Why the first Cornish Snapper story was based in Newlyn
In 1999 I went to Mousehole (pictured) and Newlyn in West Cornwall to write about the ports for my Western Morning News series on Westcountry harbour towns – and I liked the latter place so much I bought it.
By which I mean I bought into the idea of basing a crime story there. And so my Cornish Snapper series was born – and I hasten to add that not a soul in it represents a real person, alive or dead – but the places are authentic enough.
Anyway, this is part of the article I wrote at the time – which perhaps gives something of the feel of the place – or rather, Newlyn as it was back then…
Would you believe that almost the entire product of Newlyn’s Pilchard Works goes to Italy? ‘Salacche Inglesi’, or salted English pilchards, are highly prized in that country where they like what they eat, and this is the only place left where they are cured.
I didn’t know the place existed until I stumbled across it during my visit this week, and even then it was closed so I was lucky to be given a private tour, not to mention a jar of delicious pilchard fillets preserved in oil. When I say it wasn’t open – I mean to the public, who’ll be allowed back in throughout the summer after March 30th. But the work of salting pilchards was still going on, with the little fish being packed in sea-salt for six to eight weeks, before being pressed in special boxes called ‘coffins’. This pressing is done in the traditional way to extract excess water and oil, and each fish has to be meticulously packed so that it won’t split or be spoiled by the pressure.
All of this takes place in some wonderful old buildings not more than 100 yards from the centre of town. But then, Newlyn is rich in pleasing architecture as a walk of just five minutes will prove. Particularly enchanting are the myriad cobbled streets in an area just inland from the harbour.
Chapel Street, Orchard Place and Foundry Lane, to name but a few – each is a delight to the eye being lined by tiny terraced stone houses, many adorned by tubs and flower-boxes that clutter the sides of the narrow cobbled alleys.
I shudder to think what the town would have looked like had the planners won the day in the 1930’s when there was a scheme to flatten and modernise this charming area. Thankfully the people of Newlyn were having none of it, and a well organised campaign to save the old town was eventually brought to a head when a crew of fishermen sailed all the way to Westminster Pier in the trawler ‘Rosebud’ to lobby Parliament.
The publicity helped save what must be one of the most traditional street areas left in Cornwall, and ‘Rosebud’ is still remembered by a public memorial garden named after her.
Step out of the alleys towards the harbour and you are immediately confronted by buildings of an uglier nature. But so what? The fish market is not in the business of looking pretty.
You are now in a world of fish. You can smell it, you can hear the seagulls smelling it and you can hear the auctioneers selling it, if you get there early enough. You can see fish being hauled ashore, and you can see it packed and entombed in the chipped ice of a thousand plastic boxes.
If you call into the Newlyn Harbour Cafe, just opposite the market, you can hear the fishermen talking about it, and fascinating talk it is too, if you like that sort of thing. They speak of shooting nets and of depressions in from the west, and they speak of E.U. quotas and the Spanish – and of course they talk of the prices which their fish have fetched in that morning’s market.
I still love going to Newlyn – and don’t mind extending my journey’s down in Cornwall if I can pop in to buy a few large boxes of fish. Not only is it THE freshest fish you can buy anywhere – but they do you a good price. Which is why I rarely have a camera on me when I go there – too laden with fish – so here’s a picture of the coast taken just west of Newlyn from the window of the helicopter which until so recently flew the route on its way to St Marys in the Scillies.,
Anyway, I’m still learning this blogging lark – and for instance would like to find out how to put links up like this one