Walk - Minster Wood & the Boscastle Floods
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the entrance to Boscastle's Cobweb car park turn left and walk down the path on the southern (left) bank of the river, towards the sea. By the breakwater climb the steps to turn left onto the South West Coast Path.
The Witchcraft Museum, which has been here for more than half a century, houses the world's largest collection of objects relating to witchcraft. Until recently, one of the items on display was the unfortunate Joan Wytte, 'The Fighting Fairy Woman of Bodmin', who was wrongly accused of witchcraft and died of pneumonia in Bodmin Gaol in 1813. Efforts to have the skeleton buried in the churchyard were thwarted by the church, thanks to her reputation as a witch, and she was buried in Minster Wood instead.
Boscastle is thought to have been a landing point for Phoenician tin traders in prehistoric times, possibly as much as 4000 years ago. Today's harbour was built in 1584 by the Elizabethan adventurer, Sir Richard Grenville. The only sizeable harbour for about 20 miles, for many years it was a significant port, exporting slate and local crops and produce, and importing limestone and coal. From Raleigh's day until the end of the nineteenth century, Boscastle was a fishing village, and the pilchards were processed in the building that now houses the National Trust shop.
- Fork right to Willapark and climb steeply to the Coast Watch Tower, bearing right to descend and right again to rejoin the Coast Path.
On the headland at Willapark there are traces of an Iron Age cliff castle, some two and a half thousand years old, consisting of an earthwork and ditch across the neck of the promontory. Nearby are two Bronze Age burial mounds, from even earlier.
- Bear left to the church, passing Forrabury Stitches.
On Forrabury Common, the 'Forrabury Stitches' are the remains of an ancient strip-farming system. They were used for crops in the summer and grazing in the winter. The original boundaries are still in place, and many of the strips are still farmed in the same way.
Beside the western track heading into the churchyard is an ancient wayside cross, the Forrabury Cross. Dating from sometime before the seventeenth century, it is badly worn as a result of having been used as a gatepost before being resited by the church.
Dedicated to St Symphorian, a second-century Gaulish martyr, Forrabury church was first recorded in 1278, but unsympathetic restoration work in 1868 is said to have obliterated many of its early Norman features.
- Turn left out of the churchyard to go down Forrabury Hill to the main road. Turn left and cross the road to turn right along Dunn Street, opposite.
- Towards the end of Dunn Street turn left onto the footpath and follow it over the River Jordan and up the hillside beyond to the road. Turn left on the road, forking left at the junction at the top of the hill to walk to Minster Church.
Minster Church is dedicated to the fifth-century Welsh princess, St Materiana, who was the daughter of Vortimer. Vortimer was briefly King of Britain after overthrowing his father, Vortigern. Materiana later arrived in the Boscastle district as Queen of Gwent, having married Ynyr, King of Gwent. She and her son St Ceidio are said to have converted the local population to Christianity.
It is thought likely that St Materiana established a holy site at Minster. The Celtic name of Minster was Talkarn, which is sometimes translated as 'rock chapel', and it was later renamed Minster, a Saxon word linked to a medieval monastery. This is thought to have been around the eighth century. In the twelfth century, local overlord William of Bottreaux gave the church to the monks of SS Sergius and Bacchus at Angers, who established a small priory around it.
Nearby is a holy well also dedicated to St Materiana, thought to have been the water supply for her hermitage.
The church and surrounding woodland provide an ideal habitat for the Greater Horseshoe bat, an endangered species which forages for moths and beetles. The Minster colony is the largest known in Cornwall and contains about 5% of the UK's entire population.
- Turn left on the bridleway signed through the gate just beyond the church and follow it downhill through the woods to the River Valency.
The ancient broadleaf woodland of Minster Wood has been here for at least 400 years, and it is thought that the Minster monks may have been managing it for several centuries before that.
- Crossing the river on the footbridge, turn left on the footpath beyond and follow it alongside the river and back to the car park.
Three rivers flow through Boscastle to the sea : the Jordan, the Valency, and the Butts, which is a tributary of the Jordan. The Valency is fed by streams from the Otterham Downs above and five more rivers as it travels through the valley to the sea. Its name comes from the Cornish 'melin chy', meaning 'millhouse', and a number of mills are thought to have been established here in medieval times.
Th steep hillsides around these valleys are thought to have acted as a funnel during five hours of concentrated torrential rain on 16 August 2004. In that time, 440 million gallons (2 million tonnes) of water poured off the hills and into the village, causing devastating flooding affecting more than 1,000 locals and visitors. Roads were submerged under almost three metres of water, and the bridge was washed away, together with four buildings, including the visitor centre. 115 cars were swept into the harbour.
Seven rescue helicopters were scrambled, from RAF Chivenor, RAF St Mawgan, RN Culdrose and the Portland Coastguard station. 91 people were plucked from rooftops in the largest peacetime rescue operation ever mounted in the UK, and there were no casualties other than a broken thumb.
When the water had flowed away, extensive repair and regeneration work took place. A number of structures were built, designed to ensure that Boscastle could survive any similar event in the future. The river was widened and lowered, with a runoff area established upstream to allow floodwater to deposit sediment out of harm's way, and tree management and other work was carried out to restore precious habitats in the Valency valley.