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.