In the early hours of the 16th August 2004, a major flash flood ripped through the small coastal Cornish village of Boscastle. Fortunately, there were no deaths, but the damage was colossal with a third of the buildings severely damaged and 80 vehicles washed out into the bay. The event was memorable because it was being shown live on the BBC. By shear chance, the Beeb was filming a series of Doc Martin in the village, and so drama film-makers became, in seconds, news film-makers. While watching it, and in the immediate after-math, I had the very real feeling that the damage was so great, that the village would not recover. I did not count on Cornish toughness and determination. A year on, most of the village is now up and running, repairs are mostly complete and life is getting back to some normality. The Environment Agency, have put in some defenses to cope with excessive water build-up which should help.
How did it happen? After a dry, early summer, the previous 2 weeks had been wet and rainy. Boscastle nestles at the mouth of a narrow river-cut valley, surrounded by hills that are generally boggy. The dry weather had dried out the sub-soil, which meant that when the rains came, it couldn't penetrate into the ground. The water was absorbed by the top-soil and vegetation. On the night of the flood, Boscastle was the centre of a major storm that dropped a massive amount of rain. The surrounding land couldn't cope and so the water ran off into the local streams and then into the river Valency which flows through Boscastle to the sea. A large volume of water and a narrow river valley is going to lead to trouble.
The pictures of Boscastle today show a reviving village looking forward to the future. Most of the buildings have been repaired, and only the whiteness of the mortar give any indication of what had happened. We love the West Country, and Boscastle is definitely a place I would want to visit.
One place we have been to is Lynmouth which, on the 15th August 1952 suffered a similar, but even worse fate as Boscastle. Lynmouth is just up the coast from Boscastle in Devon, and is similarly placed at the head of a narrow river valley. In almost identical climatic conditions - dry summer, 2 weeks of rain then a major storm, the rivers West Lyn and East Lyn, which join in the middle of the village, catastrophically burst their banks. As well as tons of water, the rivers brought massive boulders off the tops along with a great deal of mud. 34 people lost their lives, and over 70 buildings were either destroyed or had to be demolished. However, the village is thriving today, and defenses have been installed against future problems. It is a very pretty North Devon coastal village, and I'm sure that Boscastle will also revive.