Chasing Pasties and Pubs in Looe

During an Easter break in 2015, we arrived at a Victorian cottage called Sunnybank, positioned high above the village of Looe, upon a hilly road. It was in the late hours of  night when we reached it and yet we were stumped by the quaint prettiness of the village strung together by festive fairy lights, the sound of the sea in the backdrop crashing against the rocks and emphasising upon the solitude of our cottage. In the morning, we found the windows of the living room opening out to views of the sea one side, and on the other, rows of cottages clinging to the sides of cliffs in a higgledy-piggledy manner. The river Looe split the town into East Looe and West Looe, and while it remained dry for the best part of the day, tidal waters would stream in through an inlet and the boats would start bobbing prettily. On the harbour stood the bronze sculpture of a one-eyed seal called Nelson who had adopted it as home for about 25 years. Here Nelson had lived a full life, entertaining locals with his antics and sunning himself upon the rocks, till he died in 2003.

In the village of Nelson the seal, we were in the more bustling quarter of East Looe. Everyday we would trudge up a steep road to our cottage from the network of streets below  — where pubs such as Smugglers Cote and Ye Olde Jolly Sailor livened up things with stories of smuggling and privateering. While sitting at the Smugglers’ Cote one morning, we heard about an old tunnel that was discovered there, which lead all the way to the fishing quay.

A story goes that the landlady of Ye Olde Jolly Sailor hid a contraband keg beneath her petticoats during a sudden raid and knitted away with poise as her quarters were searched. Almost 20 per cent of the government’s excise duty was lost through smuggling and yet the Cornish smuggled away with impunity for the simple reason that they knew that the excise men from London were five days away by stagecoach from Cornwall.

There are no smugglers today though – just shark anglers, who operate on a policy of catching and releasing the shark, and avid crabbers. We did not catch shark angling, but we did notice little girls and their fathers crabbing away at the river while we hunted for ice creams and cakes.

To make the stomach rumble, because that is what holidays are meant for, we had a host of pasty shops to choose from. Bacon, cheese and leek; potato and leek; onion and pickle; steak and stilton… Life is pasty-some in Looe. You could lunch like a miner and feel rum about it. There are a smattering of creperies, Thai restaurants, cafés and bakeries too if you overdo the pasty aspect of the holiday. The idea for us was to eat our way through town and if we felt the need for more (which I always do), there was a bookshop up a hill where the books were beautiful, their pages yellowed by time, and the wonderful welcome smell of nostalgia hitting the right notes as you entered the shop. It was a treasure house of tomes — that old shop. The lady who sat at the till always had time for a natter, sharing notes on out-of-the-way authors like Anne Radcliffe who could infuse her tales with the supernatural effortlessly…why Radcliffe you might ask, because she is not quite popular, is she? Jane Austen poked fun at the tenor of Radcliffe’s Gothic novels in ‘Northanger Abbey’, if you remember. But the lady of the shop had written books on Radcliffe, as it turned out, and I was not about to pull an Austen on her. Plus I had found myself engaged by Radcliffe’s brand of electrifying novels which are difficult to lay aside even for a second.

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River Looe
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East and West Looe on either side of the river
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The cottage that was ours that Easter

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Crabbing
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Nelson, the one-eyed seal

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Pub fish pie 

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For you, Jen

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Pasty tasting
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The only one who had a good swim in the icy waters of the sea

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After days of mooching around the narrow alleys of Looe, exploring the other nearby villages of Polperro, Mevagissey and Fowey, solving puzzles lying around at Sunnybank, on our last night in Looe, we spent time on the sandy stretch of beach beneath a sky riddled with stars. Here smugglers would have unloaded their contraband goods decades ago. Off its coast stood the dark outline of Looe Island where goods used to be discreetly dumped too. I could picture it. The silhouette of a ship as it pulled in with 400-500 men on board – but mooring a little away from the shore. Then smaller boats would have been sent out to the beach with booties of brandy, rum and gin, men scurrying nimbly to get their goods under the cover of the night. And to the fervent mind came Rudyard Kipling’s ‘A Smuggler’s Song’

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,

Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,

Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie.

Watch the wall my darling while the Gentlemen go by.

94 thoughts on “Chasing Pasties and Pubs in Looe

  1. Great photos. I was there last week and it was damp ! We had more fish and chips than pastys ! Coddy shack is one of the best places for fish and chips. Just outside of looe town

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    1. Hi there Janna, thank you. It is easy to fall for fish & chips. I always am caught in that eternal question marked with gravitas – fish & chips or pasties. I don’t believe I have eaten at the Coddy Shack though. I will keep it in mind for when we get there again.

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    1. Hey you, thanks…we did. The cottages did have such incredible charm and inside they used to be cosy and perfect with tons of books and games to entertain yourself with. They were as you say, literally charming. By the way, Americans love saying literally. I hear it every time I am out and within a typical conversation it shows up at least a few times 😀 xx

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  2. What a beautiful place! As I looked through your images I kept thinking of the Beauty and the Beast. I love your writing because I feel like I am there experiencing it too and I always learn about new places when I visit your blog.

    ❤ Alana

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      1. Yes, thanks for helping me travel. I think it was just the rooftops, the alleys, and the architecture that reminded me of Beauty and the Beast. It surprised me too because I know it is not in France. 🙂

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      2. I asked you the question to help put it in perspective for me because – hold on for this one – I have not yet got around to watching Beauty and the Beast though I keep thinking I will. Now I shall have to hurry up and watch it already to get it! xx

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      3. I actually haven’t seen any of the new ones yet. I was thinking of the cartoon way back in the early 90’s :). The memory was so striking I had to say something about it. It got me all nostalgic 🙂

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    1. Thank you Miriam. We had to step up gingerly through those walls. That was the path to steep road that led to the bookshop, so it is special 🙂 Sunnybank was indeed the perfect place to tuck into big breakfasts and dinners. We used to lunch out and do takeaways at night from the Thai restaurant in the village which made the best Thai I have probably ever had. xx

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      1. Yes, there are so many vegetarians here. Most of the restaurants have the choice of subbing tofu for any meat, or make tofu as one of the meat options. I choose tofu all the time.

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  3. What a perfect interlude. Pasties and Piskies (stet. Cornish spelling of Pixie), and pubs and pancakes and pirates and smugglers and seals called Nelson. I love the story of the landlady with the contraband keg under her skirts, so cool as the search went on around her and I always find tales of the smugglers have the hairs on my neck on end. It was SO dangerous … that coastline is unforgiving. And of course the Kipling at the end – a perfect choice for the finale of a rather perfect post! Xx

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    1. Thank you milady 🙂
      I did wonder why the hapless fellow had painted it pixie instead of piskie! I have a piskie pendant from my first time in Tintagel. A friend bought it for me as a gift and I gifted her the same because it’s supposed to bring you luck. We were silly.
      The imagination runs riot at the stories that live in the memories of these coastal villages. The coastline is indeed so rugged and the mind boggles at it. I like a little catchword they had for it in those days -‘something for nothing’ – to imply that you got a whole lot in return for investing minimal effort. xx

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      1. My cousin lives in Cornwall and uses that expression in a ham Cornish accent quite often! Fortunately he is very popular locally otherwise I think they might push him off the cliff with a pasty in his gob!!!! I had a piskie on a piece of rock for years and it was supposed to be bad luck for him to leave it. Unfortunately he eventually fell off …. I blame him, I truly do 😉 xx

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      2. Ooh he does? Hahaha are you implying you would like to stick a pasty in mine too 😉 I might warn you that I shall gulp it like a dog and look woefully for seconds.
        Hmm that was a wayward piskie indeed. We shall have to get you a pixie of stronger mettle 😀 xx

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      3. Certainly not but I would challenge you to a pasty eating contest just so I can cram more and more into my greedy mouth! It was a pathetic piskie – I was only 5 at the time and knew no better but I do think it needs to be rectified. I feel cheated to be fair xx

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      4. Not at all but I would challenge you to a pasty eating contest so that I had an excuse of cramming more and more into my greedy mouth!! It was a pathetic piskie and there is a strong case for a more robust and genuine one. This must be rectified xx

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      5. I can Thu k of nothing nicer than sharing far too many pasties with you, gazing out over the Rocky shoreline and debating the greatest lines in literature… you qualify – there are few who would xx

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      6. Now that is something that holds the greatest pleasure for me – to discuss literature and scoff pasties till the cows come home. And the last line made my heart swell like the ‘blushful Hippocrene’ that with beaded bubbles winked at the brim 🙂 xx

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    1. Thank you Nisha…that is a lovely compliment. If you have read you share of Enid Blytons, it is easy to slip into that world of children trawling the coastline for smugglers while tucking into high teas of tiny cucumber sandwiches, scones, clotted cream and jam… when you visit these little villages. xx

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      1. You are welcome, yes exactly Dippy – Enid Blyton stories was on my mind , I loved reading them during school days and wouldn’t mind reading them again. You are so lucky to have visited these cute villages! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Angling is fishing…so shark angling is fishing for shark specifically. It is irrespective of the size – so yeah they catch and release it which is the motto of the shark angling club in Looe. It is barmy alright when you think of it.

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      1. It must be and they have to take special care to not injure the shark, then to release it must require such effort…who knows about the strange workings of a shark angler’s mind!

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  4. I love how you can make every single place sound so enticing and wonderful in its own say.. The photos are stunning as usual, especially the one of your cottage – how I wish I could stay there as well at some point my in my life! Hope you’re having a wonderful day xox

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    1. Thanks sweetheart. You know you are quite near Cornwall, so someday when the sun is out and you have a long weekend, why not skip down with a loved one. You will see that the stories are part of the landscape. And of course put up in a lovely little cottage to add a sparkle to the trip. xx

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      1. Ah my friend lives there and I have been there too, climbing Cheena Peak and indulging in sessions of dahi and jalebi, spicy full-boiled eggs …ah. What memories you bring back with that one word.

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  5. Your recent posts with their fabulous photos have convinced me we should schedule a trip there shortly. Neither of us have visited Cornwall since the early to mid 70s – yes, we really are that old – after an old school friend moved down there and we visited her a number of times.

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    1. You should never be away a long time from Cornwall, Sheree. I am chuffed that you are going to schedule a trip soon. I can see your beloved and you tripping down memory lane as you walk those narrow lanes and bylanes. Though given the timeless air of these villages, you might find little cosmetic changes? I have no idea. I would know only if you showed me Cornwall in the ’70s. And if you are enjoying life (as you sure are), the years can go by in the blink of an eye. xx

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  6. Is there no end to the pretty villages in Cornwall! Your description of the town cut in two by the tidal river, its one-eyed mascot, enchanting old buildings and cobbled streets sounds like a fairytale. I’ll take that fish pie please!

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  7. Just wanted to stop by and say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blogpost and smiled at the thought of the landlady who hid a keg of rum in her skirts while people were searching her place for contraband. What a cool headed person! Cornwall looks delightful for its lovely historic buildings, memorial to Nelson (cleverly named seal), and for the seafood. Would love to try one of those pasties!

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    1. Thank you as always. The landlady was as cool as a cucumber indeed. Must be to do with all the scones and clotted cream 😉

      It is the place of my dreams…Cornwall. The pasties and scones cement the emotion conveniently.

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    1. It was Virginia. We have always got a mix of great and ghastly weather down south. The pasties were yum but my what a punch one packs. It is akin to carrying a big something in your pouch like a kangaroo does with her wee one 😛

      And thank you for noticing the design and commenting. I am thrilled. How have you been? xx

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