NEWLYN is the next town round the coast from Penzance, originally separate, but more recently coalesced. It's the smaller of the pair, with a population of just over four thousand (which for those of us with a SW Herts mindset makes it approximately two Sarratts). It's where the fisherfolk hang out, and also the place from which sea level in the UK is measured. The Ordnance Survey established a Tidal Observatory at the end of the harbour arm in 1915, then spent the next six years taking measurements every 15 minutes to establish the sea's average height. That datum is marked by a brass bolt set in the granite pier, which you'll never see because it's locked inside a hut beside the lighthouse, which itself is publicly inaccessible.
Newlyn is a major fishing port with dozens of small boats in its well-sheltered harbour, and mackerel historically the chief catch. A drab but functional fishmarket is laid out at the northern end, from which bearded men in woolly hats and white wellies intermittently emerge to visit the neighbouring pub or pasty shop. Seafood aside, the most desirable food in town is the ice cream served from Jelberts, an unprepossessing shop near Newlyn Bridge which sells nothing but homemade vanilla. Queues can often be seen snaking down the street, waiting to sample the single daily batch churned out by the grandson of the original owner, perhaps with a flake but ideally dolloped with clotted cream. Alas Jelberts don't open for the season before Easter, so my tastebuds had to go without.
I also missed out on Newlyn Art Gallery, contemporary counterpart to The Exchange in Penzance, neither of which choose to open on a Monday. Newlyn is renowned for the art colony which settled here around the turn of the 20th century, and an art school still thrives in a building up the hillside which looks remarkably like my former infant school. A lot of Newlyn's residential streets lie sharply uphill, and even the main road descends precipitously between rows of houses with passing places and intermittent pavement. I hiked up some of the back lanes for the view and was left breathless, confirming that living here either provides excellent exercise, or requires expert driving skills.
A short distance round the coast is MOUSEHOLE (pronounced Mowsel (which is important to know if you're asking a bus driver for a ticket)). The M6 minibus runs regularly from Penzance, its dinky size suddenly crucial near the end of the route as it's forced to negotiate a double bend between cottages before terminating on the quayside. Mousehole is a proper Cornish fishing village, essentially a harbour overlooked by hillside houses, although I arrived around low tide when its supposedly scenic centrepiece was a bowl of exposed sand crossed by radially draped chains.
Mousehole is famous as the home of a fictional cat, and also for Stargazy pie, a fish and egg confection which has pilchards' heads poking out of the pastry. No thanks. My alternative culinary target was a Cornish cream tea at the Rock Pool Cafe, but unfortunately they'd decided not to open because the weather forecast was so bad. Instead I frequented Jessie's Dairy, whose sullen owner managed the "tea" part of my request but forgot the "cream" part until prompted, eventually delivered with all the magic of a dollop of jam scooped from a supermarket jar. Most daytrippers seemed to have holed up in the pub, or the posh restaurant, or the surprisingly expensive deli on the harbourfront.
The village wasn't named after the gift shop at one end of the quayside, but after a cave set into the cliffs on the southern outskirts. I hoped to follow Cave Lane to The Mouse Hole, but the public footpath became increasingly squelchy, then degenerated into a mudbath on the final descent, so I was forced to withdraw rather than soil my sole pair of trousers. Instead I got to hike four miles back to Penzance in a freezing blizzard, glad of the gloves I'd pessimistically packed, musing along the way that I really hadn't timed my visit to Mousehole at all well. If nothing else it gives me a good reason to go back.