A trip to Boscastle

Given it is on the doorstep, I don’t go to Boscastle very often, yet it feels like a different world to Bude. It has evolved. One of the eateries says it serves crepes, and you can now hire a tuk-tuk to tour the village! I have a few friends who like to start any outing a morning coffee, so this was one of those occasions, courtesy of the National Trust shop/cafe.  Inside there are photos of the devastating Boscastle flood of 2004, which must have been terrifying but which oddly enough put Boscastle on the tourist map.

One place I have not visited for well over 20 years is the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic down by the harbour. You almost need the place to yourself to read all the information. Witchcraft is not really my thing but I have an interest in people and social structures. It was created by Cecil Williamson who first tried to d similar in Stratford-upon-Avon but was run out town by opponents. He set up the Boscastle Museum in 1960.

From the website, this explains why it is situated there:

Cecil explained the Museum’s location in this way: ‘Three miles away from this spot you can find this pre-historic maze stone carved into a living rock face, proof that from ancient times man and his magic making with the world of spirit were active in this area. The centuries have passed and times have changed and yet all around us in this quiet corner of England there is a strange feeling that we are not alone and that the shades of persons passed on and over into the world of spirit are very close. That is why this Museum of Witchcraft is located here. One is standing on the edge of the beyond.’

He’s right. Boscastle does have a strange feel to it. Here’s more about the history of the museum on the website. It is reasonably priced and a visit takes around 45 minutes. Some of the images are graphic, but of most interest me, having lived for many years in Lancashire was the history of witchcraft and the persecution of women labelled as witches. The most notorious witch trial was that of the Pendle Witches. In 1612, twenty people, sixteen of them women, were put on trial for witchcraft, including things like ‘bewitching a horse’.

As the Pendle Witch website says, witches were blamed for all calamities:

Was the family visited by sickness? It was believed to be the work of an invisible agency, which in secret wasted an image made in clay before the fire, or crumbled its various parts into dust.

Did the cattle sicken and die? The witch and the wizard were the authors of the calamity.

Did the yeast refuse to ferment, either in the bread or the beer? It was the consequence of a ‘bad wish’.

Did the butter refuse to come? The ‘familiar’ was in the churn.

Did the ship founder at sea? The gale or hurricane was blown by the lungless hag who had scarcely sufficient breath to cool her own pottage.

If you were old, alone, had a cat, or were simply female, you could be believed to be a witch. However, women who were not witches were not treated much better. Take the scold’s bridle, a head collar used to force confessions from women, as the Museum of Witchcraft website explains:

These brutal devices were really used to extract confessions from women. In 1591 Agnes Sampson of Berwick, Scotland ‘was pinned to the wall of her cell by an iron witch’s bridle, which had four sharp prongs that were forced into her mouth, against her tongue and cheeks” Agnes eventually confessed to witchcraft and was strangled and burned. Original text by Cecil Williamson: ‘Scolds’ bridles such as this were used on witches when they were paraded, stripped naked to the waist and whipped through the town. The purpose of the bridle was to prevent the witch shouting and cursing the town or persons in authority.’ They were also used on any female prisoner to stop them making a scene/noise. Also, said to be used on nagging wives!

It is a wonderful social history resource.

That was followed by lunch at Boscastle Farm Shop, a very busy and popular place. My milkshake was tasty but not cold enough, and the Homity Pie I fancied was unavailable. I reluctantly had pear and walnut salad (normally served with blue cheese but I switched this). Surprisingly, this far exceeded my expectations and was very tasty. Maybe sometimes we don’t get what we want for a reason. This was a far healthier option (though brown bread would have been preferred) than my original choice!


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