The Boscastle Flood
It is perfect holiday weather on the afternoon of the sixteenth of August, 2004, in the little Cornish port village of Boscastle at the far southwestern tip of England: sunny and warm, and a busy day for tourism. You would be hard-pressed to find a more scenic or welcoming village anywhere in Britain. The narrow street leading down to the steep-sided valley cut by the river Valency and its tributary, the Jordan, is lined with squat stone, flower-bedecked cottages leaning, one against another, as if exhausted by time. Where the river meets the tiny, cliff-ringed port, visitors throng the streets and shops and clamber over the rocky, heather-clad slopes of Penally Point to take in the ocean view.
Around lunchtime, a passing sun shower sends the tourists racing for the shelter and hospitality of the village’s handful of pubs and cafes. But in no time at all, the sun bursts out again, and they return to wander along the grassy banks of the little river or walk out along the sixteenth-century Elizabethan stone jetty to watch the colorful boats bobbing at anchor in the tiny harbor.
What they don’t know, because they can’t see beyond the towering hillsides above the river, is that only a couple of miles away, on high ground, it is raining at the astonishing rate of nearly a foot an hour. In the span of just two hours, more than three hundred million gallons of rain fall and virtually all of it is funneled into the twisting valley of the Valency. There is nowhere else for it to go.
For the residents and visitors in the village there is no warning. With stunning speed, the river fills and bursts its banks downstream. The equivalent of twenty gasoline tanker loads of water is tearing through the heart of the village…every second. Borne above and beneath the torrent are boulders from the valley and entire trees. Dozens of cars swirl through the central business area. Some pile up in the harbor; others are carried far out to sea. Once, twice, three times, ten to fifteen foot walls of debris-loaded water thunder through the village, tearing off the faces streamside homes and shops. Buildings that have sat peacefully beside the river for more than three hundred years simply vanish.
The Boscastle flood—which serves as the climax of the novel Water, Stone, Heart—will later be described as the worst flash flood in British recorded history. It will also be described as a miracle: for not a single life was lost.
Many of the characters in Water, Stone, Heart, though renamed, are real people. In the weeks and months since the flood they have worked continuously to rebuild both the village and their lives. They are a strong, resilient, caring community of souls and several shared their stories to help bring this novel to life. This book, in part, is an homage to their courage and determination. But it is also a love story, a story of two damaged people who find a future for themselves in the midst of disaster, a story…of hope.