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Mousehole is one of my favourite villages in Cornwall. Set around a fishing harbour, it is one of the prettiest and most picturesque places in the county. Think winding little streets filled with adorable old buildings, all with gorgeous sea views. Due to its beauty, it is a very popular place for holiday lets.
If you are visiting Mousehole for the day, or perhaps staying in one of the holiday cottages, I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time! To help you make the most of your visit to Mousehole, Cornwall – here’s my guide to the best Mousehole pubs, cafes and shops, as well as a guide for what to do in Mousehole.
History of Mousehole
Mousehole has a long and fascinating history that’s closely linked to its harbour.
Wait… but why is it called “Mousehole”?
Okay, first things first – you’re probably wondering about the history of the name “Mousehole” since it’s pretty unusual. Well, importantly, it’s not pronounced how you think it’s more like “Mozzle” to locals.
There are some pretty fiery debates about where the name came from. One thing we do know is that it is associated with the harbour and maritime history of the village. Some people believe that the name stems from the Cornish word Moeshayle, which means ‘young woman’s brook’, while others believe that it is more literal. It is one of the smallest harbours in Cornwall, and the mouth is very small – a bit like a mouse hole!
I’m not sure which story I prefer – what do you think?
The history of Mousehole
Now we have that, er, not at all cleared up, let’s return back to the history of Mousehole.
Mousehole was originally known as Porth Enys, meaning “port of the island” as it was the most important harbour in Mounts Bay – even more so than nearby Penzance (of pirates fame).
From at least the 13th century, fishing was the most important industry in Mousehole. It was also one of the most important market towns, along with Marazion, having been designated such in 1292.
Life was not always easy for those who lived in the village. In the 15th century, wild storms prevented any fishermen from heading out to find fish for the village. As a result, locals began to starve.
One brave young chap called Tom Bawcock decided to brave the treacherous conditions and returned with a boat full of pilchards. To this day, Mousehole celebrates his bravery every year on the 23rd of December.
Things were about to get even worse for the residents of Mousehole, however. In 1595, Mousehole was invaded by 400 Spanish troops who razed the village near to the ground. Only one pub remained standing (perhaps the troops needed a drinking hole?). Unfortunately, it is no longer a pub – but the building does remain.
A few centuries later, the village was more heavily fortified, but it never really reclaimed its former glory. The addition of a huge pier in 1888 temporarily reinvigorated the fishing industry, and a newly created lifeguard station (built in 1913) also became important.
Today, Mousehole is a quiet, sleepy village that has been described by poets as “the loveliest in Britain”. And lovely, it sure is, with its gorgeous harbour and hodgepodge of craft shops and art galleries. It’s certainly a wonderful place to stay in Cornwall.
It’s no secret how much I love English pubs – I honestly can’t get enough of them. I love the cozy interiors, friendly (usually) bartenders and I’ll never stop squealing with excitement when I get to meet a “pub dog”.
Pubs in Mousehole are particularly charming given their long association with fishermen and the coast. Not only do you get a real sense of history as you sip your pint in one, but many offer amazing views out over the sea. There’s no doubt – Mousehole pubs are a real treat!
Mousehole itself is modest in size, so there is a limited number of pubs in Mousehole itself. Nonetheless, there are three great options.
The Old Coastguard
The Old Coastguard is a lovely Mousehole pub and inn, that is likely to be one of the first venues you see as you enter the town. As well as serving up pints (including plenty of Cornish ales), they also do great food and also have well-appointed rooms.
The interior of the pub is a little more modern than some of the ultra-historic Mousehole pubs, but it’s been sympathetically restored. While it’s fairly light and breezy, antique furniture, an old piano and plenty of books give it a cozier vibe.
I also love the board games that are on offer – although I personally cannot be trusted with a game of Monopoly or Scrabble since the Mack family board game night was abandoned back in 2005.
One of the best things about the Old Coastguard is the beautiful view. It looks right out over the sea, and it is so beautiful. It was really cold and stormy the day that I visited so unfortunately we couldn’t sit in the outside area, but we still got a great view from the cozy seats inside.
I also really love the Old Coastguard’s philosophy of working nearly exclusively with local small businesses and tradies.
The Ship Inn
Another of the Mousehole pubs with a view is the Ship Inn, which enjoys a great location right on the beautiful Mousehole harbour. Hot tip – keep an eye on the wall of the harbour to watch the water crashing up against it – you’ll soon see why “wrecking” was such a big business in Cornwall!
Luckily, you’re well protected from the elements inside the cozy Ship Inn, which is a pretty old pub – be sure to duck as you enter the front door!
Once inside, I highly recommend heading for the tables that give you a view out over the harbour. Bonus points if you choose one of the tasty seafood dishes on the menu – it really completed the “fisherman” vibe.
Of course, you’re welcome just to stop in for a drink. They have mainly St Austell ales, which is a popular local Cornish brewing company. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but I do enjoy a pint of their Tribute. They also have a great wine list.
Upstairs, there are rooms if you want to stay overnight!
The Kings Arms
The Kings Arms is a little further outside of Mousehole than the other two pubs, however it is so worth making the trip out to see it. One look at the amazing plants cascading down the front, and I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I did!
It’s your classic English village pub, complete with the mandatory wooden outside tables out front and an old church within eyeshot. I haven’t been able to find much information about the history of the pub, however, many old Cornish pubs were built to keep the workers building the nearby churches hydrated – so it may be that this is another one of those!
However it came to be, today it is a gorgeous and atmospheric pub that also does great food and offers rooms as well. The menu changes often based on what’s in season, but the seafood is particularly tasty (this is a pub near Mousehole, afterall!)
All in all, while it does require a little bit of a trip out and doesn’t boast the seaviews of the other Mousehole pubs, I think it is the prettiest of the three in terms of exterior.
Pubs around Mousehole
One thing that makes Mousehole such a popular tourist destination is its proximity to other towns and villages. Within just a short drive, there are many more great pubs to visit!
Lamorna Wink, Lamorna
Cornwall has long attracted artists and creatives, who have flocked to larger towns like St Ives, as well as charming little villages like Lamorna. One look at the adorable Lamorna Wink, and you can see why it would get the creative juices flowing!
It’s a typically adorable Cornish pub from the outside, and then inside there are cute little nods to the pub’s association with the sea. Like many of the pubs in Mousehole and surrounds, the Lamorna Wink has seen its fair share of smugglers.
As well as a range of beers, the pub also has an honest and hearty pub menu with all the typical favourites like battered fish of the day and wholetail scampi. Lunch is served between 12pm and 2pm, and dinner is between 6pm and 9pm.
When visiting, I highly recommend checking out what else is on offer in the pretty village of Lamorna. There’s a pretty little cove as well as several artists studios.
St Buryan Inn, St Buryan
Another picturesque pub that’s within close proximity of Mousehole is St Buryan Inn, in the village of St Buryan. It’s about a 15 minute drive inland from the centre of Mousehole (4 miles).
While some Cornish village pubs tend to eye strangers with a little bit of suspicion, everyone is welcome at the St Buryan Inn whether you’re stopping by for a pint or a meal.
There are a bunch of drinks on tap, as well as a traditional English pub menu with classics like a steak and ale pie, chicken curry and catch of the day. While it doesn’t pretend to be a gastropub, the food is hearty and honest, and the friendly service makes it a great experience.
If you get there in the day time, make sure to check out the village of St Buryan! It’s an unassuming village with the claim to fame that the movie “Straw Dogs” was set there. I have to confess I’ve never seen the movie, but people seem very proud of it!
Mousehole is the perfect setting for a cozy coffee date. There’s so many sweet little cafes that are the perfect backdrop for a cream tea (remember guys, this is Cornwall. JAM FIRST!)
The Old Pilchard Press Cafe
Nestled on the corner of a narrow street facing the sea, the Old Pilchard Press is a gorgeous Mousehole cafe that’s well worth a visit. It’s much loved by both locals and visitors, so you know it must be good!
The interior is particularly adorable, with low ceilings and rough walls. The decor is simple and unpretentious, making it the perfect place for a laidback bite by the sea.
There’s a great menu of light bites and meals, as well as amazing cakes. It’s also super good value – the home made cake is delicious, the servings are big, and it only costs a few pounds! If you’ve got a sweet tooth, then it’s pretty much heaven.
Also, the coffee is good, which is not something I say often as an unbearable coffee snob (I’m sorry, it’s because I’m Australian. I was born with a latte in-hand).
The owners are also really nice which is the #1 most important thing in my book!
The Rock Pool Cafe
If you’re looking for a Mousehole cafe with a view, then the Rock Pool is a great choice. This is especially true on a warm summer’s day, when you can sit outside and soak in beautiful view over the sea.
This is another place in Mousehole that does a mean cake – with Rodda’s clotted cream, of course! Then there’s the tea, served in the kind of cups that your Grandmother kept for special occasions (my favourite!).
My absolute favourite thing about the Rock Pool Cafe, though, is the adorable little beach huts where you can enjoy your drinks and tea in summer. They are so cute, and the perfect spot for a romantic afternoon tea or perhaps a long brunch with your friends.
They even do cocktails if you want to make that long brunch boozy (no judgement here!)
It’s open every day from 11am – 5pm.
Four Teas Cafe Mousehole
A traditional cafe inspired by the 1940s? Yes, please! It might seem like a bit of an interesting choice for a cafe in Mousehole, but it totally works – not least because of the enthusiasm of owners Anton and Gail Buttery.
The Four Teas Cafe enjoys a great location, again overlooking the beautiful harbour. To be honest, there’s not many places in Mousehole with a bad view.
They do a mean breakfast, which is pretty good value. You can get a famous British “BAP” (bacon sandwich) for £4, which is great if you’re on a budget but want a tasty breakfast. It’s available until 11:30am (great for us late risers), at which point the menu change sto cakes, sandwiches and cream teas.
One unique thing about the Four Teas Cafe Mousehole is that it holds a lot of events throughout the year, and especially in the summer season. Many are inspired by the 1940s, so be sure to check it out!
Another great cafe in Mousehole that overlooks the harbour is Hole Foods. One great thing about this cafe is that it has a couple of vegetarian and vegan options on their menu.
The interior of this cafe is light and airy, with a modern “Scandi” feel and big windows. The windows are certainly a great idea, as the view out over the harbour and the ocean is really beautiful!
Hole Foods also prides itself on its excellent coffee – I’m glad to see the Australian obsession with caffeine has made it to the southwest, and the coffee is pretty good! Plus, they have bamboo reusable cups which is a yes in my book!
The cafe also has a few alcoholic options available if you fancy a tipple, including a few tasty gins.
Things to do in Mousehole
Though just enjoying the vibe in Mousehole is a good choice, there are also a number of things to do in the town as well as in the surrounding area.
The piece de resistance of Mousehole is the gorgeous antique harbour. The rest of the village is all organised around the harbour, and it’s no wonder – the views are absolutely spectacular.
It’s not entirely clear when the harbour was built, but Mousehole was a hotspot for fishing and boating since at least the 13th century. We do know that it was invaded by the Spaniards in 1595 – after this, the harbour was strongly fortified.
The harbour was mainly used by fishermen, and there was a heroic lifeguard service that managed to save many boasts and lives after wrecks near the dramatic coast.
Today, it is a pretty and picturesque harbour that is home to a number of modest fishing boats. It’s a gorgeous place to walk around, and it’s particularly impressive to walk up to the huge retaining wall and see the force which the ocean hits the wall with. I can only imagine what it’s like during a storm!
St Clement’s Island
If you look out from the harbour to the sea, you’re almost certain to catch a glimpse of St Clement’s Island – probably covered in birds!
The tiny rocky island lies about 500m off the coast, meaning it’s a relatively popular swim there and back (I can barely swim across a swimming pool, so there was zero chance I was challenging anyone to an ocean swim!).
Legend says that in days gone by, a hermit lived on the island – but that seems unlikely. A more likely explanation is it was an invention to stop kids from swimming out to the island during rough weather. However, that story is much more boring, so let’s go with the hermit.
There’s not really anything to do on the island, although if you’re lucky, you might see some playful seals frolicking in the water! There’s also a healthy population of birds including some very feisty looking seagulls.
Mousehole Bird Hospital
Unfortunately we arrived a little too late to check out the Mousehole Bird Hospital, but it’s on my list for “next time” since I just love birds.
Since 1928, this great place has been rescuing injured wild birds. It was started by two sisters, Dorothy and Phyllis Yglesias, who devoted their lives to caring for injured birds. In particular, they helped when more than 8,000 sea birds were affected by the horrible Torrey Canyon oil spill in 1959. (Incidentally, it was 60 years to the day from when this article will be published!)
Those that they can treat are healed released back into the wild, while those that are not able to return to the wild can live out their days at the sanctuary. No matter what kind of bird and no matter how small, they will do their best to help it.
The sanctuary is open to visitors from 10am – 4:30pm daily. Although entrance is free, I highly recommend bringing a donation to support the great work that was started by two fabulously kind and determined ladies!
Things to do around Mousehole
If you’re willing to travel a little beyond Mousehole, there is even more to do and see!
Trefiggian Burial Chamber
Managed by English History, Trefiggian is an early bronze age (3000 – 1000 BC) burial site, about two miles southeast of St Buryan.
Entry is free, and you can walk into the walled tomb – don’t worry, there’s nothing creepy in there nowadays (frankly, I find this kind of disappointing).
The tomb is particularly interesting as there are less than 100 of them found all over the UK. The vast majority are found on the Isle of Scilly, while the remainder are found in Cornwall. Scientists and historians aren’t totally sure what they were used for. Bone fragments have been found in some, but not all, leading them to believe they may be more for ceremonial purpose than actually burying people.
Honestly, there’s not a huge amount to do here but it’s pretty amazing to think about people making it at least 3,000 years ago. Well worth a visit if you’re on your way to St Buryan!
Everyone knows about Stonehenge… but did you know that Cornwall also has its own Neolithic (2500 – 1500 BC) stone circle, too?
That’s right – not far from Mousehole you can find the large ring of stones known as the “Merry Maidens”.
The name derives from a legend of how they came to be. Locals say that 19 maidens were turned to stone as punishment for dancing on a Sunday (seems a bit harsh…). The Two Pipers, two huge stones nearby, are said to be the musicians who played for the Maidens. They were trying to run back before the Sabbath started, but alas, they were too slow and got turned to stone. Ouch!
Others say that they were probably used for Pagan rituals, and the story of the 19 maidens was an attempt by Christians to bury this history.
Whatever the story, it’s an interesting spot to visit if you are looking for things to do near Mousehole. Especially if you’re a history buff, like yours truly!
Tips for visiting Mousehole
- The parking situation in Mousehole is really not great. There is quite a large car park next to the Old Coastguard Hotel – it’s a paid park, but it’s not too expensive. This is probably the best place to park in Mousehole.
- Mousehole puts on a beautiful Christmas light show every holiday season! It’s a great time to visit Mousehole as the village is even more magical when it is lit up in light. The attraction sees almost 30,000 visitors annually… so you might want to plan your parking ahead (the village really wasn’t made for cars!)
- The most well-known dish in Mousehole is called “Stargazy pie”. It’s a pie made with pilchards sticking out, their dead eyes seemingly gazing at the sky. Not exactly an appetising story, but you’ve got to try it!