Fifteen years ago, I was roughly midway through a three and a half month walk through southern England when I stopped for the night at a bed and breakfast in the incredibly scenic coastal village of Boscastle, in Cornwall. The next morning, after the usual protein- and calorie-rich British breakfast—eggs, bacon, sausage, sautéed mushrooms and tomatoes, beans, toast, tea and more—I shouldered my backpack and continued south along the Southwest Coast Path heading for Land’s End.
It was a beautiful mid-August morning, bright sun, lots of blue sky. But it was also muggy and hot as I trudged along the cliff edge path, grateful for the occasional breeze off the Atlantic. Out over the ocean I noticed peculiar though small black cloud cells against the bright sky. They were rolling in toward the coast like ocean waves, one after another. But still, I was hiking in the sun. At one point one of these fierce little clouds reached the cliffs where I was walking. I simply bent at the waist behind a sturdy stone wall and the squall flew right past me. Within a minute it passed and I didn’t feel a drop.
Many hours later, I fetched up in Port Isaac (now famous as “Porthwen” in the Doc Martin TV series). My B&B hostess asked where I’d been the night before. I told her Boscastle. She looked at me and said, “It’s not there anymore.”
It turns out that just a couple of hours after I’d left, Boscastle was hit by the most catastrophic flash flood in recorded British history. Those dark cloud cells I’d seen gathered in a convergence zone on the hills high above the village and the epic rainfall funneled down the narrow Valency river valley to the village. An estimated 310 million gallons, the equivalent of 21 petrol tankers worth of water per second barreled through the little coastal village in two hours, sweeping buildings and dozens of cars out into the Atlantic. Had I stayed there only a few hours longer I would have been caught up in the flood; the home where I had stayed the night before was washed away.
One of my novels, Water, Stone, Heart, is set in Boscastle during that flood. It is a love story about how sometimes it takes a disaster to make two people realize how much they mean to each other.
This video link will give you a sense of the disaster: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxweiRNlHbo
Miraculously, no one died.