Elvis Legs: Boscastle to Tintagel

The path of less resistance can lead to Elvis Legs. This is how. My husband was never much of a one for walking-hiking holidays (even though he used to love climbing mountains as a teenager). His idea of holidays were more in the realm of lazing and packing in the good grub. But then I happened to him. The day that took place he had  signed himself up for legs that would shake like The King’s. A shout-out to Bruce who introduced me to the term.

Getting back to Adi, he is a hiking convert, and boy he gets attached to things in a pretty solid way. For instance, when he had change to classes as a wee boy, he turned down the prospect flat on its face. He would have nothing to do with leaving Claudette behind. She was the teacher and why I believe wee Adi had a crush on pretty Claudette. They had to wait three months before he agreed to leave her behind.

From Claudette to Cornwall is a leap alright, but may I ask you to do that? Last time, we had exchanged a few words over Boscastle and swooned over Hardy. Now I am going to swoon over Red Devon and Friesian cows, gorse bushes, meadows of blue bells, saw-wort (those pretty purple thistle-like flowers) and daisies. Stop sniggering. I see you.

Now we had chosen the hottest day of the week to go for our hike, which meant four hours under a sun that threatened to (and did eventually) peel the skin off our nape. There are a few warnings you have to keep in mind when you are passing through the pastures of our bovine friends:

  • Do not show threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them in close quarters, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. The best plan is to walk along the hedges.
  • If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
  • Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows particularly with calves. If you must and cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.

With no dog friend to distract the cow, you can imagine how tough it was on the animal talker in me. I did wave at the Red Devon cows lazing on the ridges, who you shall see in a bit, but there were young, cute Friesian calves in a field without their mothers, and That I could not resist. Adi, on the other hand, is a bit wary of the gentle girls and boys — ever since a whole herd gunned for us with alacrity during a stop at a random field on the way to the Lake District. The menace writ large on their faces made them look like anything else but creatures of bovine gentility. Five years have passed but Adi has not been able to shake off the trauma of it.

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Forrabury Stitches behind us. It is like looking back upon a maze of stitched-up greenery. A historic concept of open field farming that is part and parcel of Cornish country.
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The kind of views that line the length of the hike
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Lazy Red Devon cows
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Thankfully a few hand waves did not ensure a charging mum. Adi dragged me away before she became a larger entity in the picture.
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Islets along Trevalga that are home to seabird colonies
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Gorse and husband under the midday sun

If you choose to do this hike, the good news is that for the most part, it is of moderate intensity. Expect to climb up and down meadows filled with wild flowers and gorse bushes in bright yellow clumps to contrast startlingly with the waters of the Celtic Sea. The changing hues — from gentian to aquamarine, sapphire to turquoise blues — are mesmerising. Each stitched-up pasture is crossed via stone steps and then a leap across dry stone walls that network the length and breadth of the trail and throw in some serious climbing in bits and pieces. But it is the length of the walk and the hot sun that conspire to make you fantasise about chilled beer aplenty.

When we espied the silhouette of Hotel Camelot a few cliffs away, we whooped. The thought of draining vats of beer was a wonderful reprieve. We could have also had vats of mead instead but then we would have to go down to that fantastic Tintagel Castle, birthplace of the mythical King Arthur. And our legs, I fear, would not have made the steep climb back to the village from the castle. Instead we tucked into pasties from the pasty shop in town that was selling them at half price since it was closing time. Amusingly enough, they do things the old way. The woman from the shop hollers out in a hefty voice about a half-price offer a few times till old men come streaming in.

At the end of our pub stop for ales to wash down the pasties with lay another 3 hours of walking because we had not taken into account that the bus from Tintagel to Boscastle is not that frequent. So there we were with 10 miles of hiking and walking at hand to reduce our legs to columns of jelly and flop down at The Wellington Arms in Boscastle for another round of ale. Come to think of it, what would we do without ale? As our good man Franklin put it so sensibly. Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

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Midway between Boscastle and Tintagel is the Rocky Valley where the footpath plunges into a gorge-like valley to take you ahead into the open bay of Bossiney.
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Bossiney Bay
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Oh hello, my beauties! There was a long conversation with no watchful mother at hand nearby to spoil the party.
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Bossiney Bay

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And finally, Hotel Camelot
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Pints of Doom Bar at The Cornishman Inn – an ale named after the Doom Bar of Padstow
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Camelot Castle Hotel viewed from Tintagel Castle
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The ruins of Tintagel Castle are tricky to climb especially when it has rained because those steps are quite weather-beaten.
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When you reach the top, it feels like a misstep would mean a dash into the rocks but that view. It does make you want to make a home for yourself among the ruins and dream about Lancelot and Guinevere.
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The walk back to Boscastle and meeting curious ones along the way.
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Stone cottages in Bossiney
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Reaching Boscastle after two and a half hours
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Then sighting The Wellington and losing ourselves to ale. Highly recommended.

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