You may know by now that Boscastle has flooded again. Not as dreadfully as before, but enough to scare the residents, I'm sure, and put the emergency services back on alert. You can find some on-the-spot photographs taken by residents here.
The devastation of August 16th 2004 was something I remember well, though I was on the other side of the country at the time, holidaying in Norfolk. Steve and I had checked into a small old-fashioned coaching inn in Swaffham, a few miles from the recreated 'Iceni Village' at Cockley Cley which we were planning to visit the next day, and had rung home to make sure the kids were okay before heading out for dinner. To our horror we heard from one of my daughters that our beloved Boscastle had been struck by an enormous wall of water, with many of the riverside buildings gutted by the flood, one washed away entirely. Dinner forgotten, we immediately switched on the small television set in our hotel room and spent the next few hours following the intensive news coverage instead.
We had only recently moved away from Boscastle, where we had lived for nearly a year, up near the ancient church on Forrabury Hill, and in nearby Camelford for three years before that. So we were not casual viewers, but were watching familiar streets and buildings engulfed in a torrent of mud, branches, cars and other debris being swept down the river - now occupying the main street - towards the tiny bottleneck harbour. Not only that, but we knew most of the people who were interviewed in the immediate aftermath, many of them utterly shocked and no more able to believe what had happened than we could, hundreds of miles away.
With thousands of others, we saw the television footage of that free-floating camper van as it struck the white-washed wall of the Harbour Lights shop; an instant later, the historic building had vanished into the water. And the world-famous Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft - a fascinating place we had often visited - had not managed to escape either, even though it was set back from the river bank. The whole thing was surreal, because we simply couldn't link what we were seeing with the village where we had lived and which we knew to be such a quiet, uneventful little place.
Friends, too, had been severely affected. The distraught owner of the Spinning Wheel Café, one of the businesses worst hit by the flood, had employed both my teenage daughters as waitresses for several years. If we had not moved away, they would undoubtedly have been working there that afternoon.
As we sat watching the television, I remember feeling sick as it was revealed how the large front window of the Spinning Wheel Café had been blown out by the sheer force of the water, sweeping through the building from the river which ran just behind and below the premises. The staff managed to climb onto the roof and had to be winched to safety by helicopters. As the water receded, we could see the building itself in ruins, awash with mud, unrecognisable. Just one of many livelihoods destroyed in a few hours that day. And the only consolation was that no lives had been lost.
Last year, recalling the devastation at Boscastle, I began work on what I hoped would be a long poem or perhaps a short sequence of poems about the flood. It's still 'in progress' but one of the pieces that emerged from that attempt has just been published in the summer issue of 'Poetry Review', which came out this Wednesday. It features real places in the village, including the famous old Cobweb Inn, just high enough above the river to escape the worst of the flood, and one of the many occult shops in the area, a tiny but beautiful place tucked away down a flight of steps just shy of the main bridge into the village, named after one of the cornerstones of Druidic belief, the realm of the 'Otherworld'.
I dithered over the title for ages, but in the end decided on something very obvious and prosaic: 'Flood at Boscastle'. I'm hoping that at some point in the future I'll feel able to publish the rest of the work I've done on the same subject. Whether the title of that particular poem will then have to change, I'm not sure.
So within forty-eight hours of that poem being published, Boscastle is under water yet again. Let's hope it remains a minor incident this time. Otherwise people may begin to suspect that I had something to do with it ...