Newlyn to Mousehole

A circular walk at the heart of Cornwall's fishing industry to the village where Stargazy Pie was invented and a candle-lit parade is held each year to celebrate the catch of Tom Bawcock.

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The walk begins by climbing the hill from Newlyn to Paul to reach the church where the 19th Century vicar was a descendent of Napoleon Bonaparte. The walk then descends to Mousehole via a footpath through the fields - possibly one of the routes used by the residents of Mousehole to flee to Paul when Mousehole was burned down by Spanish marines. The return route is along the seafront to reach Newlyn Harbour.

Vital statistics

  • OS Explorer: 102
  • Distance: 3.9 miles/5.8 km
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Recommended footwear: walking boots

OS maps for this walk

Click or tap on map for more info (blue=laminated)

Highlights

  • Freshly-landed seafood at Newlyn
  • Historic fishing village of Mousehole
  • Views across Mounts Bay to St Michael's Mount
  • Festive celebrations including Christmas lights and Tom Bawcock's Eve

Pubs on or near the route

  • The Fishermans Arms
  • The Red Lion Inn
  • The Ship Inn

Directions

  1. With your back to the sea, make your way to the top-right corner of the car park and walk through the reserved spaces to reach a path leading uphill. Follow the steps uphill to emerge on a narrow lane and bear right to continue uphill a few paces further to a junction with a Methodist church opposite.

    The first record of the settlement of Newlyn is from 1279 as nulyn. As there are also records of the name as "lulyn", it is thought that the name is based on the Cornish word lyn for "pool" and that the initial part of the name was originally lu which is a Cornish word meaning "army" but here could have been used to mean "fleet".

    Newlyn is still the harbour with Cornwall's largest fishing fleet. The majority of the harbour piers date from Victorian times but the oldest part dates from before 1435.

  2. Turn left and follow Gwavas Road uphill until you reach a junction at a bend beside the garage of No 4 on the left.

    Even as recently as the 19th Century, a system of dairy farming was used in Cornwall which involved grazing cattle on the moorland during the summer and then moving them to the coast for the winter. This had been going on for centuries and is reflected in Cornish language place names such as Gwavas on the coast (meaning the cattle's "winter dwelling") and moorland places with the name Laity, meaning "dairy" (which took place during the summer after calving).

    Bowjey Hill is from the Cornish word for cowshed (bow means "cow", from the same roots as bovine, and chy is "house", where the "ch" has mutated to a softer "j" sound).

  3. Bear left at the junction to join Higher Gwavas Road which quickly becomes Gwavas Lane. Follow this until you reach some stone steps on the left with a Public Footpath sign.

    During the spring, if you encounter a patch of plants with white bell-shaped flowers, smelling strongly of onions, and with long, narrow leaves then they are likely to be three-cornered leeks.

    The plants get their name due to their triangular flower stems. As the name also suggests, they are members of the onion family and have a small bulb. In fact, in New Zealand they are known as "onion weed".

    An axe head from the late Bronze Age was found at Newlyn. The seam along the cutting edge remains from the original casting which implies the axe head was never used. It's thought that it might have been used as currency. It is on display in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

  4. Climb the steps on the left and turn right to follow along the right hedge, parallel to the lane. Continue to reach a stile to the right of the gateway in the hedge ahead.

    The roots of red campion contain saponins (soapy compounds) which protect the plants against microbes and fungi. These compounds make it easier for large molecules such as proteins to enter cell membranes. This has the potential to increase the effectiveness of immunotherapy against cancer by allowing immunotoxins to enter the cancer cells more easily.

    Two settlements in Cornwall were both known locally as Newlyn which wasn't too much of a problem when travel involved a horse or a boat. To disambiguate, the one near Newquay became known as (St) Newlyn East whilst the one next to Penzance is sometimes referred to as Newlyn West or Newlyn-by-Penzance but generally still just "Newlyn". Despite this, there was a period where Wetherspoons proudly displayed that their fish was caught locally in the land-locked location of the former.

  5. Cross the stile (or go through the gateway) and follow around the right edge of the field to reach a pedestrian gap just to the left of the metal gate.

    Jackdaws are able to recognise eye gestures from humans (e.g. if someone looks at where a food item is hidden). It has been suggested that jackdaws may use this with other birds too and this may be the reason that they have a striking blue eye colour that is easily seen from a distance.

  6. Go through the gap next to the metal gate then follow the path between the hedge and fence. Continue along the fenced path until you pass one waymark post on the right and reach another (with red and yellow arrows) beside a stone stile on the right, just where the fence on the left ends.

    The quarry began as a relatively small operation known as Gwavas Quarry. It was reopened in 1890 as Penlee (Roadstone) Quarry and worked throughout the 20th Century on a larger scale. The quarry extracted a rock known as dolerite which is very tough. However, in more recent times, this was deemed unsuitable for surfacing roads as its can eventually become highly polished by car tyres making skidding more likely. Together with the awkwardness of transport at the site, this led to the quarry closing in the 1990s.

  7. Cross the stone stile on the right and follow the path through the tree tunnel. Cross over a gap between fields to re-enter the tree tunnel and continue until the path ends in a stone stile.

    Extracts from ivy were used in herbal remedies and still form the basis of some modern-day cough medicines. It is said to have both antibacterial and antiviral properties. A study for English Heritage also found that roadside ivy absorbed particulates from the atmosphere which may lead to its use in improving air quality.

  8. Cross the stile and bear right onto the lane. Follow this until it ends in a junction with the road.
  9. Turn left at the junction and follow the road until you reach the gate into the churchyard.

    The first record of settlement of Paul is from 1259 as "St Paulus". The name is derived from the Breton saint, Paul de Leon.

  10. Enter the churchyard and follow the path beside the church then bear right to the exit with a coffin rest

    The church is associated with Paul Aurelian - a Welsh saint from the 5th Century. The building is medieval but was largely destroyed in a raid by the Spanish in 1595 and had been rebuilt by 1600. One of the vicars of the church in the 19th Century was Louis Lucien Bonaparte - a relative of Napoleon Bonaparte.

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  11. Exit the churchyard and bear right across the road to a passage to the right of the pub. Follow the tarmac until you reach a couple of stone steps leading ahead into a field.

    Penwith is thought to be the last part of Cornwall where the Cornish language was spoken. The language was still in common use in this part of Cornwall at the start of the 18th Century and Dolly Pentreath claimed it was the only language that she spoke until the age of 20. By the end of the 18th Century, it had pretty much died out. Dolly Pentreath was the last recorded speaker and she died in 1777 but it's likely that other less famous speakers outlived her. In 1778, a letter written in Cornish with an English translation was received from a fishermen in Mousehole. The letter stated that he knew of five people who could speak Cornish within Mousehole. There are also accounts of a man from Marazion who spoke Cornish and survived into the 1790s.

  12. Climb the steps and cross the field to a gap in the middle of the hedge opposite, beneath a telegraph pole.

    The association of good luck with four-leafed clover was first recorded in Victorian times (1860s-1870s) so may be a relatively recent invention. Perhaps something that occupied children for hours was seen as good luck in Victorian times!

    A survey of over 5 million clover leaf found that the frequency of four-leaf clovers is about one in 5,000 (twice as common as originally thought).

    The world record for collecting four leaf clovers in one hour was set at 166 (in 1998). One very determined collector managed to amass 170,000 four-leafed clovers in a lifetime.

  13. Go through the gap and follow along the right hedge to reach a stone stile.

    Swallows migrate to India, Arabia and Africa for the winter. Journeys of over 7000 miles have been recorded.

    Large amounts of calcium are needed when birds lay eggs to create the eggshells. Female birds store of calcium by growing a special type of leg bone which has high a high density of calcium. Similar calcium storage leg bones have been found in female dinosaur species only distantly related to birds which indicates this was a general approach used by dinosaurs.

  14. Cross the stile and follow the right hedge to a gate and stone stile onto a track.

    All parts of the alexanders plant can be eaten and this was traditionally one of the "pot herbs" that were added to stews and the dried seeds can also be used as a spice. Alexanders were particularly useful during lean winters as its new growth is available so early (from November onward), before many other spring greens, and it is a good source of iron and vitamins A and C. The flavour has been described as somewhere between parsley and angelica. However, foraging alexanders is not recommended unless you are experienced as novices can confuse it with hemlock (the most poisonous plant in the UK - just a few leaves from this can kill you).

    Today, more than 11,000 species of grass exist around the world. In the UK, around 160 species occur. The most widely sown grasses by farmers are ryegrasses (recognisable by the alternating spaced-out "ears of corn" pattern of seeds along the stem) as these are able to take up nitrogen fertiliser efficiently and also generate high levels of sugars. On dry land, cocksfoot (recognisable from distinct tufts of seeds) is often sown as this is the most deep-rooted of the grass species.

  15. Cross the stile and turn left onto the track. Pass one metal gate on the right (into a farmyard) to reach a grassy track on the right leading through another metal gate. Turn right onto the grassy track and follow this through the metal gate. Continue to where the track ends in front of an electricity substation.

    The settlement of Trevithal is first recorded in 1315 as "Trevethegal". Other than the "Tre" (meaning farmstead), it is thought to be based on a personal name.

  16. Cross the stile on the left and then follow along the fence and wall on the right to reach a stone stile in the corner of the field.

    The number of cows in Cornwall has been estimated at around 75,000 so there's a good chance of encountering some in grassy fields. The Ramblers Association and National Farmers Union suggest some "dos and don'ts" for walkers which we've collated with some info from the local Countryside Access team:

    Do

    • Stop, look and listen on entering a field. Look out for any animals and watch how they are behaving, particularly bulls or cows with calves
    • Be prepared for farm animals to react to your presence, especially if you have a dog with you.
    • Try to avoid getting between cows and their calves.
    • Move quickly and quietly, and if possible walk around the herd.
    • Keep your dog close and under effective control on a lead around cows and sheep.
    • Remember to close gates behind you when walking through fields containing livestock.
    • If you and your dog feel threatened, work your way to the field boundary and quietly make your way to safety.
    • Report any dangerous incidents to the Cornwall Council Countryside Access Team - phone 0300 1234 202 for emergencies or for non-emergencies use the iWalk Cornwall app to report a footpath issue (via the menu next to the direction on the directions screen).

    Don't

    • If you are threatened by cattle, don't hang onto your dog: let it go to allow the dog to run to safety.
    • Don't put yourself at risk. Find another way around the cattle and rejoin the footpath as soon as possible.
    • Don't panic or run. Most cattle will stop before they reach you. If they follow, just walk on quietly.
  17. Cross the stile and follow along the hedge and wall on the right to reach a gate with a stone stile alongside.

    Grasses have evolved to grow new leaves from the base of the stem which makes them able to withstand grazing (and mowing). However too much grazing, particularly when grasses are in the process of producing seed, or too much trampling can damage the grass. In the wild, predator species play an important role by chasing herbivores to a new location which gives the grass a chance to recover.

  18. Climb the stile and immediately turn left to cross another stone stile into the field on the left. Cross the field to the small gap opposite with wooden posts either side.

    Pineapple weed is related to chamomile and is consequently also known as false chamomile. It's able to colonise poor soils on waste ground including cracks between paving. The flowers resembling little yellow balls are also quite distinctive but even more so is the pineapple scent when is trodden on or squeezed. The leaves can be eaten in salads and the leaves and flowers can also be dried to make tea.

  19. Cross the stile in the gap and then follow the left hedge downhill, cutting the corner to meet the protruding section of left hedge near the bottom of the field. Continue following this downhill to a stone stile at the bottom of the field.

    Buttercups produce a toxin called protoanemonin, which is at its highest concentration when flowering. It is thought that buttercups may be partly responsible for Equine Grass Sickness. Fortunately the toxin is quite unstable and drying of the plant in haymaking leads to polymerisation into non-toxic anemonin. Buttercups are also toxic to dogs, cats and humans. They have a bitter taste which puts dogs off eating the plants but pollen can collect on fur and be ingested, particularly by cats when they clean themselves. A man in France who drank a glass of juice made from buttercups suffered severe colic after four hours and was dead the next day!

    The word "crow" is sometimes used to refer to the whole crow family (including jackdaws, rooks and ravens) and sometimes specifically to the common (carrion) crow. Carrion crows can be distinguished from their cousins by being totally black (jackdaws have grey heads, rooks have pale beaks) and having a slender and fairly straight beak (i.e. not the broad beak with a hooked top that a raven has). Biologists use the word "corvids" for "crow family" to avoid ambiguity, or to show off.

  20. Climb down the stile and bear right across and down the field to the telegraph pole in the middle of the field and then the wooden kissing gate in the hedge below this.

    As you approach the telegraph pole, there is a view across Mount's Bay to St Michael's Mount.

    After the Norman conquest in 1066, St Michael's Mount became the possession of the monks of Mont St Michel in Normandy. In the 12th Century they built the church and priory on the island. The original building was destroyed in an earthquake in 1275 and rebuilt in the 14th Century. When Henry V went to war with France, the priory was seized and the French monks evicted, ending the connection with Mont St Michel. After improvements to the harbour in 1727, the mount flourished as a sea port with 53 houses and 3 pubs recorded in 1811. The mount was given to the National Trust in 1954 but the St Aubyn family retained a 999 year lease to inhabit the castle.

  21. Go through the gate and down the steps, then turn left onto the track. Follow it a short distance until immediately after a large gunnera plant, a downhill path departs from the right beneath a hawthorn tree. Follow the path downhill alongside the stream and then continue downhill on the main tarmacked path until you reach a path leading to the right past Keep Cottage.

    Gunnera looks like giant rhubarb but the leaves stems are spiky. It tends to favour damp places as quite a lot of water is needed to supply its huge leaves.

    The plant has a symbiotic relationship with cyanobacteria which live between its cells. The cyanobacteria, also known as "blue-green algae", are photosynthetic and also supply the host plant with nitrogen which allows it to colonise poor soils.

  22. Turn right and follow the path downhill past Keep Cottage and keep left past the iron railings to reach a junction of narrow streets.

    Throughout the Mediaeval period, Mousehole was the major port in Mount's Bay and it had a number of fairs and markets. In the 14th century, its fishing fleet was ten times the size of that of either Penzance or Newlyn. Up until the 12th Century, the village was known as Porth Enys which translates to something along the lines of "Island Port", referring to St Clement's Isle. In the 13th century, the name Mousehole (pronounced "mouzel") began to be used as well - the exact origin is unknown and various theories have been put forward including a possible Cornish name of "Moweshayle". The most well-known candidate is the cave known as "The Mousehole" which does look very much like a mouse hole from a cartoon, but made by a very large mouse! Unsurprisingly, the cave was put to good use by smugglers.

  23. Follow the narrow street leading downhill until it ends in a T-junction.

    During the Anglo-Spanish War in 1595, five Spanish Galleys carrying several hundred men landed at Point Spaniard, just outside Mousehole. The English Troops stationed there fled leaving the town unprotected. Some of the local people fled up the hill to the church in Paul. The Spaniards killed any men that remained, raped the women, looted the town and then burned it to the ground. The only building left standing that has survived to today is the Keigwin House (formerly the Keigwin Arms), named after its owner who was killed there. After burning down Mousehole and Newlyn, the Spaniards followed the locals up the hill and burned Paul too.

  24. Turn left onto the road and follow this around the harbour to reach the road onto the quay beside The Mousehole.

    Mousehole harbour would have originally been built as a dry-stone granite construction using boulders from the beach or nearby moors stacked on their edges. Letters from the 1760s talk of repairs to the harbour involving floating the boulders into place using casks as buoys. It was rebuilt and extended in the 19th century. During this period, the stone for the quay faces was dressed, creating square blocks which were set in mortar. This was typically backfilled with rubble although older quay structures may sometimes have been incorporated within the backfill.

  25. Bear right and walk along the area between the buildings and railings to reach a car park. Cross the car park to where a concrete path departs from the other side.

    Mousehole's now world-famous Christmas lights were started in 1963 by a local artist, who put a string of bulbs along the quays to brighten things up for Christmas. This caught the imagination of the village and two local carpenters made frames for increasingly elaborate displays including a serpent protruding from the water in the harbour. Many of their designs are still featured although the physical frames have been replaced a number of times due to the beating they take from the violent winter weather and saltwater. On December 19th each year, Mousehole's Christmas lights are dimmed for an hour in memory of those lost in the Penlee lifeboat tragedy.

  26. If the tide is high and sea is lashing the path then backtrack to the quay and follow the main road instead to pick up the route at the next direction. If conditions are not severe then follow the concrete path past the steps to The Rock Pool Café until you reach another flight of steps beside the sign indicating there is no access ahead to Newlyn.

    Mounts Bay is a partially-enclosed body of water which is prone to a phenomenon known as seiching where the tremors from an earthquake form a standing wave which reflects back and forth between the opposite coasts. The seiche from the Lisbon Earthquake in 1755 caused a sudden 8ft rise in sea level which flooded Penzance.

  27. Climb the steps to the left to reach the road and turn right onto the pavement. Follow the pavement for roughly three quarters of a mile until you reach a path leading downhill to the right with a National Cycle Route 3 sign.

    In December 1981, a new ship - The Union Star - had just been launched in Denmark and was on its way to Ireland, having first made an unauthorised stop on the east coast of England to pick up the captain's wife and her two daughters. Near the south coast of Cornwall, the ship's engines failed and in 100 mph hurricane force winds, the ship was blown across Mounts Bay towards the rocks of Boscowen Cove.

    Mousehole's Penlee lifeboat was launched with a crew of 8 and in breakers of over 60ft, attempted to pull alongside the coaster, being dropped on top of it by the waves on one occasion. After several attempts, the crew managed to pull alongside the vessel and get the captain's family and one crew member off the ship, but never made it back. There were no survivors from either vessel.

    Within a day of the disaster, enough people from Mousehole had volunteered to form a new lifeboat crew. The lifeboat now operates out of Newlyn Harbour but is still known as the Penlee lifeboat.

  28. If the sea conditions are not extreme, bear right onto the cycle path and follow this until it rejoins the road. In rough weather, follow the pavement along the road instead.

    The cycle path along Newlyn sea front is the remains of a tramway that ran from the quarry to the south pier of the harbour. This was replaced in 1972 by a conveyor belt until quarry working ceased.

    National Cycle Route 3 runs 338 miles from Bristol to Land's End. The route is a mixture of lanes, byways and some tracks not open to road traffic including the upper section of the Camel Trail from Wenfordbridge to Dunmere.

  29. Turn right onto the road and follow this a short distance to where a small path departs to the right beside a Rosebud Court sign, towards the door of No 11.

    The Cornish palm is neither originally from Cornwall nor a palm! It is from New Zealand where it is known as the cabbage tree, being neither related to or tasting anything like cabbage. The top of the stem from which the leaves shoot was harvested by the Maori, resulting in something resembling an artichoke. It is bitter so it was traditionally eaten with fatty meats such as eel to make it palatable. The largest specimen of the plant is thought to be around 500 years old and has a circumference of nine metres at the base! It was introduced to Britain after being collected on Captain Cook's first voyage to the Pacific on the Endeavour.

  30. Follow the path all the way to the door of No 11, then continue on the path along the front of the houses to rejoin the road.

    Red valerian is also known as kiss-me-quick, fox's brush and Devil's or Jupiter's beard and can be seen flowering in early summer in hedgerows near the coast. The plant is originally from the Mediterranean and is thought to have been introduced as a garden plant roughly around the Tudor period. It has since become naturalised and the brightly-coloured flowers provide nectar for bees, butterflies and moths. Over time the base of the stems can get as thick as a small tree trunk which can lever apart the walls in which it can often be seen growing.

    Red valerian occurs with three main flower colours: about 50% of plants are deep pink, 40% are red and around 10% have white flowers. Very pale pink also occurs to but is much rarer. These distinct forms are an example of flower colour polymorphism. The red pigment within the flowers is an anthrocyanin compound and the different colours are due to different amounts of the pigment.

  31. Follow the pavement until it ends then continue a few paces further along the road to reach a junction leading uphill opposite "Harbour Pride".

    The Red Lion in Newlyn is thought to date from the 18th Century by which time this had become a fashionable name for a pub.

    The Red Lion is thought to be the most common name for a pub in the UK and to originate from Stuart era when James I came to the throne and ordered the heraldic red lion of Scotland to be displayed on all buildings of importance, which naturally included pubs.

  32. Turn left here to return to the car park and complete the circular walk.

    The path beside the building with the plaque about the Mayflower leads down onto the old quay if you wish to have a look across the harbour first.

Help us with this walk

You can help us to keep this walk as accurate as it possibly can be for others by spotting and feeding back any changes affecting the directions. We'd be very grateful if could you look out for the following:

  • Any stiles, gates or waymark posts referenced in the directions which are no longer there
  • Any stiles referenced in the directions that have been replaced with gates, or vice-versa

Take a photo and email contact@iwalkcornwall.co.uk, or message either IWalkCornwall on facebook or @iwalkc on twitter. If you have any tips for other walkers please let us know, or if you want to tell us that you enjoyed the walk, we'd love to hear that too.

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