Country diary: A calm coastal scene, but the heat is taking its toll here

·2 min read

Before the next heatwave, we venture north to Boscastle. This little harbour was busiest in the 19th century, when heavy goods (such as coal, ironwork and timber) and general merchandise were brought from south Wales and Bristol, with returning cargoes of slate, china clay and manganese ore. Incoming vessels were towed in through the tortuous entrance by “hobbler” boats, manned by oarsmen, and disembarked goods hauled inland by teams of horses.

Today, visitors stroll on the quays and along the higher paths beside dried-up vegetation enlivened by orange swaths of invasive montbretia. A few daredevils swim out past the breakwater and climb on slippery rocks by the blowhole on Penally Point. In the summer calm, it is difficult to imagine the flood of August 2004, when water gushed down the narrow Valency Valley, demolishing houses and washing cars, caravans and trees out to sea.

Beyond the harbour, the steep path zigzags above contorted cliffs of slate, streaked with veins of quartz, all overlooking dark blue and green depths of the choppy sea. Along the path, thrift, bladder campion and carrot are shrivelled, although hemp agrimony, knapweed and woundwort retain their colour, with tangles of bindweed and honeysuckle growing through stunted blackthorn.

From the coastal watch station, up on the ancient cliff castle of Willapark, views extend north towards the headland known as Cambeak; down the coast, Tintagel’s church and Castle hotel are prominent. Nearby, hay is being cut from seeded grasses and dried up “weeds” on what are called the Forrabury stitches – small plots of unfenced ground dating from medieval times that were cropped by individual tenants between Lady Day (25 March) and Michaelmas (29 September) before being grazed in common.

Further on, slate walls built in herringbone style separate the fields from exposed cliff edges; dark red cattle range across sunburnt pastures, and occasional rivulets of watercress trickle towards the cliffs. After the descent into the mini gorge of Rocky Valley, a stony path, beside exceptionally low-stream water, continues inland through the coolness of ferny woodland.

The high route back to Paradise (an old house above Boscastle) passes through airy fields of clover leys, golden stubble and big bales of oat straw; in the distance is the hazy outline of Lundy.

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