Activities, Destinations

Swept away by Boscastle

by Julie Musk

I’m from Dorset, home of the great novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, so I just had to make a pilgrimage to St Juliot’s Church with its Hardy connections. Tucked away down a tiny lane, its Whistler window is an unexpected treat. Boscastle is a short drive from here. Making sure I arrived after 5pm (Cobwebs public car park is conveniently free from 5pm to 10am), I ambled down to the quayside. The YHA Boscastle is the last building on the right before the sea and has no parking, though you can pull up outside to unload bags if necessary. 

YHA Boscastle

Before the 1960s, the building was used as a hayloft and stables, with the Old Forge conveniently a few buildings up. It was also a ‘pilchard palace’ for fish processing, used for boat storage and as a potato store, hence its name of ‘Palace Stables’. By the 1960s it had become derelict. The National Trust purchased Boscastle harbour and quayside properties and offered to lease Palace Stables to YHA on the proviso that they refurbished it. It duly opened as a hostel in 1962. However, with the original entrance upstream, the building was prone to flooding, and old-timers warned of spring tides. Sure enough, a force 10 storm that first winter smashed windows and flooded the inside. Rebuilding the harbour breakwater helped fend off the elements in future years.

On 16th August 2004, very heavy rain flooded the River Valency. The YHA Boscastle was fully booked with 25 guests, who watched in dismay as 30 or so cars came down river in the torrent. The Harbour Light building next door collapsed, leaving the hostel to take the full brunt of the water, which reached the level of the downstairs ceiling. Photos on the wall in the lounge show the extent of the damage. Donations were received from around the world and over £10,000 was raised. The hostel reopened just two years later with improved defences against future flooding, including raising the ground floor by 30 inches.

YHA Boscastle lounge area

Today it continues to enjoy a spectacular situation, with the river emptying into the sea just outside its windows. Dormitories are under the sloping roof, airy and spacious. YHA Boscastle was the first to be made available as rent-a-hostel accommodation (YHA Exclusive Hire), and the manager here organises volunteers for YHA Tintagel down the road.  The Spar shop by the car park is handy if you need to buy provisions for this self-catering hostel. The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic is well worth a snoop, and Boscastle out of season is delightful (at other times expect crowds and a full hostel).

© Julie Musk 2019

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