A Perfect Cornish Festival

The light was mellow, the sun drowsily warm as we drove down the hill towards the sleepy little Cornish fishing village of Porthleven. We planned on a stroll round the famous double harbour, maybe a drink in the pub if we could find one open late on a Sunday afternoon out of the holiday season…

Then we saw the cars lining the roads, the swathes of people flowing to and from the car park and knew something was up. By sheer good fortune, we found a space and joined the throngs heading for the harbour.

It turned out that we’d happened upon Porthleven on the one Sunday when it’s anything but sleepy: its annual Food Festival.

Laughter mingled with jazz as we made our way along the quaysides, lured by a myriad of tempting aromas. In the early evening sun, visitors and locals lingered at the champagne and seafood bar while families grazed their way around the hot food stalls or picnicked on the lawns. Even in the last hours of the last day of this weekend event, there were still thousands of people relaxing and enjoying a slice of foodie heaven.

Porthleven has long been notorious for its winter storms and its towering waves often make the headlines. Happily, it’s now famous for the much more benign and joyful reason of its Food Festival.

It was started over a decade ago by local traders keen to attract more visitors to the town and has grown from a few quayside stalls to a feast of food and music of international renown. The town also has more than its fair share of cafes and restaurants, several of whose chefs regularly appear on TV cooking shows.

Last year, also by chance, we found ourselves in Porthleven in April again. Seeing the posters pasted around town I instantly knew that a fictional Cornish food festival would form the backdrop to my next book. Passing a grand house clinging to the cliffs and pastel-fronted cottages perched above the sea, I couldn’t help imagining them as the homes of the characters in my story.

The seed for A Perfect Cornish Summer had finally burst into life and I headed to a harbourside café to scribble down my ideas before they slipped away.

We returned to Cornwall in December to visit another two Cornish traditional events, Mousehole Harbour Lights and Penzance Montol.

Mousehole Harbour Lights are all the more charming for being a low-key but heartfelt antidote to big-city illuminations. Oxford Street it ain’t, but the colourful fish, mermaids and boats decorating the harbour walls and narrow streets have their own powerful resonance. Poignantly, they’re dimmed for an hour on December 19th in honour of the local crew of the RNLI Solomon Browne lifeboat who lost their lives trying to save a freighter in a terrible storm.

Mousehole is also famous for Tom Bawcock’s  Eve on December 23rd, when the village eats Stargazey Pie to celebrate the legendary fisherman, Tom Bawcock, said to have saved the village from starvation.

Penzance Montol on December 21st is a vibrant contrast when locals in fantastic disguises take to the streets to mark the Winter Solstice. The streets are filled with masked revellers, musicians, fire eaters, jugglers and smoke belching monsters.

This eccentric, fun event provided the ideal backdrop to my Winter 2019 book, A Perfect Cornish Christmas, the second in the Porthmellow series.

If all of this has put you in the festival mood, why not head to Cornwall for some revelry and feasting of your own?

  • April 26th-29th – Porthleven Food Festival
  • May 1st – Padstow Obby Oss – ancient Mayday trasition
  • May 8th – Helston Flora Day – the famous Flora dance
  • June 21-30th– Penzance Golowan – a midsummer celebration
  • September 14th-28th – St Ives Festival –– music, arts and literature
  • December 21st – Penzance Montol Eve – winter solstice mayhem

By Phillipa Ashley

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