After my quick dash to Land’s End on Friday morning, I still had three hours before I was due in St Mawes. I couldn’t decide where to go: there is so much to do in the southernmost tip of Cornwall, and I was torn between St Ives and the Tate, and a drive along the south coast. In the end, I decided that there really wasn’t enough time to do St Ives justice, and I have always wanted to visit Mousehole. For that I blame Blue Peter, the wonderful children’s magazine programme on BBC1 during my childhood, which ran a story on Mousehole, (pronounced mowzell), touching on its history, the story of Tom Bawcock, and its legendary Stargazy Pie.
Mousehole, a small traditional Cornish fishing village is reached down small lanes and is almost at the most south westerly tip of England. It has an extraordinary history: In 1595 four galleys containing 400 Spanish soldiers put into the Cornish coast, and every building in Mousehole save one was burned to the ground, and the village destroyed. Only the Keigwin Arms survived, and outside it is a plaque with the wording. “Squire Jenkyn Keigwin was killed here 23RD July 1595 defending this house against the Spaniards.”
Of course anywhere which has a food story attached to it is going to attract my attention. Especially if it has a name as glorious as Stargazy Pie. It’s a traditional pie, filled with potato, eggs and pilchards, with the fish heads poking up through the pastry to stare at the sky. It’s a traditional Mousehole dish that has become part of the legend of Tom Bawock.
Tom Bawcock was a resident of Mousehole in the 16th century, who is held to have saved the village from starvation when the winter storms were so savage that no one could fish. He put out to sea and brought home a catch, and saved Mousehole’s inhabitants. His catch was baked into a seven fish Stargazy Pie. His bravery is still celebrated each year on Tom Bawcock’s Eve on the 23rd December, and the award-winning children’s book The Mousehole Cat, written by Antonia Barber and illustrated by Nicola Bayley, tells the story of Tom Bawcock & his cat Mowzer.
Mousehole’s Christmas illuminations across the harbour are justly famous. (They are switched off for the day on the 19th December to commerate the eight local men who lost their lives in the Mousehole Lifeboat disaster in 1981 when the local lifeboat, the Solomon Browne, was sunk while trying to rescue the crew of the Union Star.)
I wandered around for a while, and then it was back on the road to St Mawes, passing through Marazion on Cornwall’s south coast. I vaguely thought about stopping to visit St Michael’s Mount, looming up in front of me but, because of the tides, the access was via boat, and there wouldn’t really have been time. Another place to add to my places-I-should-have-been-but-haven’t list.