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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005, 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
Boscastle's mixed recovery
By Jenny Matthews
BBC News in Boscastle

A year after the devastating floods of 16 August 2004, the BBC News website revisited the Cornish village of Boscastle to find out how it is coping.

It appears a mixed picture - while much of the village has made an almost-full recovery, some people have found life very difficult indeed.

Street scene
Most of Boscastle's gift shops, hotels and cafes have reopened
There's no doubt about it, Boscastle on the whole is up and running again.

The picturesque Cornish village is once again full of gleaming shop fronts, freshly painted cottages and gardens crammed with flowers.

The main harbour area is thronging with tourists; pub beer gardens are full, and hoteliers and shopkeepers are resuming their busy lives.

Yet a year after the deluge which spared lives but flooded 58 properties and demolished four businesses, the damage is still clearly evident in the worst-hit harbour area at the bottom of the valley.

A gaping hole, containing a stagnant pool and ringed by high wire fence panels, stands where the much-photographed and picturesque landmark the Pixie House used to be.

The building which contained the Harbour restaurant remains empty and boarded up, as does the next door National Trust-owned Youth Hostel, pending restoration work.

How Boscastle looks a year after the devastating 2004 floods

Rubble is piled up on spare ground near the river and the visitor centre is now in a portable building in the car park.

All this doesn't seem to be putting the tourists off, though.

"The daytime visitors are absolutely amazing, they just keep coming and coming," said Peter Templar, the owner of the damaged, but rebuilt, Riverside Hotel.

Several hundred visitors a day file through his freshly restored restaurant, tea room and tea garden, he says.

Overnight visitors have not come back in quite such numbers, however - he's running at about 90% capacity, instead of turning people away as he would in a normal August.

"I think it's just because they still think it's a building site," he said.

In some ways, the flood almost appears to have boosted the numbers of day trippers.

Ever since that day, I stopped being me
Christine Morgan
Harbour restaurant owner

"It's put us on the map," says Sue Chamberlain of Boscastle Bakery, which was half-demolished but which reopened in May.

"People used to say - Boscastle, the place near Tintagel. Now it's Tintagel, the place near Boscastle."

The flood is certainly a hot topic of conversation among the visitors wandering along the riverside.

"You can hardly believe it, can you, it's only a couple of inches," says one man, looking at the calm-looking Valency - one of three rivers which burst their banks and sent the water hurtling into the village.

Rebecca David
I'll be glad when the anniversary is over and we can start getting back to normal
Rebecca David
Visitor centre manager

"There were buildings over there, weren't there?" another woman asks her companion.

Mark and Jackie Shawe, from Bedford and holidaying in Plymouth, spent their honeymoon in Boscastle in 1992. They came back in 2003 and have now returned for a day with sons Jake, seven, and Jamie, four.

For them, it's as appealing as ever.

"It's still a lovely place, isn't it?" said Mrs Shawe. "Very pretty. It's nice to see it hasn't all been destroyed."

"It's hard to believe that it happened really," her husband says.

'Life goes on'

"OK, there's a few buildings being repaired, but it's hard to picture the cars coming down here, people being airlifted off that building."

Local people's feelings about that day are mixed.

"It seems to me now that it's almost as though it hasn't happened," says Sue Chamberlain.

"We are so far back to normal, life goes on, and we're just working so hard now I can hardly remember it."

Others are still traumatised.

"Some people are still on medication," says John Smart, the owner of the Spinning Wheel bistro, which was also badly damaged and whose refurbishment is still not quite finished.

John Smart inside the Spinning Wheel
John Smart, bistro owner, says financial recovery is in sight

"Because for many of them, it was their first experience of coming face-to-face with death. They really did think they were going to die."

Rebecca David, the manager of the visitor centre, was one of the 100-odd people airlifted during the floods.

Such is the intense interest in the flooding from visitors, video coverage of the day is on a loop in the office, and she fields streams of questions.

"I'll be glad when the anniversary is over and we can start getting back to normal," she says.

For most villagers, an almost-total recovery is in sight.

John Smart says the past year has been "the hardest of our lives".

But he is expecting a full financial recovery by the end of the season in October, and says that emotionally and psychologically he is "fine".

The Shawe family from Bedford
Day trippers the Shawes say the village is "as pretty as ever"

But not all have come through unscathed.

Lee Cudmore, who leases and manages the Riverside restaurant, has got up and running again but is having enormous problems getting his insurance company to pay up for repairs. He doesn't think it ever will.

The father-of-four has 25,000 on his credit card and is having to sell the family home to meet further debts.

He is taking no wages and has been on anti-depressants for stress.

"I've got suppliers threatening to take me to court, to sue me, because I can't pay them," he said.

"I've been threatened with bailiffs to take the equipment away... the insurance company has totally destroyed me."

He also feels very bitter that he has had no help from the government, despite impressions given at the time.

"The government comes down here (just after the flood), and says they're going to help everyone, it was all in the news, you know, 'we will help anyone who has any problems'... they always come out and say it to start with, don't they?"

'No-one to help'

Chris and Christine Morgan, the owners of the boarded-up Harbour restaurant, say they have also been left stranded by their insurance company.

They need about 200,000 to rebuild their business and home but they have only had a small interim payment to cover staff wages, which means they haven't even been able to start.

Interior view of the Harbour restaurant
Insurance problems mean the Harbour restaurant has not been repaired
One year on, and their beloved business stands an empty shell, and they are starting to despair.

They have exhausted all the avenues they can think of to get what they say they are owed - including writing to the Duchy of Cornwall, consulting solicitors and getting the support of their local MP - and have now all but given up hope of ever restarting the business.

"I can't believe there is no-one out there that can help," says Mrs Morgan, who lives in Camelford.

Members of the Assocation of British Insurers have paid out over 15m in claims since the floods.

But in both the Cudmore and Morgan cases it appears that the insurance company involved was based abroad and not authorised in the UK by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), so various safeguards did not apply.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said North Cornwall District Council had received 447,000 to help with "uninsurable clear-up costs" in the village.

The Morgans are now hoping to sell the shell of the building to the National Trust, but in the meantime Mrs Morgan's emotional and physical health is suffering and she has had to move away.

"Ever since that day, I stopped being me," she says.

"I can't sleep, my whole life's on hold. I'm tearful. And I find it too painful to visit Boscastle very much."


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