The tiny fishing village of Mousehole, in the farthest reaches of Cornwall, is a charming spot for swimming, spider crab, art and everything in between. James Elwes explores.
Mousehole (pronounced mow-zell) is perhaps the perfect spot for fans of piracy. Sandwiched between Penzance (of opera fame) and a smuggling cave, it was once invaded by a miniature Spanish armada, which charged into the sleepy village and murdered the squire. Alongside illegal trade and invasions, it’s seen storms and giant waves that have destroyed stone jetties and buildings. With such a choppy history, it’s a surprise to come across such a peaceful and pleasant place today.
The only pirates there now have plastic cutlasses, build boats from sand and catch crab with lines bought for a couple of pounds from the tiny local Post Office. With the exception of myself, the crabbers are mostly under 10 years old, their legs dangling over the edge of the steep harbour wall, from which the brave also jump into the sea. A sweet little hilly village with cobbles, narrow streets and two proper pubs, Mousehole feels incredibly safe – the winding road that creeps through it is so tricky to traverse that cars travel like snails.
Children roam unsupervised, making their own fun and enjoying the many entertainments on hand – surfing, paddle boarding, mischief and, for those with wetsuits, swimming. For grown-ups, there is history aplenty to enjoy as well as outstanding local food and drink. Tiny art galleries are everywhere (both in Mousehole and surrounding villages and towns) and quality, affordable work can be found with a keen eye.
Where to stay
A perfect base in this charming spot is the Langley Tarne. The cottage is satisfyingly compact and a real find for those who enjoy the mantra ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ – even the dog. For two people, it’s roomy, beautifully decorated in a way that manages to be both airy in summer and cosy in winter round the fire, and extremely well equipped.
With so much to see and do, the temptation is to explore all day and night, but a lazy morning or two at least, for a soak in the roll-top bath and possibly curling up in an oversized armchair with a board game, Cornish clotted cream, scone and jam, is advised.
The Langley Tarne, Mousehole, Cornwall, is available to rent through Rural Retreats from £415 per week – if it’s booked up on your dates or you’re after something a little different you can find other options here.
Food and drink
You can do very well without using your car at all around Mousehole. The Ship Inn serves delicious ales and more than passable pub grub.
Visit 2 Fore Street around the corner for more sophisticated fare (although be sure to book as it gets busy in season). My personal favourite is Spider Crab Night at tiny Jessie’s Dairy, held once a week when the catch is right; telephone to book your place in advance, bring a bottle of good white wine (corkage is £1) and settle in for an hour and a half of picking apart a giant, scarlet crab with buttered bread – heaven.
Things to do
From Mousehole, Cormorant Cruising with the charming Captain Mike is the best way to get to grips with the area’s history, geography and wildlife. The sights include St Michael’s Mount and Lamorna Cove and, if your lucky, you will meet seals and even basking sharks and dolphins.
The Minack Theatre is a short drive away and worth visiting if only for the views of peerless Porthcurno beach where Poldark is filmed. Expansive Gwynver beach, named for King Arthur’s Guinevere, is also worth the steep climb down and is never crowded. At low tide it joins up with neighbouring Sennen beach, right at Land’s End, it’s dog friendly and is one of the best places in Cornwall for surfing.
If beaches aren’t your thing but you like to swim, try Jubilee Pool at Penzance, a striking Art Deco saltwater lido on the promenade. The water is certainly brisk, but work began earlier this year on a geothermal well and the lido will soon be the first in the UK to have a section heated by geothermal technology.
Tate St Ives is also a must; just 45 minutes’ drive north, it hosts regular exhibitions and has a dreamy permanent collection of artworks associated with the St Ives School. While there, head along to the nearby Barbara Hepworth Museum and Garden at the home she made with her husband, the artist Ben Nicholson.
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