A few miles south of Penzance, almost as far west as you can go in the UK, you’ll find the charming fishing village of Mousehole (pronounced ‘Mowzel’). Its quaint cobbled streets, picturesque harbour and rich history make it a quintessentially Cornish destination that’s full to the brim with character – and a photographer’s dream! As you wander the narrow streets along the harbour wall it’s easy to imagine the once-busy port bustling with boats and fisherman unloading the day’s catch of pilchards. Nowadays, though the pace is a little slower, you’ll discover a beautiful blend of tradition and modern Cornish life here, with art galleries, eateries and cafes nestled amongst the old fishing cottages.
The village is also famous for its connection to The Mousehole Cat, the children’s storybook about the legend of Cornish fisherman Tom Bawcock, who braved stormy seas to save the village. The story features another of Mousehole’s longstanding traditions too – the Stargazey Pie. Every 23rd December, to celebrate Tom Bawcock’s Eve, this shortcrust pie with fish heads and tails protruding from the crust is served along with dancing, singing and merriment.
Though small in size, there is plenty to see and do in Mousehole, so we’d recommend allowing a full day to explore at a leisurely pace. Park in the car park just outside of the centre (don’t try and drive right in – the narrow one-way streets are a labyrinth that can easily become bottlenecked). As you take the short walk into the village, soak up the breathtaking views across Mount’s Bay, with glittering turquoise seas framed by tropical palms and plant life along the way.
Once you arrive, start with a stroll along the harbourfront and marvel at the picture-postcard scenery and bobbing boats. Visit The Mousehole Shop, a much-photographed souvenir shop perched on the corner of the harbour, before wandering down to Cat & Mouse, another gift shop filled with lovely bits and bobs, including a whole range inspired by the Mousehole Cat story. Once you turn inland to the village centre you could easily spend hours meandering and exploring the pretty streets. Look out for hidden gems and pieces of Mousehole’s history as you go, including the plaque to commemorate Dolly Pentreath, one of the last native speakers of the Cornish language. Between admiring the historic lanes and colourful flower boxes, be sure to visit the village’s beautiful independent galleries and shops. Try Sandpiper Gallery for artworks, artisanal jewellery and ceramics, or Julia Mills Gallery for a piece of stained glass art inspired by the coast. No. 1 Deli is well worth a visit to stock up on freshly baked bread and local goodies like biscuits, fudge and cheese. You can also grab a flat white and a slab of chocolate brownie if you’re in need of a pick-me-up.
After you’ve had your fill on shopping and exploring, as long as the timing is right, head to the golden sandy beach that’s unveiled in the harbour at low tide. It’s a stunning spot to enjoy a refreshing swim before laying down a blanket to relax with a good book. If you fancy a dip that’s a little off-the-beaten track, clamber around the pebbly coast for a few minutes to the east where you’ll find a small secluded sea pool in the rocks.
When it comes to eating and drinking there are all sorts of cafes, pubs and restaurants to choose from in Mousehole. Follow in the footsteps of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas who famously frequented Ship Inn on his honeymoon. This cosy harbourfront pub is a great pitstop for a Cornish ale or a hearty meal, especially on a cooler day. 2 Fore Street (next door to No.1 Deli) is perfect for relaxed, bistro-style dining. Or for the ultimate foodie experience head to Michelin-star restaurant The Old Coastguard (above) where you can enjoy views over to St Clement’s Island with fresh seafood on the terrace. If you’re after an obligatory Cornish cream tea (jam first, of course) head to The Rock Pool Cafe where you can savor your treat in the idyllic garden overlooking the aforementioned sea pool! Or pick up a pasty for lunch on-the-go from the cute pasty & ice cream parlour, Jessie’s Dairy.
To see Mousehole and the magnificent surrounding coastline from a completely different perspective – and maybe spot some marine life while you’re at it – why not treat yourself to a boat trip? Cormorant Cruises runs regular trips from the South Quay, including 2 hour Wildlife Cruises, St Michael’s Mount Cruises and Mackerel Fishing Trips. Skipper Neil Brockman is a wealth of knowledge, with over 30 years of experience with the RNLI – so you’ll be in good hands.
If you’d rather explore the coastline by foot, follow the southwest coast path to Lamorna Cove. This walk is just over four and half miles there and back, with some ups and downs that’ll get your blood pumping – and some terrain that requires sturdy footwear. It’s worth the effort because it lies in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and takes in some of Cornwall’s most spectacular views.
Finally, if you happen to be visiting Mousehole at Christmas you’re in luck. Every December people travel from near and far to see the Christmas lights illuminating the harbour and streets. It’s a 40 year tradition that’s entirely organised by the village and run by volunteers – and it’s arguably the most magical time of year in the village.
Photography Credits: Nicole Kwiatkowski, The Old Coastguard by Paul Massey