The pictures I’ve included show what it can be like here on a lovely day. As you can see, our day started off well and finished even better, with a beautiful sunset and a drink (or two) in the Ship – but the weather’s not always like that in Mounts Bay.
Being tidal, the river and its inlets offer the perfect habitat for marine and bird life, and the whole catchment area is protected by various environmental groups and organizations. The river is also the perfect habitat for the yachting enthusiast, and the overall scene is one of peace and tranquility – but it hasn’t always been that way.
The source of the river lies just above Gweek, which due to its proximity to the former mines at Wendron, allowed the village and the river’s upper reaches to be involved in the export of tin and copper and the importing of coal and timber for operating the mines. These days, even though there’s a thriving boatyard, it’s hard to imagine that this was once a bustling port, because apart from people coming to visit the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, Gweek has reverted back to being a sleepy little village.
Falmouth Harbour is a deep natural expanse of water that has provided anchorage for centuries, and traditionally, like other coastal communities around the country, protection against any threat of foreign invasion was left in the hands of local lords, but the 16th century saw these simple defences become inadequate when the threat of invasion became more serious after King Henry VIII upset the Pope and his Roman Catholic friends.
The failure of Henry’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, to provide a male heir prompted Henry to do something about it, and under normal circumstances, it would have been easy enough for the king to do what he wanted, and that was to divorce Catherine and marry the new love of his life, Anne Boleyn – but these weren’t normal circumstances. When Henry asked Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage he refused, due in no small part to the fact that he was under the thumb of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor who had taken control of Rome – and Charles was Catherine’s nephew.
In 1533, Henry secretly married Anne Boleyn, and left the Pope with no option but to excommunicate him from the Catholic Church. The following year Henry forced through the Act of Supremacy which made him the Supreme Head of the Church of England thus leaving the Pope with no religious authority at all in England. Henry then wasted no time in divorcing Catherine – but he must have known that there would be trouble ahead.
The Pope was eventually compelled to act, and in 1538 issued an order to depose the King of England. Francis I of France, and Charles V, (who was also king of Spain as well as Holy Roman Emperor) posed the main threats, and to deal with them Henry needed to improve his vulnerable defences along the south coast – and the entrance to the Fal Estuary was one of them.
It may seem hard to believe, but when the foundation stones were laid for Truro Cathedral on 20th May 1880 by the future King Edward VII, they were the beginnings of the first Cathedral to be built in England since Salisbury in 1220.
Designed by John Loughborough Pearson, it is built mainly of Cornish granite in the medieval Gothic style with the more decorative features made out of the softer Bath stone. One of its more unusual features is that it includes part of the original Tudor St. Mary’s Parish Church and is a church within a church with the Dean of the Cathedral also being Rector of St Mary’s.
The time when it was possible to catch thousands of tons of pilchards a year is just a distant memory now, and tourism is now more important to Mevagissey than fishing. Even so, tourists come here to enjoy the harbour life as much as anything, so it’s still important whichever way you look at it.
Meva hag Ysi is named after St. Mevan (a Welshman) and St. Issey (an Irish woman) and has two harbours: The Inner Harbour was constructed in 1774, and the Outer Harbour in 1888. It might not come as any great surprise therefore, to learn that boatbuilding was also another source of income, but the boats built in Mevagissey were used for smuggling rather than fishing, and the best place to find out more is at the museum which is housed in a former boatbuilding yard that dates back to 1745.
This is one of my short posts where pictures are probably better than words, and the gallery below shows a selection of images from around Mevagissey.
In this short post I want to give you an introduction to the area around St. Austell which for many years looked more like a lunar landscape than a part of the Cornish countryside.