Walk - Penzance to Mousehole
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the main Penzance car park, near the Railway Station head onto Wharf Road. Walk down Wharf Road with the car park to your left. Pass the old lifeboat house to cross the Abbey Basin on the Ross Bridge walkway and continue to the old Trinity House Depot.
The swing bridge, which opens to allow ships through Abbey Basin to a dry dock built in 1814, was named after local MP and banker, Charles Campbell Ross, in 1881. It was designed as a link between the harbour piers and the railway.
The granite pier was built in 1845 and renamed Albert Pier in 1846, following a visit from Prince Albert, who landed here.
Carry on to the Dolphin Inn and cross the road again to walk along the inner harbour. If you detour along the pier, return to this point and carry on around the bend to cross Battery Road to the Jubilee Pool.
In 1861, Trinity House established workshops and a yard to build the Wolf Rock Lighthouse, to the east of St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly. 2,397 tons of granite from Lamorna were cut and shaped before being taken out in barges to Wolf Rock, and the tramway used for this still exists beneath the quay. Penzance was also for many years the main centre for the supply, repair and service of lighthouses, lightships and buoys throughout the South West.
The Jubilee Pool is now sited on Battery Rocks which were used over the centuries for artillery to protect the port. In the sixteenth century Henry VIII built a barbican, or small fort, with a large bronze cannon which was nonetheless carried off in a Spanish raid. Two centuries later in the Napoleonic Wars a battery of 30-pounders was established on the rocks. The rocks were also used for this purpose in the Second World War.
The Jubilee Pool was designed by the Borough Engineer early in the 1930s and opened amid great celebrations in 1935 to celebrate the Jubilee of King George V. Its triangular shape was streamlined in the direction of the waves, to enable it to cope with rough seas, with gentle curves added to soften the effect. With its Cubist style diving platforms and steps it is one of the finest remaining Art Deco lidos in the country. Across the road, the Yacht Inn is another Art Deco building.
- From the Jubilee Pool carry on Western Promenade Road, along Cornwall's only promenade, to Wherry Town.
Here in 1778 a mineshaft was sunk below the high tide mark, with a stone breakwater topped by a timber turret to protect it from the waves. In 1791 a steam engine was built onshore to drain it, and it sold a total of £70,000 of tin ore before an American ship broke its moorings and drifted onto the shafthead, demolishing it.
However, much of Wherry Town was destroyed in the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962, when buildings along the shoreline for almost a mile were battered by one of the most severe mid-Atlantic storms ever, when waves higher than the houses came roaring through the bay.
During spring tides a forest of fossilised trees is visible at low tide – evidence of changing sea levels after the last Ice Age.
- At the end of the promenade bear to the left to carry on along the lane ahead and then turn left on to Jack Lane. Bear left once more here, crossing the stream by the Fishermans Mission, to carry on around the harbour and past the South Pier.
There are three quays at Newlyn, including the small medieval one. The Ordnance Survey Tidal Observatory – the red and white building near the harbour lighthouse is at the end of the south pier. The mean sea level used in OS maps is taken from here.
Newlyn was once Britain's third largest fishing harbour, and until recently boasted the last pilchard processing plant. There is still a busy fish market here, established with the help of EU funding, and the fleet brings home one of the highest catches in England. Much of the fish sold in the market makes its way back across the English Channel to be sold abroad.
It was also home to a post-Impressionist art movement, the Newlyn School. When the Great Western Railway was extended to West Cornwall in 1877, a number of artists settled here. The Tate Gallery recalls that they were, 'drawn by the beauty of the scenery, quality of light, simplicity of life and drama of the sea'. Led by artists Stanhope Forbes and Frank Bramley, who both moved here in the 1880s, the Newlyn School combined the Impressionist style of working directly from the subject, which was usually in the open air and depicted rural life, often that of fishermen.
- At the end of the Strand keep left as it turns into Fore Street, carrying on ahead until you come to a layby on the left hand side of the road. Fork left here, onto the cycleway/South West Coast Path, and follow it along between the rocks and the trees until the cycleway pulls back up onto the Cliff Road at the end of the quarry. Carry on ahead here, following the footpath past the memorial and Penlee Point, until you come to Mousehole.
On 19 December 1981, the cargo-carrying coaster the Union Star cargo got into difficulty on its maiden voyage between Holland and Ireland. With a total of eight on board, the ship reported engine failure eight miles east of the Wolf Rock. With the wind gusting at speeds of up to 100 mph, the Sea King helicopter sent to the ship's aid from RNAS Culdrose was unable to winch anyone to safety, and despite the appalling conditions the Penlee Lifeboat, the Solomon Browne, was launched. As was the custom in operations that were particularly risky, just one crew member per family was selected for the rescue.
All eight of the men aboard were lost in the rescue attempt, as were all those on the Union Star. In 1983 the lifeboat was moved to Newlyn Harbour whilst still keeping the name of Penlee Lifeboat Station. The old Penlee lifeboat house was left as a memorial to those who died in the disaster. On one day in December all the famous Christmas lights in Mousehole are turned off, except for a cross and angels, at 8.00 pm and then back on again at 9.00pm. This is in further memorium to the crew of the lost Penlee Lifeboat.
- Reaching the car park in Mousehole, carry on ahead on Quay Street and around the harbour, from where you can catch the bus back to Penzance.
Mousehole (pronounced 'mowzel') is named after a small cave of that name. It is famous for its narrow granite streets and tiny harbour, the landing place for the Knights of St John on their return from the Holy Land. Poet Dylan Thomas called it the prettiest village in England, and there is speculation that it was the inspiration for Llaregub, the village at the centre of his 'Under Milk Wood'.
Mousehole is also renowned for its 'starry gazy pie'. This is a pie with a number of different types of fish poking their heads through its pastry crust. This was named after local lad Tom Bawcock who lived in the sixteenth century. The village was starving after a run of bad weather made it impossible for the fishing fleet to go out. Undeterred, he took his boat out in gale-force winds. Tom brought home a massive catch of 7 different kinds of fish, and the village still celebrates the occasion every year with a lantern parade on 'Tom Bawcock's Eve', the 23rd December.
There are numerous pubs and cafes in Penzance, Newlyn and Mousehole. Click on the interactive map for details.