Walk - Penzance YHA - 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 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From Penzance Youth Hostel walk along Castle Horneck Road, cross over the A30 and continue on Castle Horneck Road. Keep left at the junction and follow Alverton Road past the YMCA.
- At the roundabout, turn right down tree lined Alexandra Road until you reach the sea. Turn right onto the South West Coast Path and carry on along Cornwall's only promenade, through Wherry Town.
Much of Wherry Town was destroyed in the Ash Wednesday Storm of March 7,1962. Buildings along the shoreline for almost a mile were battered by one of the most severe mid-Atlantic storms ever. Waves higher than the houses came roaring through the bay.
In 1778 a mineshaft was sunk below the high tide mark at Wherrytown with the intention of mining iron ore. A stone breakwater topped by a timber turret protected it from the waves. In 1791 a steam engine was built onshore to drain what was known as Wheal Wherry Mine. It sold a total of £70,000 of tin ore before an American ship broke its moorings and drifted onto the shafthead, demolishing it. Apart from 4 years in the 1830’s the mine ceased to be worked.
Nowadays during spring tides a forest of fossilised trees is visible at low tide, a remnant 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. On the south pier is the Ordnance Survey Tidal Observatory the red and white building near the harbour lighthouse. 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, but 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. According to the Tate Gallery, 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. This 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 the layby on the right 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 got into difficulty on its maiden voyage between Holland and Ireland. With a total of eight crew 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. When the lifeboat station later moved to Newlyn, the old Penlee lifeboat house was left as a memorial to those who died in the disaster. The famous Christmas lights in Mousehole are switched off for an hour each hour as a further memorial.
- 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 its 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'.
It is also renowned for its 'starry gazy pie', a pie with a number of different types of fish poking their heads through its pastry crust. It is named after local lad Tom Bawcock who took his boat out in gale-force winds in the sixteenth century when the village was starving. A run of bad weather had made it impossible for the fishing fleet to go out. Tom brought home a massive catch of 7 different kinds of fish. The village still celebrates the occasion every year with a lantern parade on 23rd December ('Tom Bawcock's Eve').
Mousehole's trade links are said to go back to the Iron Age, when Phoenicians ships are said to have visited. By the beginning of the fourteenth century, it was the second largest fishing port in the south west, (after St Ives). Its quay dates from 1389 and was one of the earliest to be built. The New Quay, to the left, was built in 1870 and enlarged twice in just a few years. By 1880 it was overcrowded again, providing moorings for up to 66 mackerel drifters and between 40 and 50 pilchard boats.
The harbour floor was originally mud and shingle, but sand is brought in every spring in order to provide a beach.
In 1595, 8 years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, four Spanish galleys were despatched to reconnoitre the coast for a prospective large-scale attack on England. One July morning, as dawn broke on a sleeping Mousehole they decided to mount a raid. The village was sacked and set alight. The villagers fled uphill to the church at Paul. The Spaniards followed them and set light to the village here as well. The raiding party proceeded to set fire to Newlyn and parts of Penzance, before news that Drake and Hawkins were on their way from Plymouth caused the Spanish to make their escape to Brittany.
There are a number of restaurants and cafés in both Penzance and Mousehole.