Mousehole is a charming name; it is almost a charming place. It is a fishing village on Mount’s Bay, Cornwall, beyond the railway line, which stops at Penzance, in an improbable shed; I love that what begins at Paddington, the most grandiose and insane of London stations, ends in a shed. The Spanish invaded Mousehole in 1595 but Drake’s fleet came from Plymouth and chased them away; nothing so interesting has happened since; just fishing, tourism and decline. Now there are galleries and restaurants and what the Cornish call ‘incomers’ buying cottages, in which they place ornamental fishing nets after painting everything white. (For something more ‘authentic’, you can visit the Old Ship Inn on the harbour. If you are a female travelling without a male, they might ask if you are a lesbian; that is what they asked me.)
So the Old Coastguard is a paradigm; something old and interesting, made less so for Londoners who have spent five hours and 23 minutes on a train and want to see something familiar for their trouble. Too much of travel is like this today; the destination conforms to the place you left behind because, it is assumed, you will find that comforting. The exterior is dull and Victorian, with lawns winding to the sea; the interior is simply self-hating. I am not suggesting that all West Country inns should feature pirates cuddling parrots and shouting about treasure — they do that at Land’s End — and all hotels should dream of Manderley, but this is the inside of a developer’s head; pale walls, pale floors and crazy art, particularly seascapes. (I am not sure about Cornish art.) It is nearly surgical. The food, however, is marvellous: an autumn vegetable salad; slow-cooked lamb shoulder; native ice cream. It is far better than the food at its sister restaurant with rooms, the overpraised Gurnard’s Head in Zennor, an alarming buttermilk-coloured inn so remote that you tell yourself it is wonderful because you could not, initially, find it.
Around the bay, in Marazion, is the Godolphin Arms, another restaurant with rooms. This is, I think, the most beautifully situated restaurant in the British Isles. It is opposite St Michael’s Mount and from the dining room you can watch the causeway appear and disappear; you can, that is, watch people who own dogs get wet by mistake.
I imagine the Marriott Gateway on the Niagara Falls feels like this; walls of windows, and the usual pales and blond woods, stacked up as if into infinity. The effect is amazingly bland and disorientating. When the weather is good, the view is Disney Kingdom, with a truck that is also a boat delivering tourists to the National Trust mountain. (It is like James Bond’s Lotus Esprit that is also a shagmarine, but more practical). When it is bad, you are eating nowhere in the clouds. It is solitary confinement, and it is chilling.
The service is benign but almost nonexistent, which is fine for me; they give me a table for ten by the ludicrous window — I asked for it — then ignore me. The food, again, is marvellous, and it needs to be, for there are locals here, who are used to eating well, even in developers’ heads. (I don’t think there are any locals in Mousehole. I think they are extinct as a species, chased out by the housing crisis, which has followed us here, possibly by train.) We have a gorgeous ploughman’s and an excellent Caesar salad (so easy to screw up). All this is delightful in this land of witches, fish and tin, but why dress Cornwall up as Kensington? We have one of those already and that one is enough.
The Old Coastguard, The Parade, Mousehole, Cornwall, TR19 6PR; tel: 01736 731222. Godolphin Arms, West End, Marazion, Cornwall, TR17 0EN; tel: 01736 888510.