Mevagissey is a heart-rendingly beautiful fishing village on the Cornish Riviera, seemingly from another, lost world. It looks south-east across St Austell Bay, sandwiched between the Roseland and Polperro sections of Heritage Coast. Like so many of these villages it tumbles downhill amongst narrow streets to a stunning twin harbour. But Mevagissey is a stand-out looker even among such competition. The word most commonly used to describe Meva is “picturesque”, but that’s an understatement on an epic scale. It’s like calling Adriana Lima “pretty”. And the picturesqueness pales into insignificance, in the face of the magic and tranquillity of the streets and quays. Surrounded by breathtaking scenery, sandy beaches and hidden coves, the area is not for nothing designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The history and the modern activities in this still very traditional fishing village make for a wonderful contrast, as you breathe the clean Cornish air and take in the clear green water of the ancient harbour under a (usually) blue Cornish sky.
There’s a mainline train through St Austell and a bus service from there every half an hour to Mevagissey, which takes only twenty minutes. Navigation by car is equally easy. Leave the A390 on the outskirts of St Austell to follow the B3273 less than five miles (8km) to the village. The nearest airport is Newquay International.
There is a car park right on the quay, but the narrow streets are notoriously difficult to negotiate and in summer there are always people milling about treating it as pedestrianised so it might be better to park outside the village centre in one of four car parks near the main road into town.
The nearest petrol station is in Pentewan, a two-minute drive away.
There are a couple of newsagents/general stores, a hardware shop, the Post Office, doctor’s surgery and pharmacy, bank ATM machines, and a wide variety of food and gift shops.
History and Stuff
Meva-hag-Ysi means Meva and Issey, both Irish saints from the sixth century. The earliest recorded history of the harbour is dated to 1313 when it was called Porthilly. By the end of the 17th century, it had grown to merge with nearby Lamorrick and then the two took on the new name. The official Cornish name for the place is still Lannvorek. But archaeology points to a more ancient past. Numerous Bronze Age relics have been found, suggesting strongly that a settlement here stretches back into pre-history.
The main incomes of the village were from boats, pilchard fishing and smuggling. The inner harbour, consisting of East Quay and West Quay, was built on the site of an existing medieval quay in the late 18th century, and the outer constructed in the late 19th.
Andrew Pears, the inventor of Pears’ soap, was born in the village in 1768 and when he grew up ran a barber’s shop until he relocated to London in 1789.
The English comedy band The Wurzels wrote an unusually un-facetious song about Meva for their album “I’ll Never Get a Scrumpy Here” in 1978.
Cornwall experiences a very nearly sub-tropical climate, with unusually high temperatures for the UK both summer and winter. Mevagissey itself faces south to the sun and is sheltered from the prevailing wind, so its hills, houses, streets and wharfs are warmed throughout the day, making for an extremely pleasant environment. For detailed information about the climate we like so much here in Kernow, why not check out our comprehensive weather info page by following this link?
There are three Cornish holy wells in Mevagissey. Two, Lady’s Well and The Brass Well are at Treleaven Manor, and the other is on the grounds of the old vicarage, called Mevagissey House. The Norman church was rebuilt in the fifteenth century. The old lifeboat station, which now houses an aquarium, was built in 1896. A vast array of other historical artefacts can be found in the museum – see below.
There is a little supermarket and a fruit and veg shop, a bakery, and many cafés, pubs and restaurants, plus two fish and chip shops and a homemade Cornish pasty shop. Mevagissey is renowned for its seafood, including locally caught whiting, mackerel, ray, ling, and conger, as well as bream, megrim, crab, lobster, scallops and even dog-fish. Eateries worthy of mention are the Salamander, Number Five, Tea on the Quay, and the Sharksfin restaurant. The Fisherman’s Chippy is extremely highly regarded hereabouts, too!
Meva no longer boasts the ten pubs it enjoyed in the 17th century, but it is still well-served by the three that it has, with the smuggler-esque Ship Inn, the Harbour Tavern and the fifteenth century Fountain Inn. The Sharksfin Bar is also worth a try.
What’s On in Mevagissey – Events
This superb summer event is said to be the longest surviving festival in Cornwall and owes its success to a blend of traditional and contemporary events. It brings the whole community together and welcomes hundreds of visitors to share in its exhibitions, demonstrations, live music performances. Inevitably, of course, lots of fish is eaten. There are choirs and bands, the traditional floral dance, children’s entertainment and events, colourful parades, boat and raft races, a fête and a massive firework display.
Mevagissey is famed throughout Cornwall for its Christmas lights, which adorn not only the village buildings and streets but the harbours and often the boats as well.
New Year’s Eve
Just when it seems that the festive season in Mevagissey can’t get any better, the Cornish burst forth under the twinkling lights of the village in flamboyant fancy dress that must be seen to be believed. Themed dress partying is a big thing in Kernow, and it can get a bit drunken, but the atmosphere is marvellous. The night ends with a firework display across the water from the harbour.
Special Things to Do and Visit
Ferry to and from Fowey
The Fowey-Meva Ferry is one of the finest boat trips in Cornwall, and it’s a splendid opportunity to visit two of the Duchy’s most picturesque harbours. As well as the spectacular cliffs of the Heritage Coast you can often see dolphins, basking sharks and other marine exotica.
We often cite The Lost Gardens of Heligan as somewhat de rigeur for visitors who like a bit of horticulture, but if you find yourself in Meva, there is even less excuse for missing this famous Cornish attraction. The gardens are just about seven minutes drive away, in the Heligan estate which stands on the slopes behind the village, but in fact, it’s easily walkable, a pleasant stroll up through Heligan Woods.
Caerhays Castle is about five miles away from Mevagissey. While it looks like a Tudor fortress, it was actually designed by John Nash in the 19th century. Its spring gardens are mostly populated by unusual plants brought from China, which thrive in the semi-tropical conditions on the Cornish coast. The gardens are also home to the Plant Heritage National Collection of Magnolias.
Just over twenty minutes from Mevagissey by car, the Eden Project is a massive eco-celebration of “bio-domes” containing actual tropical rain-forests as well as many other interesting exhibits. Fascinating events, as well as concerts and excellent pasties, add to the draw!
Mevagissey is steeped in maritime history, but this museum is a museum piece in its own right. The building itself belongs to the 18th century. It was originally used to build and repair boats for smuggling and piratical pursuits. Most of the roof timbers are reworked spars from old smuggling ships called revenue-dodgers. The tools on display including the lathe upstairs, with its hand-turned wheel, were used to build their replacements. There’s also historic farm equipment and a cider press. The museum’s other exhibits are mostly of a folk history nature, with a traditional kitchen, art, Pear’s soap and a motorcycle-racing milkman as well as the usual nautical stuff. Entry is free, surprisingly, but donations are welcomed.
World of Model Railways
Unexpected in a small Cornish fishing village, this famed model shop contains an exhibition of model railways including the Indoor Garden Railway. It’s a major attraction and children under five go free.
The aquarium in the old lifeboat house showcases many of the local species of fish, if you’d rather look at them than eat them! Entry to this attraction is free to all.
Polmassick Vineyard was the first in Cornwall. Planted over 30 years ago, today its well-established vines deliver consistently good vintages. Enjoy a glass of the wine, white, rosé, red, sparkling or dessert. Take a cellar tour and stock up with Polmassick to take home!
Mevagissey is on the South West Coast Path, and walkers can enjoy a strenuously up-and-down walk south of more than twelve miles (20km) along the cliffs to Portloe, or in the other direction a slightly shorter but equally challenging outing to Par.
Cycle or walk on the Pentewan Trail to St Austell, a flattish five mile round trip from the beach at Pentewan to a village called London Apprentice and back. The trail runs along the route of an old narrow gauge railway, which originally carried clay and tin ore to the port at Pentewan. Once the harbour silted up the railway stopped running in 1916. Bikes can be hired at the Pentewan end.
Holidays by the sea
Staying by the sea has always been a popular pastime for Britons, and even more so for visitors for whom the ocean is further away than it ever can be on this small island! Mevagissey has a particularly friendly atmosphere as well as access and proximity to a variety of activities and beach and waterfront locations.
Mevagissey’s beach at Polstreath is the nearest, but relatively quiet because of its 200 steep steps to walk down from the coast path. Portmellon, Pentewan, and Perhaver are all a brisk walk or a short drive away, and Gorran Haven (see below) is not much further.
The nearest surfable break to Mevagissey is Pentewan just five minutes drive away, but it doesn’t often catch a good sized swell. We are however well placed for the many west facing breaks of north Cornwall and the mighty ‘Leven (Porthleven) just an hour away to the west.
Child Friendly Beaches
For a swim, the nearby beach of Gorran Haven is just the thing. Quiet and sheltered below imposing but easily passable cliffs, it’s regarded as one of the best bathing beaches in Cornwall for all the family.
Dog Friendly Beaches
Our visitors often want to make sure that their canine family members will be able to enjoy the holiday every bit as much as the ones on two legs. Dogs always love beaches, so it’s good to know that at Mevagissey, Portmellon and Gorran Haven dogs are allowed all year. Pentewan and Perhaver have the usual seasonal ban from Easter to the first of October. The South West Coast Path, which passes all these beaches, is open to dogs all the year round. For a comprehensive guide to all the best beaches for dogginess, why not look at our Dog-Friendly Beaches page, here?
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Self-catering in Cornwall has never been so good! Check out our Cornwall Guide to discover more about what’s on, places to eat, places to visit and things to do West Cornwall, all from your Mevagissey cottage.