I’ve heard it said, and I’ve often read, that long standing residents of Mousehole have a different complexion to other Cornish men and women - and a lot of that belief stems back to ‘The Mousehole Raid’ of 1595.
The Mousehole Raid was part of the Anglo-Spanish War and although the Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588 there were still ongoing hostilities between England and Spain.
Cornwall was the part of England nearest to Spain and was somewhat the most vulnerable at the time.
As the word ‘Raid’ suggests this was an unexpected surprise attack by four Spanish Galleons with at least 400 men. The Mousehole inhabitants had little choice but to flee as quickly as they could but there were still some who stayed to protect their homes - one of those being Jenkin Keigwin. He was killed but his house still stands.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Jenkin Keigwin was a gentleman of some standing in those days as the building will testify. It’s possibly the reason why he thought his home was worth saving more than some of the people who fled their lowly cottages.
Whichever way you look at it Keigwin House has remained to this day and is the oldest building still standing in the village. It became a pub known as the Keigwin Arms but is now in private hands.
But the answer to the question “Are the locals descended from the Spanish Raid”? - Who knows?
- Historical Travel
A Walk around the Village
Mousehole is made up of narrow streets and alleyways and so to help you make sense of it all here is a trail that you can follow which will describe some of the points of interest along the way.
Most first time visitors will probably enter the village from the direction of Newlyn and so from The Old Coastguard the road leads down to the harbour and the focal point of the village.
The harbour as we see it today was constructed in the 19th cent which became so overcrowded with fishing boats that it’s been said that at times you could walk across to the other side of the harbour by just walking across the decks of the boats.
Mackerel and Pilchard fishing was the main source of income but all around the harbour there would have been a hive of activity from boat building to net drying and fish processing.
The natural course to take is to follow the road around the harbour past the War Memorial and The Ship Inn. Opposite The Ship is a building that used to be known as The Lobster Pot and was a well respected hotel and restaurant until it closed up in the 1990s. Many celebrities stayed here including Dylan Thomas who brought his new wife Caitlin to honeymoon here after their marriage in Penzance in 1937. It has since been turned into apartments.
Continue along to the signpost that leads out of the village but take the left turn and continue along Keigwin Place. Just past Nigel Hallard’s Art Gallery turn right and check out the building just up on the left with the granite stone portico called Kiegwin. It’s the oldest building in the village and dates from the 14th cent.
On a wall almost opposite is a plaque marking the home of Dolly Pentreath, reputedly to be the last person to speak Cornish as her native tongue.
Re-trace your steps back towards Kiegwin Place and follow the path down to the harbour or more precisely The Wharf. It’s the oldest surviving part of Mousehole. Look out for the bags of shells that are available for a pound which you put in an honesty box.
From here you can walk around to the Old Quay and look at the harbour from a different viewpoint.
So far I’ve indicated some of the more important locations in the village and I’ll be including some more information in due course but instead of describing a return journey I reckon it’s best for you to discover your own Mousehole. There are numerous alleyways with plenty of character but whichever ones you take you’re bound to find yourself back at the harbour at some point.
- Hiking and Walking
See the Christmas Lights
Each December this small community manages to find enough volunteers to put on a most spectacular display of Christmas lights.
The whole village is festooned with decorations but it’s the harbour that takes centre stage.
The display has grown from its modest beginnings back in 1963 to an amazing collection of around 7,000 bulbs in various different guises today.
The official switch-on is usually held around the middle of December with the lights coming on each evening until after the New Year. They’re usually on from 5-11pm.
The exception is on 19th Dec when the lights are dimmed between 8-9pm in memory of the Penlee Lifeboat Disaster of 1981.
If you want to stay in Mousehole during this period it’s obviously best to book in advance and also bear in mind that the narrow streets can’t cater for large amounts of traffic and so car parking is largely limited to outside the village.
It’s only a short walk and the lights and atmosphere will more than repay the small inconvenience.
- Family Travel
Find Dolly Pentreath's house
Dolly Pentreath was one of the last, if not the last, native Cornish speakers. She claimed that Cornish was her only language until she was 20 or so.
She lived in Mousehole and died there in 1777. Or she lived and died in Paul, the village just above Mousehole...in other versions. She probably did both, although obviously she only died in one place!
You can read more about her on the Wiki page There is a lack of absolute facts, which is not really surprising given that she was just an ordinary woman...and one who had a child outside marriage.
Whether she lived and/or died in Mousehole or not, there is certainly a house (well, part of a house) in the ancient heart of the village with a plaque stating that she did. It is just down the 'street' from the truly ancient Keigwin House.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
Enjoy the harbour and its lights
Mousehole harbour is a lovely spot, with plenty to watch (always the same with harbours) and a good view out to see as well.
If you are visiting in winter there are rather good Christmas lights too...it's a Mousehole tradition. They don't just decorate the harbour edge but create floating displays...a dinosaur and (I think) a whale when I visited.
Perhaps sit on the harbour edge and gaze across to St Clement's Isle, a large cluster of rocks where a hermit supposedly lived in ancient times (presumably St Clement?). Now you'll just see hundreds of seabirds roosting...
You might see a dolphin or a porpoise..or a whale...though the chances of that is slim. You'll certainly see wonderful skyscapes though..I was amazed at how 'big' the Cornish skies were.
You can sit outside the Ship Inn with a pint if the weather is good (or inside if it isn't) and still enjoy views across the water.
- Historical Travel
Wander the little lanes
If you walk the narrow lanes around the heart of Mousehole, near the harbour, you will get a feel for what the village was like when its life revolved around the sea and fishing.
Cottages built from local stone, with thick walls and tiny windows to provide shelter from the weather. Most stand sideways on to the sea, in the main, for shelter from the wind. Hardly any gardens for there is little land to spare at the heart of a busy fishing and shipping community (at one stage Mousehole was more important than Penzance) and anyway no need to grow one's own vegetables if the community is wealthy from its fishing.
Narrow alleys and streets, with houses huddled together... no traffic wider than a horse and cart, so only the main street in and out needed to be that wide.
I didn't explore much further out from the ancient centre, but you can see on the surrounding hills how the village grew outwards from the late 1800s onwards. The coming of the railway to Penzance (in 1852) opened up the whole Cornish peninsula to those who wished to visit, to retire, to move to scenic surroundings, to spend their summers by the sea...and it shows in the architecture.
It is in the area around the harbour where you will truly get a glimpse of Mousehole as it once was.
- Historical Travel
Find Keigwin House.
It's tucked away on Keigwin Street, near the harbour, but is well worth seeking out.
It is rare indeed that such an old house survives in the UK. This one dates back to the 1300s, although it has obviously undergone changes over the centuries.
The light and its position made photographs difficult, but you can see the wonderful stone pillars which support the porch, and the ancient stone windowframe...and, if you visit, you will be able to see more details, of course.
The house is named after Squire Jenkyn Keigwin. A plaque states he was killed there on 23 July 1595, defending the house against the Spaniards. Mousehole was burned but the house spared.
The house is in private ownership (I saw no evidence of it being 'The Keigwin Arms' pub, but I believe it may once have been so). Even so, it is still worth looking for...you won't find many similar buildings.
- Historical Travel
Find The Mousehole Cats
It isn't very hard - they're everywhere! Let the kids pet a few of them, tell them the famous tale of the Mousehole cat, and just enjoy the quirkiness of the whole thing. As you can see from the snap at the left, Mousehole cats love milk. Bring some kitty treats or some milk when you come, and while you're strolling around the tiny town feed a few of the local cats. This could be especially fun if you have kids. They'll love you for it - the cats and the kids.
- Family Travel
- Budget Travel