Ru­ral Rides

John Greeves

Evergreen - - Contents - ( con­tin­ued over­leaf)

For cen­turies the rugged Cor­nish coast­line was a haven for wreck­ers and smug­glers as well as pro­vid­ing a liveli­hood for those fish­ing com­mu­ni­ties dot­ted along the shore­line. Life was never easy and ex­acted a heavy hu­man cost over the years. Th­ese dan­ger­ous waters were not only the breed­ing places for fish, but be­came the spawn­ing grounds for le­gendary tales and tra­di­tions.

One such story tells of Tom Baw­cock who lived in the west Cor­nish fish­ing vil­lage of Mouse­hole ( pro­nounced “Mowzel”) in the 16th cen­tury. Like many other lo­cal peo­ple Tom made his liv­ing from fish­ing, but things be­came des­per­ate one fes­tive sea­son for the vil­lage. Storms had raged for many weeks and the usu­ally busy fish­ing boats re­mained idle in the har­bour. The vil­lagers de­pended on fish for their main diet and faced famine un­less help came.

Suf­fer­ing con­tin­ued un­til 23rd De­cem­ber when the vil­lage reached star­va­tion point and Tom Baw­cock de­cided to brave the ap­palling weather and take his boat out to try to catch fish. The vi­o­lent weather re­mained un­abated and threat­ened to cap­size his tiny craft, but Tom man­aged to cast his nets and hauled in an im­mense as­sort­ment of fish. When he re­turned, all the fish were baked in a huge pie which has be­come known as Stargazy Pie.

Since then, Tom Baw­cock’s Eve has taken place an­nu­ally on 23rd De­cem­ber to com­mem­o­rate the courage of one man who saved his vil­lage, as well as all those who have risked or lost their lives at sea.

Ev­ery year, since 1963, peo­ple have come from far and wide to see the Christ­mas lights switched on in the har­bour. “It’s mas­sive,” says Barry Davey who runs the Ship Inn along with his part­ner Kate Mur­ray. “You’ve got peo­ple from all over the UK want­ing to see th­ese lights, be­cause there’s nowhere else that does it as well as Mouse­hole.”

This isn’t an idle boast when you be­hold the Christ­mas il­lu­mi­na­tions; it’s a daz­zling multi- coloured dis­play and it was started by Joan Gillchrest, a lo­cal artist who came to live in Mouse­hole for many years and whose vi­brant paint­ings be­long to the Cor­nish tra­di­tion of naïve art. Two strings of coloured lights were ini­tially hung on ei­ther quay. Lit­tle did the vil­lagers know how pop­u­lar the fes­ti­val would be­come. Year by year, the herald­ing of the Christ­mas lights has grown to be­come a ma­jor fes­ti­val with more than 40 stel­lar ex­hibits made by lo­cal vol­un­teers. Thirty thou­sand peo­ple from all over the UK throng the vil­lage in the three weeks lead­ing up to Christ­mas once the lights are switched on.

Ev­ery­thing cen­tres around the har­bour which is a nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre, where 20 to 30 vol­un­teers have worked most week­ends from Septem­ber to bring this in­can­des­cent spec­ta­cle to life. As well as fixed lights there are float­ing lights, such as the whale and the

sea ser­pent, in the har­bour. The whale, has over 40 cir­cuits and can both smile and cre­ate a con­vinc­ing spurt through his blow­hole. The sea ser­pent has been re­made sev­eral times be­cause of the de­struc­tive rav­ages of the weather. A ma­jor storm in 1989 dam­aged and wrecked many items in the har­bour and at the side of the quays, yet within a week all the lights were up and run­ning again. Only once have the Mouse­hole lights failed to shine and that was in 1974 due to na­tional power cuts.

The statis­tics about this event are mind bog­gling: over 7,000 bulbs are used, 51⁄ miles of ca­ble, 20 strings of lanterns in ad­di­tion to all the huge ex­hibits. A Celtic cross ( once pow­ered by a wind gen­er­a­tor) is now pow­ered by so­lar power cells on St. Cle­ment’s Is­land. This lies just out­side the har­bour wall and has to be ser­viced by a brave vol­un­teer pad­dling out on a surf­board, as the har­bour is closed dur­ing this pe­riod. The big­gest item is a sign mea­sur­ing 160 feet long ( half the length of a foot­ball pitch) wish­ing ev­ery­one a “Merry Christ­mas and a Happy New Year” and con­tain­ing 1,000 light bulbs.

The 2017 switch on will take place on Satur­day 16th De­cem­ber at 7pm. An open- air Caro­laire ser­vice will be held at the North Quay. The Caro­laire Choir, com­posed of the Methodist Choir and mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, will lead the singing ac­com­pa­nied by the Pen­deen Sil­ver Band. The lights will re­main on from 5pm to 11pm ev­ery night un­til 16th Jan­uary 2018.

On 19th De­cem­ber the lights are dimmed be­tween 8pm and 9pm to re­mem­ber the Pen­lee lifeboat, the Solo­man Browne, and the brav­ery of the Mouse­hole crew who all lost their lives that night in 1981 go­ing to the as­sis­tance of a stricken coaster the Union Star.

The stun­ning har­bour lights be­witch this pic­turesque vil­lage as ex­cite­ment builds and crowds gather for the fes­tiv­i­ties on Tom Baw­cock’s Eve. A pro­ces­sion usu­ally takes place in the early evening when chil­dren carry lanterns through the nar­row back­streets to the quay­side. The sound of ac­cor­dions and other mu­si­cal in­stru­ments rings out, car­ols are sung on the beach, while the aroma of mulled wine is caught in the breeze.

There’s some­thing for ev­ery­one. Last year, a mag­i­cal pup­pet and live- ac­tion pro­duc­tion of An­to­nia

Bar­ber’s clas­sic, award- win­ning chil­dren’s story The Mouse­hole Cat, based on the story of Tom Baw­cock and his fa­mous cat Mowzer, was per­formed in the Solo­man Browne Me­mo­rial Hall to great ac­claim. Guy Wat­son of the Dream Team The­atre tells me they hope to do the same this year.

Tom Baw­cock’s Eve wouldn’t be com­plete without the Stargazy Pie. This is baked at the Ship Inn and is more than a fish pie. Fish heads de­lib­er­ately poke through the short­crust pas­try as if look­ing at the stars and tails pro­trude, so that the fish look as if they are leap­ing in and out of the wa­ter. Recipes dif­fer, but up to seven types of fish in­clud­ing hake, cod, had­dock, pol­lock and sar­dines can be used, along with herbs, spices and sea­son­ing, with soft boiled eggs to gar­nish. “It’s just a big, big cel­e­bra­tory day,” Barry Davey tells me. “Ev­ery­one comes in and wants to have a drink, espe­cially the lo­cal peo­ple in Mouse­hole.” Even peo­ple who don’t drink on a daily ba­sis gather to join in the cel­e­bra­tions. You can’t move in the pub when the pie comes out.

A lo­cal fish­er­man ( born and bred in Mouse­hole) dresses up as Tom Baw­cock in a bowler hat and dark beard, nav­i­gates through the crowd serv­ing the pie to cus­tomers with his helpers. It is all for char­ity and peo­ple give gen­er­ously. Four large trays are made, which equates to eight large pies. Not ev­ery­one may be par­tial to the del­i­cacy of a fish head, but as one lo­cal told me, Tom Baw­cock’s Eve is the real start of Christ­mas for her fam­ily and is an event they all look for­ward to at this time of the year.

Merry places you may be­lieve, Tis Mouzel ’ pon Tom Baw­cock’s Eve, To be there then who wouldn’t wesh, to sup

o’sibm soorts o’ fish When morgy brath had cleared the path, Comed lances for a fry And then us had a bit o’cad an’ Sar­rygazie pie

Last year, all the dona­tions from the Stargazy Pie, went to­wards the RNLI which seems very ap­pro­pri­ate as Char­lie Green­haugh ( the for­mer land­lord of the Ship Inn) was a mem­ber of the coura­geous Pen­lee lifeboat crew who were lost on that tragic night.


Mouse­hole’s har­bour be­comes a shim­mer­ing spec­ta­cle, bright­en­ing the win­ter nights.

Left and be­low: The fes­tive lights are a joy for lo­cals and vis­i­tors alike. AS­PECTS HOL­I­DAYS


The church and Christ­mas trees are cen­tral to the dis­play.

A sum­mer’s day in Mouse­hole; The Ship Inn and the fa­mous Stargazy Pie.

In be­tween hearty mouth­fuls the vil­lagers sing:

As aich we’d clunk, E’s health we drunk, in bumpers brem­men high, And when up caame Tom Baw­cock’s name, We’d prais’d unto the sky.

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