The perfect trip: Cornwall
EIt’s the light in Cornwall that’s different,” says Roy Connelly, as he sets up his easel in the sand and seaweed in Mousehole’s harbour. “There’s a dreamy quality to it that’s almost impossible to capture on canvas. I think that’s why I keep coming back here. I can’t resist a challenge.” He smiles wryly, then rummages around in his bag for a fresh tube of oil paint.
Roy is one of many artists who sought inspiration in West Cornwall. Painters, poets and writers have been drawn here since the 19th century, when Stanhope Forbes and the other artists of the Newlyn School set out to depict the tough lives of fisherfolk. Many of them never left: Forbes and his wife Elizabeth are buried in the churchyard a few miles inland at Sancreed.
It is not hard to see what drew them here. Mousehole (pronounced mowzle) is the picture-perfect image of a Cornish village, a dense warren of cobbled lanes, steep alleys and slate-roofed cottages, tumbling down the hillside towards the granite breakwater and the sea. A century ago, this was one of the county’s most important fishing harbours, but a crash in pilchard stocks during the early 20th century moved most of the fishermen to Newlyn, a mile further along the coast towards Penzance.
Like many Cornish seaside villages, Mousehole has plenty of holiday lets and second homes, but there is still a strong sense of community. Near Christmas, volunteers put on a dazzling display of lights and, on the day before Christmas Eve, The Ship Inn cooks up a traditional dish of stargazy pie in honour of local lad Tom Bawcock, who supposedly ended a village famine by braving storms to land a bounty of fish.
“I spend a lot of time travelling in search of the perfect view,” muses Roy. “And I always find myself coming back to this spot. We’re at the end of the land, where the rock runs out and the sea begins. There’s something magical about that.”
He turns towards the jumble of granite houses stacked up behind the harbour, then sets to work as clouds roll overhead and boats’ masts clank gently in the breeze.
Where to eat
2 Fore Street bistro blends French methods and Cornish produce, like fish off the boats at Newlyn. Owner and head chef Joe Wardell trained under Raymond Blanc (mains from £11).
Where to drink
The Ship Inn is the place if you want a pint with the locals. It’s lively in summer, snug in winter, with beams, nooks and nautical knick-knacks aplenty (drinks from £3).
Where to stay: Boutique Retreats
This deluxe self-catering company collects together some of West Cornwall’s loveliest pads. Properties include a converted fisherman’s store with a wood-burning stove and Japanese plunge bath and a former flower farm that was once used as a studio by artist Grayson Perry (from around £750 per week in summer).
Oliver Berry is a film, travel and music writer based in Cornwall, and a former holder of The Guardian Young Travel Writer of the Year title.