Sea, Salts and Sail in Mousehole

In the fishing village of Mousehole in West Cornwall which falls understandably within the Cornish area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) zone, a maritime festival takes place every two years from which I have culled the title for this post. A photographer called Paul Massey (poor thing shares his name with an English criminal gunned down in 2015) describes it as an incomparable experience. He notes: ‘To watch as the harbour slowly fills with wooden boats is almost akin to time travel. It reminds me of the old sepia postcards showing the Mousehole fleet of fishing luggers lying abreast, hauling canvas and pulling on cordage. The sights, sounds, and smells all mingling to evoke a very different and romantic era. It is a photographer’s dream. When the boats leave to race in the Bay, with St Michael’s Mount in the near distance, it sends a shock of excitement through even the most hardened land lubber.’

As we entered the village I wondered if foxes strutted about its narrow streets. One of the house owners is supposed to have sighted a fox cub family and named her cottage accordingly. Cottages built with local granite huddled around the alleys. Flowery gardens and rustic garden sheds popped up alongside, and to my delight, pasty shops and galleries too. One of the shops sold candles which promised to make your room smell of the sea. Then came the part of looking at the price tag which succeeded in making the whiff a shade less potent.

Families sunned themselves on the beach and children went about their serious tasks of building sand castles while girls with pigtails were told off by their fathers in a serious grown-up voice about something or the other – no baby talk here. The village seemed to be protected from the onslaught of the sea by two sturdy breakwaters that popped up on the harbour as a clutch of boats floated upon shallow waters that gleamed in jewel tones of turquoise.

Mousehole – pronounced ‘Mowzel’ please – with the distinct lack of crowds made us feel like it was our personal romping grounds. Did the poet Dylan Thomas comment therefore that it was the loveliest English village? I am sure the Cornish might have had a thing or two to say about being called English.

But do not be fooled by its present unassuming self. Mousehole was once a port of distinction along with nearby Marazion. This was until the 16th century when a marauding band of 400 Spanish men razed the village to the ground – the backdrop to this was the Anglo-Spanish war of 1585-1604. Only one house remained standing and that was the pub, the former Keigwin Arms, which remains but is no longer a pub. On it is a plaque that informs you that ‘Squire Jenkyn Keigwin was killed here 23rd July 1595 defending this house against the Spaniards.’

Now if you are into Stargazy Pie, that Cornish dish which has seven fish heads poking their heads out of the crust to say hello to the eater, this is its birthplace. Every year on December 23, an enormous Stargazy Pie is baked to honour the memory of a local resident, Tom Bawcock, who braved the stormy seas and rescued the village from famine by returning with a haul of seven kinds of fish. Below you shall find examples of its charm.

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Breakwater security

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Looks like we have a Daphne du Maurier fan in the house
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Mr. Personality
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Whitewashed cottages of Mousehole. I have a decided weakness for the colour scheme.

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Lichen-coated harbour of Mousehole

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Gulls ponder upon the unfairness of life as people with pasties pass by

44 thoughts on “Sea, Salts and Sail in Mousehole

  1. Entertaining reading Arundhati! I noticed you have a soft spot for the ever-present seagull. Have you read Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach? Excellent novel – one of the few that I actually read cover to cover in one sitting. It is a story about a seagull learning about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection (Wikipedia).

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    1. Thank you 🙂 I have heard of it but never got around to reading it. I shall look out for the book. Thanks for the tip. I do find gulls rather intriguing. They are bold as brass and announce themselves so plaintively often.

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  2. You’re lucky you live so close to lots of beautiful little villages! They’re all so charming 🙂
    Also I kept literally saying Mouse-hole in my head till I saw you write down the proper pronunciation. Mowzel, Sounds much better.

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    1. Guess what, I had to ask a girl in a shop to figure out the pronunciation. I was also saying Mousehole all along till then. Thank you, I am lucky but for borrowed time. It all changes in a month when I leave this beautiful country for whoever knows where. My heart is weeping at the thought.

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    1. Thank you 🙂 You know what I am talking about. I love these little villages where you meander up and down and go for long walks and come back to the village tearooms for afternoon fare or settle down to hearty pasties. I bet your children too had a grand time.

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      1. They did! They were little then….6 and 8 so loved the crabbing and body boarding. You should come to Wiltshire for tearooms and meandering! Its a way of life here! I live near Bath so I have the best of both worlds.

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  3. Your posts are seriously making me want to visit England. This little fox town looks so cute, and the wooden boats do make it seem extra romantic. I’m not sure a pie with seven fish heads poking out it something that I would be excited to tuck into though. Have you tried it? I was a bit sad that Mousehole is not actually pronounced mouse-hole.

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    1. Oh Jen then do visit it. It will be instant love. See I come from Calcutta where we are big fish eaters, head and all. When entertaining her son-in-law, my mother once cooked fish with head (eyes included of course) and the look on Adi’s face was prize winning. He was put off by fish for quite a while after and my mother was suitably upset because I had not warned her. Now I am the exception to this fish-head-loving community. I am picky about smelly fish too while my parents can gobble up the smelliest of them. So I would never try out a Stargazy Pie no matter how many stars they tuck in there.

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      1. This reminds me of when I was teaching in a Japanese elementary school. A school lunch item was these little fish fried whole. I am used to seeing whole fried fish after spending some time here, so I bit in (after bypassing the head). I was unpleasantly surprised to find the stomach was full of little white fish eggs. I couldn’t eat it after that. The texture and the taste and the unborn babies was too much for me.

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  4. Like me, you would make a bad Bengali 😉 My people ravish those eggs as well and consider them a delicacy. I am sure the Japanese pretty much think along the same lines by the sound of what you say.

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      1. It’s the mere truth I speak, your words do the speaking that the pictures lack. The pictures are beautiful, however, just pictures. Its your words that make me want to go mainly.

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