Boscastle Harbour is very picturesque. It is very difficult to access from the sea, but it is the only harbour along some 20 miles (32 km) of the North Cornwall coast. There has long been a harbour here. The first record dates from Elizabethan times but it almost certainly pre-dates this time. During the 1800s in particular this was an important harbour, importing coal, salt, bricks and beer for local use and exporting locally quarried slate and minerals, china clay from inland and local agricultural goods.
Located about 12 miles north of Padstow, just beyond Tintagel Head. This is a spectacular coast and just about every headland has an off-lying rocky islet which is pounded by the waves in a So’westerly. Boscastle Harbour has been formed by a combination of that pounding by the sea and the erosion of a small stream down from the moors. There are records of a pier of sorts here dating back to the time of Elizabeth the First and in the 18 and 1900s it was a major port for export and import into this coastline. Even then it could only be entered on the flood and then under tow and, in the days of the horse and cart, transferring cargoes up the hill from the harbour was a major enterprise. Being remote, Boscastle was well known as a smugglers haunt in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and even before that.
In more recent times Boscastle has been periodically subject to flash flooding from the moors behind it and finally burst on to the national stage in 2004 when there was a particularly large flood which caused devastation to all the buildings on either side of the “stream”. That damage has once again been repaired and stronger flood defences put in place but, as we sailors know, it’s a brave man takes on the forces of nature and expects to win.
The entrance to the harbour is behind Meachard Island (once part of the coastline) and bends first port and then starboard to finally wind in between the piers into a drying harbour bound by walls built of diagonally laid slate. The channel in is steep to and has no hidden rocks along its margins but you will find it so narrow you’ll want to stay right in the middle and even then the cliffs feel as though they are just waiting to jump out on you! In any sort of a blow from the South West through to the North it is impassable as the waves bounce off the walls and intermingle to make it a maelstrom of white water.
The other problem is that, although the placement of the piers would lead one to expect that the harbour is safe from swells, through some twist of hydrographical fate a SW to WSW wind of 4 or 5 produces a huge surge in this harbour and if you are in there and one is forecast you must get out of there. (There are stories of a visiting yachtsmen being virtually evicted by the HM in the middle of the night when such conditions were forecast)
Having issued all those warnings it has to be said that in the middle of the week, in summer and settled conditions this is one of the most beautiful places on this coastline and is well worth a couple of night’s visit. The main holiday trade is passing through (lunchtime on a Sunday August has to be seen to be believed) and the evenings, when they’ve gone on to their destinations it turns into a peaceful heaven.
At the top of the village, in the direction of Camelford, is Bottreau Castle, and at the top of the Valency Valley is St Merthiana Church, set in a tiny copse that is almost encircled by the lane. Boscastle was once a favourite haunt of author, Thomas Hardy, and the setting for one of his novels, A Pair of Blue Eyes. It was here that he met his wife, Emma. In fact, the restoration of nearby St Juliot Church was worked upon by Hardy when he was still a practising architect.
Boat trips can be taken from Boscastle Harbour, down the coast as far as Long Island. During the breeding season you may be lucky to see razorbills, guillemots, and puffins. There are also seals in these waters. Other trips go as far as 5 miles offshore and take trippers wreck fishing.