building. Many other villages have a “pilchard palace”, by the way – it was the usual name for the pilchard sorting area at that time.
Bottreaux Castle: The Cornish name for the village is Kastel Boterel, and it’s not hard to see that it took this nomenclature from the Castle which stood there centuries ago. Some say that the correct pronunciation of Botreaux (after the owners the de Botreaux family) is But’ry. Perhaps it got Franglicised somewhere along the way. The castle itself does not really remain. It was a fairly simple stone motte and bailey structure and had become an abandoned ruin by 1478. Today only a few earthworks are really discernible. But it is all set in a rather pleasant park, open to the public.
Boscastle Lookout on the Willapark headland is still manned by Coastwatch volunteers, but it’s open to the public. Originally a summer house built in the 1820’s by Thomas Avery, a merchant and Lord of the manor, it commands a panoramic view over the rocky isle of Meachard and the Celtic sea from its position on the site of an Iron age cliff castle, which is rather similar to the Tintagel “island”.
Forrabury Church, near the lookout, is dedicated to St Symphorian of Burgundy, was rebuilt around 1867, and a particularly ancient Celtic cross stands next to the churchyard. It has no bells – they were ordered by the Lord of Bottreaux in the Middle Ages. He thought they would ward off the plague, but they never reached him, because the ship carrying them sank in the bay. He was later struck down by the plague himself and died. It’s said that the ghostly ringing of the bells can be heard when storms lash the waters of the bay.
Minster, properly the church of St Merthiana, is on a pleasant wooded walk up the valley. A little further on, St Juliot’s is what brought the poet Thomas Hardy to Boscastle in the first place, which later resulted in many poems and stories, not to mention his marriage. He had been employed as an architect in the restoration of St Juliot’s in 1870.
The Lime Kiln
Lime kilns are a feature of many a Cornish village, from the Tamar to the tip of Cape Cornwall. A remnant of the eighteenth-century mining industry, they are essentially large ovens that were used, in conjunction with imported lime and coal, to smelt ore to extract the metal within. Many of them are well preserved and some are pressed into service as workshops or garages! Boscastle has a rather good one that’s described as “double-sided”, apparently an unusual layout for such a thing.
The last blacksmith to work the old forge was named Bill Gent, and that was in the 1940’s. Later on, it became a tearoom, and it served as the National Trust shop from some time in the 1960’s until the great flood of 2004. Now it’s an artist’s studio and gallery, and well worth a visit.
Other Special Things to do and visit
Pentargon Waterfall is just a short walk along the coast path to the north of Boscastle, described in Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘Under the Waterfall’, which recounts the story of a romantic picnic by the falls. Pentargon waterfall is 120′ (37m ) high. Below it lies Seals’ Hole, where more than one hundred seals have been seen at the same time.
The Devil’s Blowhole (or Bellows) – around the time of low tide, depending on sea conditions, the blowhole sends an explosion of spray across the harbour from the rocks on the north side.
Museum Of Witchcraft
It seems appropriate that Boscastle, with a very magical, pagan feel about its location and many of its inhabitants, should play host to the Museum Of Witchcraft, probably the best collection of witchcraft history and paraphernalia in the world. The museum is very popular with visitors and can take quite a long time to get around because the corridors are narrow and packed with exhibits. But it’s well worth the time of day.
Boscastle itself has some sand at low tide but is more about sunbathing on rocks than bucket and spade fun. There are however a lot of nice beaches nearby, whatever sort of beach fun you’re looking for.
Crackington Haven is a broad cove which lies between Boscastle and Bude, sheltered in some ways but exposed to the harshest of North Atlantic swells. It’s often used by surfers when the wind is onshore and other beaches are completely blown out. There are lots of interesting rocks to scramble upon, and pools at low tide. Dogs are not allowed here in the season from Easter to October.
Bossiney Haven is a fairly short drive down the coast, between Tintagel and Boscastle, and is reached by walking down a footpath, across some fields and then down a long set of steps onto the beach itself.
Trebarwith Strand is the local beach to Tintagel. There is a car park about five minutes walk from the beach but you can stop near the beach to drop people off and collect them. The bay can hold some gentle surf and has good family facilities including toilets.
The nearest popular surfing beaches to Boscastle are Widemouth to the east and Polzeath to the west, both around thirty minutes drive depending on traffic. They both provide proper consistent surf, cafés and parking. A little closer is Crackington Haven, which holds good surf in slightly less common conditions, and a little further is Bude, which has all the pros and cons of a large town as well as several excellent surf spots.
At any time of year, Boscastle is a superb place for a coastal walk with your furry friend. It’s also close to many beaches where dogs are allowed all the year round.
Bossiney Haven, Trebarwith Strand, Port Gaverne, Port Isaac and Port Quin are all very suitable for canine frolicking. Do consult the tide tables, though – you need to plan ahead because all of these beaches are completely awash at high water.
For a small place, Boscastle has an unusual number of restaurants as well as a few good pubs. The Farm Shop is a great place for lunch, and the Riverside Restaurant, Toby Jug Café and Harbour Light are all worth a visit. The Wellington Hotel’s Waterloo fine dining restaurant and Long Bar pub grub are particularly fine. The Old Manor House, the National Trust Café and the Boscastle Fishing Company are also good options.
Pubwise, the Napoleon and the Cobweb are both great watering holes serving a variety of local ales and more, and both serve a range of traditional pub grub at sensible prices.
Nightlife is not really on the menu in Boscastle, although the pubs and bars do have a great atmosphere at most times of the year.
There are no chain stores or large shops in Boscastle, but several supermarkets are a short drive away, and odd items can usually be acquired from the Cornish Stores or the Bottreaux Garage.
Boscastle Walking Week is a regular event in April, and nearby Tintagel hosts a carnival in August. The Boscastle Food and Arts Festival takes place in October each year, and Crackington Haven hosts a Crafts and Produce Fair several times each winter.
Self-catering in Cornwall has never been so good! Check out our Cornwall Guide to discover more about what’s on, places to eat, places to visit and things to do in North Cornwall from your Boscastle cottage.
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