Grab a Cornish Christmas

By Helen Chappell, Evening Standard

Last updated at 18:17 27 November 2002


Mousehole: A hole lot of fun

I should have known better than to ask for stamps. Eyes narrowed suspiciously over neat rows of the Cornish Leader on the counter.

"You won't find any stamps in shops in Mousehole. We don't want to lose our local post office." I slunk away like the urban carpetbagger I so obviously was. I had been cruelly thwarted in my plan to send off my last batch of Christmas cards with an amusing postmark.

"Get down there to see the amazing Christmas lights," friends had told me. I found a place heart-meltingly cute. Dinky little red-granite cottages popped up at drunken angles up the hill and along windy streets, windows filled with Christmas trees and fibre-optic fairies.

Nostalgic curls of wood smoke drifted from chimney pots. Down at the harbour, the sea was calm and grey, a few boats bobbed, seagulls huddled together on the sea wall.

At six o'clock this mid-December Saturday night, though, the sleepy, off-season mood is starting to evaporate. There's a palpable buzz in the air: men in Day-Glo yellow jackets are muttering into walkietalkies; gaggles of locals and holidaymakers have appeared, muffled in woolly hats and quilted jackets.

It all kicked off 30 years ago, when an artist decided to put a few fairy lights up near her harbourside cottage. The idea snowballed. Now there's a tidal wave of statistics - 7,000 light bulbs, five-andahalf miles of cable, £12,000 raised every year to pay for it.

About 30,000 visitors will reach this small corner of Cornwall over the festive season, and other villages have a go, delighted to create a new winter-tourist season and cheer themselves up at the same time.

I catch a waft of fish and chips and have to dodge through the crowd in search of Quirky's Fish shop. This is getting tricky - the narrow streets are heaving with fun-seekers, munching chips or queueing at the mince- pies- and- punch stall. "Packed in like grass in a field," someone comments. Clutching my own chips, I jostle for a view of the vicar at the podium, announcing who will switch on the lights.

Suddenly, the hills and harbour are jewel-bright - there's a spouting whale in the harbour with a fire-breathing sea serpent, the three ships from my favourite carol, multicoloured reindeer on the quay wall, a traditional stargazy pie (fish heads stick up through the pie crust) and a champagne glass full of moving bubbles on the pub wall across the bay.

On the top of a hill I can see a vast Christmas pudding and a cheeky Hollywood-style sign wishing us all a Merry Christmas. It is all very silly and rather lovely, especially as the Mousehole malevoice choir is singing carols.

It's sad that the pilchard fishing has gone, but if Mouseholers can survive by getting lit up every winter, you have to admire their nerve. A quick one at The Ship, I think, before I retreat from the cold to the log fire in my cottage.

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