Hardy’s Boscastle

“I found her out there
On a slope few see,
That falls westwardly
To the salt-edged air,
Where the ocean breaks
On the purple strand,
And the hurricane shakes
The solid land.”

Looking at those mesmerising opal-sapphire hued waters, just like the view that glistened in the midday sun below me, Thomas Hardy would have contemplated upon his chance meeting with the love of his life in the village of Boscastle. Dramatic environs such as these must surely serve as an elixir to seal in young love.

Hardy, if you are not acquainted with the man, wrote Tess of the D’urbervilles and challenged the traditional notions of morality in Victorian England. I have always wondered about it: How is it that Hardy could empathise so with his heroine? Here was a writer, far ahead of the times that he was a product of. I can almost hear Hardy echo Butch Cassidy: ‘Boy I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals.’

But the post is neither on Hardy (really, you might say with some disbelief, given that the woman has waxed upon his love for two paragraphs and shall devote another to it), the strain of realism that pervades his writing, nor is it about Tess. It is to take you into the quaint fishing village of Boscastle where Hardy arrived as a young architect in 1870 to work on the restoration of the church of St. Juliot. His prize in the North Cornish village would have been to chance upon a pair of blue eyes (you know who that novel was inspired by) and a swathe of blonde hair that would have his heart for a long time even after the owner of those attributes, Emma Gifford, had died and he had married a second time. Hardy’s heart is buried with Gifford in her grave in a churchyard in Dorset, although his ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey.

When he arrived in Boscastle, he would have come upon the three pubs in the village, a lime kiln and the stonewashed cottages which are said to have been built from stones culled from the ruins of the Botreaux Castle (the village derives its name from the castle).

A lane past Cobweb Inn winds up the village. Now names in the English countryside are literal. You know when you come upon a Two Turn Lane what lies ahead, so when you come upon a name like Cobweb Inn, you can safely expect cobwebs hanging from the eaves and ceilings. Or so you could till the early ’90s when some namby pamby Health and Safety inspectors decided that thick, matted cobwebs hanging to keep flies away from kegs of wine and spirits was not hygienic. They were questioning decades of cobweb-wisdom of men who had run the pub as a wine cellar and flour store dating back to the 1700s.

The passing years have meant that we, as modern-day travellers, got the extras without the cobwebs such as clutches of charming boutiques, a National Trust tearoom and a museum on witchcraft at the entrance of which is the grave of a ‘witch’ called Joan Wytte. That poor 18th century woman’s skeleton had hung for years at the museum till they decided it was not quite okay. The river gushes alongside and if you follow its path up the cliffs above the harbour, you can go on long walks (as we did and it turned out to be so long that our legs would not stop trembling, but more about the trembling later in the next post).

After the quintessential tea & cake stop at the pretty tea room, once you are up on the cliffs, you can spot the Elizabethan harbour, a powerful reminder of times when privateers, wreckers and smugglers carried on thriving business with alacrity. Then you can sit on the cliffs and cast your mind back in time, that is all. Bung in a gale, a stormy sky and turbulent waters lashing against the cliffs. Maybe even imagine the Devil’s Bellows at half tide spouting out water below from the small hole at the bottom of the cliffs, and yes, you will be in another time and age with the necessary ingredient that is at the essence of every wild imagination, the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’.

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Behind Adi is the lime kiln, the third stone structure from the right with the hint of an arched opening. The white cottage next door is the National Trust Tea Room. The kiln points to Boscastle’s quarrying past. 
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Temptation awaits the unwary inside the National Trust tea room

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Luna and Remus. Psst: Potter fans. Transfiguration happened. We got two giant Leonbergers playing in the waters with their mutt mate. However they were kind and they allowed two strange muggles to shower them with the customary cuddles and coos.
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Bridge in Boscastle
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The harbour put in place by the English sailor and explorer, Sir Richard Grenville, in the late 1500s. A popular hangout for smugglers and wreckers.
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Penally Point, below which is a blowhole that spouts up water in a gush and with a boom (the Devil’s Bellows) during low tide.
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That spot of white sticking out above the cliffs is Willa Lookout coastwatch
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Looking back at the cliffs of Boscastle from Forrabury Common

38 thoughts on “Hardy’s Boscastle

  1. You had me at Hardy. I remain his slave and could wax lyrical (or ad tedium depending on your viewpoint) forever on the value of his work, the effect on my heart and soul not just of Tess but of each and every one of his novels and of his poetry. Your rendering of Boscastle both in its relationship to TH and to the modern traveller is worthy of waxing lyrical too. And I love those big beefy fluff balls too! Xx

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    1. Osyth! I have missed you. How have you been? Hardy’s poems on his Cornish days with Emma are so beautiful too. His love throbs through his verses. To think that he thought of himself as a better poet than he was a novelist! His books are some of my favourites to re-read and sigh. About those beefy boys, I wanted to spirit them away. Alas, I have to wait till I have a big house to accommodate their gigantic selves xx

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      1. I am all good. We have been busy with guests for the last month and though it has been delightful, to be honest I am glad to be back to whatever normal is for me! Xx

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  2. The views are amazing and look at that harbour. I have yet to read anything by Hardy, which is a shame for a Literature student. I do know about Tess because in 50 Shades of Gray, the sexy guy (forgot his name) asks the boring girl if she decided to study English Lit because of Brontë or Austen and she answers Hardy. I guess that was supposed to sound a little dirty. (Walks away shamefully, for having watched the film. Not the book. Nevuuuuh)

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    1. Hahaha it is essential to watch before we judge. But I read the series, so I went through a prolonged period of wanting to slap dear Ana with all her lip biting and the rest. Mentally I did land a few. You do not have to be ashamed, far be it from shame, because when you do pick up Hardy you will find a world out there to draw you in. I envy you that first time, my dear Cheila xx

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      1. Oh yeah, bitch is called Anastacia. With such a name I would want to spank her myself. Kidding, nothing against the Anastacias of the world. Should I begin with Tess?

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    1. If you do come by Hardy, you might just fall in love with his style. I did, the proverbial head over heels way. Ah but it is easy my love. These spots just pop up in Cornwall. You’ve just got to get there (though you live in a land that has such spectacular beauty and I cannot wait to see it someday) xx

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  3. I like how all the places you visit are literally named. They should allows the spiders to rebuild their cobweb homes though. Is it true about a skeleton hanging in the closet though? Also those two dogs are huge, and I still can’t get over what lovely seas the English countryside has.

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    1. I hope this shall get you to hop over to Britain then. It does have such fantastic views to offer and then the cream teas and all the sinful pub food to add to the experience. I would not be found in those places where they allow spiders to build their homes though, Jen ;)I like the imagery surely 😛 Big wuss alert. I have a blogger on my list who has tarantulas and Burmese pythons as pets …I have no idea what clay she is made of. And as for the skeleton, I am sure there are many in the museum’s closet 😉 But this one just hung inside the museum for people to come and gawk. I am glad the new owner decided to give that poor Joan a burial at least.

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      1. The skeleton gives me the creeps. If it was a real person that is. If it was just a fake one, then not so much – just weird. I wouldn’t mind having a pet tarantula. A snake either, but my apartment is too small for a burmese python. And that might go against the “no pets” policy.

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      2. May I say I have grown up with a trunk of dismembered skeleton in my library room which was my den. Before you think there are actually skeletons in the closet here 😉 my brother had it. When he was studying medicine to become a doctor, he used to sit and mark the skull and bones of some poor man/woman with sketch pens. I used to hate it being present in the room. The day he graduated, I got my parents to get rid of that trunk from the library room. A pet tarantula!!!! Jen, you are killing me. I saw her photos with the pythons (I believe there are 3-4 of them) draped around her and I shuddered and shuddered. Yes imagine, your landlord (I am guessing it is a rented one) entering the apartment to be greeted by a massive reptile 😀

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      3. I think I would be pretty creepy out having skeletons in my house too. you’re right, it is a rented apartment, and I do wish I could have some kind of pet. Preferably a cuddly one though.

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  4. I love the National Trust almost as much as I love Hardy. Have you been to Max Gate near Dorchester? Fascinating. You can see the tiny attic room where Emma spent most of her time. He may have written lovely love poems about her, but he wasn’t that nice to her really….

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    1. I thought they had a troubled marriage because both of them would have added their bit – as it does in most relationships. That saddens me. The gap between reality and expectations is often such a bummer. I would love to visit Dorchester. It has been on my list but there’s just so much to do. I shall make sure that I step into Emma’s room someday.

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  5. The coast is so beautiful! I so love English bakeries. I didn’t eat anything not tasty.
    Guess I’ll read Hardy right after the state exams!

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    1. Hello you 🙂 Hardy might engage you. Do give him some of you time. Those English bakeries get my juices flowing. The cakes are almost never dry or not memorable. I still remember villages and towns by the kind of cakes I ate there 😉

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  6. I cannot get over the color of that water. And excellent choice with carrot cake–there is no such thing as too big of a slice of carrot cake, so I have to assure you that you probably did cut too small a piece. 😉 And then those Leonbergers. ❤ I would not want to have the responsibility of grooming and detangling those beastly pups, but I would gladly help out the scratching behind the ears department.

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  7. What a lovely piece of writing to find in my blog feed this morning! Thank you so much for remembering that travel writing is a craft, and that listicles and other such pap cheapens it tremendously! I have to confess I haven’t yet read Hardy, but I’ve been on a kick of going back and reading all the novels that I cheated myself out of by reading the Cliff’s notes versions of back in my early education days. I’ll add him to the list.

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    1. Oh thank you Henry! I am chuffed. I confess that I had to look up Cliff’s notes (before which I did feel like an ignoramus). Hardy makes the English countryside come alive. He had that je ne sais quoi about his writing style. I was wondering how to follow your blog because I could not find the button but I did subscribe to it. I am fascinated by your story.

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