Everywhere you go in Cornwall in England, you can see a sign for the Cornish pasty. So I wasn’t surprised to hear that the Cornish pasty industry adds £65 million into Cornwall’s economy. I am a big fan of anything encased in a pastry (Indian samosas, Jamaican patties, American pie etc) so was really looking forward to trying a Cornish pasty in Cornwall. I was not disappointed! Real Cornish pasties are delicious and an easy, quick dinner for all of us after a long day of travelling. As with any traditional dish, there’s a lot of tradition, culture and stories associated with the Cornish pasty. Here is a quick introduction to this traditional favourite and twelve fun facts about the Cornish pasty.
The Cornish pasty is a fast and delicious meal whose popularity still runs high.
What is a Cornish Pasty?
The traditional Cornish pasty is a pastry filled with chunky vegetables and meat. The standard vegetables used are swede, potato and onion. When cooked together with a light seasoning, the meat and vegetables forms its own gravy. The slow-baking process ensures that the delicately seasoned flavours are maximised.
In the old days, the pasty flour itself would have been tough and made from barley flour. Poor mining families would not have been able to afford wheat flour for the pastry.
The pasty was a good way to use up leftovers in a time when every little bit of food had to be used. Fillings can be as varied as the protein available, such as bacon, rabbit, eggs. There is some question on whether fish can be an appropriate filling. I would think not because these miners needed a solid meat and potatoes meal as fuel for the hard labour they did.
The pastry itself is shaped in the form of the letter “D” with one side crimped. The crimped side is handy for holding the pastry. (The purists will tell you that a Cornish pastry should be crimped on the side and not the top). Some people have said that the crimped side could have served as a handle. I expect the miners eating the pasty would have been so hungry the whole thing would have been eaten.
Nowadays, we saw lots of different types of Cornish pasty. My daughter was a big fan of the cheese and onion vegetarian pasties. The rest of us preferred the traditional steak variety. We saw lots of variations in the fillings of the Cornish pasty in Cornwall. I can just imagine the Cornish miner’s face if his wife had packed him a Thai Chicken pasty!
You can get lots of Cornish pasty you can get today.
The History of the Cornish Pasty
You say the word pasty to sound like the ‘a’ in past not paste. The word comes from an old English word that means made from pastry. The Cornish pasty started off as a convenience food for working men to take for lunch similar to the Bunny Chow in South Africa. Men working in the tin mines or the clay pits needed an easy but filling meal they could take to work.
Wrapped in paper or cloth, the pasty was a self-contained hearty meal complete with vegetables, meat and carbohydrates. These men worked long shifts underground. If the pasty was baked in the morning, thanks to the pastry crust, the filling inside could be kept warm for up to 10 hours.
As we discovered in our tour of the salt mines in Salzburg, getting down to the mines was quite the task and so going back above ground to get lunch would have been a serious waste of time and effort. Keep in mind also that miners were paid for the amount of ground they had broken. Dilly-dallying for lunch would seriously cut into their take-home pay.
In the 18th century, Cornish miners would have produced half the world’s tin supply. The work would have been long and gruelling but better paid than any other work they could have gotten at the time. It is said that 19 out of 20 of Cornwall’s men under 25 would have worked in a mine during the peak of the mining boom. After their shift at the mine (or clay pit) ended, the men would have gone to do a second shift as farm labourers.
There is probably a pasty filling that will suit everyone in the family.
12 Fun Facts About the Cornish Pasty
- The oldest pasty recipe we have is from 1746. It is kept at the Country Records Office in Truro. The pasty though is a much older type of making food. In the Middle Ages, pasties (and meat pies) were the food of the aristocracy.
- There are 120 million Cornish pasties made every year.
- Since 2011, according to European Union regulations, a genuine Cornish pasty needs to have a minimum of 12.5% meat and 25% vegetables. Moreover, the pasty needs to be made in Cornwall.
- Using carrots in a Cornish pasty is considered heresy. The only sweetness allowed is from the swede!
- A pasty may be an easy portable meal but don’t take a pasty on board a ship. It’s considered bad luck! This myth was probably started by the miners who didn’t want the fisherman to take their pasties.
- Some say the traditional Cornish pasty crust should be tough enough to drop down a deep mine shaft and not fall apart. Can you imagine how tough your teeth have to be to chew that?!
- The ‘oggie oggie oggie’ chant heard at rugby games came from the Cornish pasty. According to legend, pasty sellers would yell Oggie, Oggie Oggie at the top of the mine shaft and the miners would yell Oi Oi Oi back to signal they wanted a Cornish pasty thrown down at them.
- Oggie comes from the Cornish word ‘hoggans’ which were an early pasty filled with pork encased in barley bread.
- You can get a ‘rounder’ which is a round pastry filled with the same ingredients but bigger (and round!). You get rounders served for Sunday lunch or on special occasions in Cornwall.
- The largest Cornish pasty ever made was 32 feet long!
- Sometimes the Cornish miner’s wife would put his initials on his pasty so he could tell his pasty apart from that of a co-worker. Moreover, the miner may have left a bit of pasty for the magical sprites who lived in the mines who could be placated with bits of food. If he lefts some of the pasty with his initial on it, the sprites would know who not to trouble.
- The Cornish pasty emigrated worldwide along with Cornish immigrants. For example, pasties are popular in Michigan because they have made it to the mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the 1840’s. Thanks to EU regs though these pasties can not be called Cornish pasties because they are not made in Cornwall. I wonder if Brexit will affect the terminology – deregulation of the Cornish pasty could be coming soon.
Where To Buy Cornish Pasties
As I said, every little village in Cornwall seems to have home made (and delicious) Cornish pasties. I was really surprised because the one I had previously tried in London was nothing special.
The famous Chough Bakery in Padstow.
There is a World Pasty Championship held every year at the Eden Project in Cornwall. Just when I thought Rick Stein had taken over all of Padstow, I found out that the Chough Bakery in Padstow is the current reigning champion. Within the United Kingdom, you can mail order their Cornish pasties to your home. Alternatively, you can follow the recipe on the Chough Bakery website.
Have you ever wanted to live the English country house lifestyle but sadly you lack the requisite English country house? Fowey Hall Hotel is perfect for you. A grand mansion comfortable decorated with dogs and children running around on landscaped grounds, Fowey Hall should fill your curiosity about what those grand manor homes like Downton Abbey would be to live in today. By the way, in true quirky English fashion, Fowey is said like it is spelt Foy. So Fowey Hall, a luxury family hotel in Cornwall, gave us a cool escape into country life if only we had been lucky enough to be born with a silver spoon in our mouths.
Fowey Hall, a luxury family hotel in a former 19th Century country home
Fowey Hall History
Looming above the little port town of Fowey, you can make out a series of large Monterey Pine trees. Behind the trees stands Fowey Hall, the former home of Sir Charles Hanson. Hanson was a local boy who went to Canada, made his fortune as a lumber baron and returned home in spectacular style. The town elders felt his home dominated the view of the town (and in fairness they were right). Hanson planted the Monterey Pines to soften the look somewhat so that it is only from certain angles that you can see how enormous the house is in relation to the town.
Fowey Hall looms over the town of Fowey behind the trees.
Around 1889, Hanson acquired his land from the Rashleigh family who were the local landowners. He was a man with a plan and lots of spare cash. Not only did he have his own money but he had married a Canadian heiress. Hanson created his home in the latest style with no expense spared – lots of wood, marble and even central heating. The grounds were more extensive in Hanson’s day than they are today.
Monterey Pine Trees hide Fowey Hall from the town below.
Hanson used Fowey Hall to entertain and to further his political ambitions. Telegrams from the day show that he expended great energy trying to get the Royal Family to visit. Plenty of notables did visit and Fowey Hall was overflowing with life and energy.
From 1900, Hanson based himself mostly in Belgravia in London because of his interest in politics. He became a member of Parliament for the nearby town of Bodmin in 1916. The next year, Hanson got himself elected Lord Mayor of London, the highest political office he gained. Hanson remained in Parliament until he died in 1922. His family eventually sold Fowey Hall in the 1950’s.
Fowey Hall May be the inspiration for Toad Hall in Kenneth Grahame’s famous book, The Wind in the Willows. Grahame was a frequent visitor to Fowey Hall as a friend of the Hanson family.
Accommodation at Fowey Hall
We had a ground floor room because we brought our dog with us. Our neighbours had dogs, too, so I gather we were in the dog-friendly wing of this luxury family hotel in Cornwall. The sliding doors opened directly onto the lawn so that he (and the kids) could go running outside in full view of the room. Our room was spacious with 2 fold-up beds for the children and a queen-size bed.
Our dog in the less formal breakfast room with the Mr. Toad statue
The bathroom had a full shower and a bathtub. My kids got bath bombs from a store in Fowey which made bath times lots of fun.
A stand alone bathtub is a perfect place to unwind whether you are a kid or an adult.
Amenities at Fowey Hall
Fowey Hall Hotel has all the amenities you would expect from a luxury family hotel in Cornwall. There is a spa and a large pool. My children spent every evening playing in the pool. Then we would borrow DVD’s from the front desk and snuggle up and watch movies. To my delight, they had Stardust, a 2007 British fantasy romance which my children had never seen. We all liked it so much, we watched it several times. yay!
Although the interiors are as grand as you would expect, the hotel is very family friendly (right down to the little mocktails the kids were given to accompany our pre-dinner drinks).
Family-Friendly Fowey Hall
Run by the Luxury Family Hotel group, Fowey Hall Hotel has put a lot of care into making sure families are felt welcome and catered.
My children ate from a mixture of the kids menu and the adult menu. For example, every morning my son insisted on having dippy eggs and soldiers (an English kiddie breakfast item of toasted slices and semi-boiled eggs). My daughter preferred the adult version of oatmeal (with honey) to the children’s version of oatmeal (plain). The oatmeal, by the way, was delicious – cooked slowly on an Aga not the microwaved quick oats kind.
Is there anything more English than a steaming cup of Breakfast Tea?
After breakfast, the highlight of every day was feeding the chickens at 10AM and checking for eggs. My kids joined the children’s club members for this activity only. The children’s club at Fowey Hall Hotel is open for children up to 8 years old. It is in a separate building from the main hotel.
The kids received kites as welcome gifts which they were desperate to fly.
There is an early dinner time if you wanted to eat early. Even if we didn’t eat at the hotel, we would have snacks and cocktails (mocktails for the kids) in one of the warm and cozy lounges.
Every morning without fail, my children would run out the door and go on the zip wire. Seriously, they could not get enough of that zip wire. There was also footballs to kick around, little trampolines to bounce around, and a playground to explore.
The zip wire was a major hit with all the children, not just mine.
Luckily, the hotel provided Wellies (aka rain boots, gum boots etc) because my son had outgrown his pair from the last time he had worn them. He ran around the entire estate with his sister and the dog without ruining his trainers.
Little wellies that you can borrow by the front door.
Fowey Hall Hotel’s Location
Fowey Hall Hotel is located on a ridge above the charming Cornish harbour town of Fowey. The main town car park is located next to Fowey Hall. There are town buses down the hill and back up to this car park if you don’t feel like walking the steep 10 minutes into town. These buses (more like minivans) run every 15 minutes during the day.
The lawn at Fowey Hall is great for an impromptu football game.
The location above the town means Fowey Hall has a great view of the Fowey estuary. Mornings you can see the mist drift away and the town appear below you. At night, the town lights sparkle down the hill below you. The best place to see the sunset is the pool deck area.
We were in this little colonnade part with a lawn in front of us.
Visiting Fowey Hall Hotel
My children LOVED their stay at Fowey Hall Hotel which pretty much made their visit to Cornwall. They loved having (i) a zip wire outside their door, (ii) their dog with them, (iii) an indoor pool to play in and (iv) feeling like grown ups with their mocktails playing board games in a lounge in front of a glowing fire.
My husband and I enjoyed ourselves as well. We felt the hotel was very conveniently located for tourist attractions on the south coast of Cornwall. We liked the comfortable shabby-chic atmosphere of the hotel where our children and dog felt at home too.
From top clockwise (the side lawn, a fairy tree, the view over Fowey estuary and a snug nook in one of the lounges)
Unlike many other primary school children, our children had 2 weeks off for their October break. We stayed for 5 days in the week running up to the one week of that most children in the UK had. The beginning of our stay was quiet and peaceful with more adults than children. As our stay progressed, the hotel did have more children to stay. It did get noisier but we never felt overwhelmed by all the children. It helps that the hotel is huge!!
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Bodmin Jail in Cornwall likes to call itself the most haunted place in England. Considering the country has thousands of years of history with murder, mayhem and massacre galore (all of which could lead to ghost stories), this claim is pretty substantial. On the other hand, a woman I met had been to one of the paranormal evening events at Bodmin Jail where the leader brought out a ouija board. As anyone who has seen any movie with a ouija board knows, it is always a bad idea to consult a ouija board (especially in a haunted place). Not surprisingly, the ouija board spelled out a random name that the lady recognised and it completely freaked her out. We didn’t see any ghosts during our (daytime) visit to Bodmin Jail but we were left haunted by some of the stories of the prisoners the jail had housed.
Bodmin Jail is a partially restored former prison which is now open to visitors.
The History of Bodmin Jail
Bodmin Jail in Cornwall was an operational prison from 1779 to 1927. Like the Eastern State Penitentiary we went to in Philadelphia, it was built with lofty goals as a visionary forward-thinking place. For example, Bodmin Jail was the first British prison to hold prisoners in individual cells. As the years went on, these lofty goals went by the wayside.
In 1869, when the law changed so that you could no longer be put in prison for being in debt, Bodmin Jail had spare capacity. The jail gave a portion of its buildings to the Royal Navy to become a naval prison. During World War I, the prison housed some British treasures such as the Crown Jewels.
The thick stone walls meant the Jail was really cold.
Nowadays, Bodmin Jail is privately owned. The complex is enormous and only part of it is open as a museum, restaurant, cafe and obligatory gift shop. It is open for daytime visits and the occasional evening event (ghost walks, parties etc.). You can even get married at Bodmin Jail. I kid you not. You have a choice of a beautiful English countryside setting for your wedding or you can get married in a haunted jail. Nothing so queer as folk.
Bodmin Jail is only partially restored and the rest is still a crumbling wreck.
The Bodmin Jail Tour
The tour of Bodmin Jail gives you a good insight into how society worked in the 19th century. There was a strict adherence to the letter of the law. If you were a kid or an adult, stealing was considered stealing. It definitely did not matter that you were stealing because you were starving. All that liberal compassion came later in history.
The stories at Bodmin Jail left you under no illusion that life was anything but brutal for the poor. My children were shocked to learn that kids from those times were left homeless if their parents died. They had never considered that being a street urchin was preferable to living in a workhouse or orphanage.
The little kid on the right had to do hard labor for stealing celery.
There was a story of one 9 year old boy who was sentenced to death for stealing a tuppence (two pennies) worth of ink. He’d been living on the street since he was 6 years old. He begged and stole for food until he was eventually caught. Instead of the death sentence, he was sentenced to life transportation. It didn’t say where but presumably Australia.
Exhibits within Bodmin Jail
Some of the exhibits are not-very-scary figurines showing prisoners and the day-to-day life of the prisoners.
For example, this guy Samuel Glasson from Truro was sent to jail more times than anyone else in Cornwall. He spent a total of 11 years of his life in Bodmin Jail for various drunk and disorderly charges. He had never actually committed a felony crime but was a miserable drunkard who refused to go home quietly when asked to do so by the police.
Samuel Glasson had the distinction of eating 33 Christmas dinners in jail.
Some of the exhibits were more high-tech and involved holograms. I felt the most powerful exhibits were the photographs, especially of the children, who just leaked bleak and hopeless.
It was the general atmosphere that creeped the kids out more than this hologram.
Everyday Prison Life
Just because you weren’t executed, did not mean that you had an easy time in jail.
My kids were fascinated to learn that prisoners were only allowed to have a bath once every three months! Even they agreed that was gross.
A standard prison cell
The food was basic and barely enough to keep people alive. For the most part, the rations consisted of bread, gruel and cheese. If you were serving hard labor, you might get a few more ounces of food.
Hard labor was supposed to make you a better person and teach you the error of your ways. For example, women who were suspected of being prostitutes were put in jail and made to do hard labor. The jail had examples of women who had been incarcerated for 2-3 months of hard labor.
At Bodmin Jail, they had a treadmill which prisoners would walk on to create power for the jail’s corn mill. Prisoners would take turns – 15 minutes on the treadmill and 15 minutes picking apart old rope – for a total of 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. This resulted in each prisoner climbing 10,000 feet per day!! Talk about glutes of steel. The treadmill was only abolished in 1898.
This early day treadmill was a form of punishment. Now we use it for exercise!
The most famous ghost story involves a lady who killed her child. She was unmarried with two children out of wedlock at the age of 28. Her younger son was a cripple. She took up with a soldier who promised to marry her if she got rid of the younger son. So she threw the crippled son down a mine shaft. When the soldier was questioned, he was like all ‘huh??’ He claimed he had never promised marriage or asked her to get rid of her child. A jury took pity on her but a judge decided she should be put to death. She can be seen by children and pregnant women crying her way around the jail.
We thought this sign saying paranormal activity was coming soon was hilarious.
Along with ghosts of prisoners, people have said they have seen ghosts of former wardens and prison officers. Can you imagine coming back to haunt the place that you worked? For example, you could be stuck in a cubicle for your entire life and your afterlife!
Not Such a Pleasant Childhood
My kids pointed out that there were a lot of child killers at the prison. Without access to contraception, and limited other forms of recreation, children were a frequent occurrence in and out of marriage. One man was executed for killing his illegitimate child born to a woman who was helping his wife while the wife was pregnant with their 8th child.
A child’s room at Bodmin Jail
Children were kept in jail with their parents if they had nowhere else to go. If they were old enough, they were put to work doing hard labor or sent out to the quarries. The kids would get picked on by the guards and other inmates. Prison rations were barely enough and so adults would steal food from the children. It was just a battle for survival.
Hangings at Bodmin Jail
About 50 people were hanged at Bodmin Jail from 1785 to 1909.
You can see the town of Bodmin from Bodmin Jail
Before 1868, hangmen had to bring their own rope! Thousands of people would gather to watch a hanging. After the hanging, the hangman would cut off little bits of rope to sell as souvenirs. A hangman could make out very well when you added up his souvenir fees and his services fees. For example, in 1840, 20-25,000 people came to see a double hanging of two bothers. Public hangings were a spectacle – reality TV without the scripting.
See for yourself if you think Bodmin Jail could be the most haunted place in England
Visiting Bodmin Jail in Cornwall
Bodmin Jail reminds visitors that it is an all-weather activity. After all, in England the weather is never certain. We thought this jail was fascinating whether or not you go on a rainy day. Like a lot of places in Cornwall, this attraction is dog-friendly. On the other hand, Bodmin Jail is not wheelchair accessible and I would find it very difficult to navigate a baby buggy through some of the staircases.
Did you know that there was a smaller twin of the famous Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy in France on the English side of the Channel? Similar in shape to Mont Saint-Michel, St. Michael’s Mount is a rocky island topped with a castle. St. Michael’s Mount is one of the most famous sites in Cornwall, the southernmost county of England that juts westward into the Atlantic ocean. Although the family still have living quarters at the castle, the mount is now operated by the National Trust.
You can reach St. Michael’s Mount by walking along a granite sett causeway.
History of St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall
Edward the Confessor, King of England from 1044 to 1066, gave St. Michael’s Mount to the Benedictine monks of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy in the 11th century. St. Michael’s Mount was under the control of Mont Saint-Michel until another English king took it back during the Hundred Years War with France.
When the tide comes in, the little island is completely isolated by the sea.
Even though the St. Aubyn family have lived on the island since the 17th century, the story of St. Michael’s Mount predates them. The oldest part of the castle dates to the 12th century.
Cannons protecting this vital little island in the English channel.
My son was fascinated to learn that St. Michael’s Mount was swept by a tsunami in 1755. It was caused by an earthquake in Portugal 1000 miles away!
The Castle, Chapel and Gardens at St. Michael’s Mount
The St. Aubyn family still live in the castle on a lease back from the National Trust which maintains the property. The co-manage taking care of the historic rooms open to the public. As you would expect, the inside of the castle has lots of dark wood and traditional decor. The views from the windows are fantastic.
Here’s the front door to the Castle. Yes, it’s that steep.
Corridors lined with family photos.
The cosy reading nook is just fabulous.
The grand dining room. I can’t imagine that little fire would keep this room warm when the wind whips off the Atlantic.
I love the detail of this fireplace hearth.
A statue of the Archangel Michael to whom the mount is dedicated.
Beautiful stained glass windows in the chapel.
The subtropical gardens are open when the gardens are in bloom.
The subtropical gardens pretty much hang off the rocky surface of the Mount.
We wanted to know how anyone could possibly carry food and basic necessities up to the castle. It would be the perfect place for Amazon to drone drop their items. The National Trust guide told us there is a Victorian train that takes necessities up to the castle. You can see the train hidden behind the cafe near the base of the mount. It’s not so much a train as much as a wagon. On the other hand, it sure beats having to carry up luggage and groceries.
Tips for Visiting St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall
Despite having read about visiting St. Michael’s Mount, we found we were not prepared for the actual visit.
The Easy Part of visiting St. Michael’s Mount:
I found that the things I worried about were actually really easy.
- St. Michael’s Mount has a dedicated parking lot right in the little town of Marazion across from the causeway where you can park your car. National Trust members receive discounted parking.
- The walk across the causeway is very easy and takes about 10-15 minutes.
- Don’t worry so much about the tides coming in. Every National Trust member seemed to know the times of the tides for the day. There are placards placed around the site reminding you of the tides.
- There are places to eat and shop on St. Michael’s Mount. After our trek up the hillside, we treated ourselves to some delicious ice-cream. The Courtyard Shop has a well-curated collection of items I hadn’t seen elsewhere.
Tips for visiting St. Michaels Mount in Cornwall, the English counterpart to Mont St-Michel in France
Here’s what I wish I had known about visiting St. Michael’s Mount:
- Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes. Some of the stones underfoot really gouge into the soles of thin-soled shoes.
- Dogs are allowed only at the base of St. Michael’s Mount. The area is charmingly called the village and harbor. It is a more limited space than you would think because the walkway up to the castle is off-limits.
- I can not emphasise enough how much you should wear walking shoes. The path up to the Castle is NOT paved. My kids thought it was fun hopping from stone to stone. A well-dressed older gentlemen in front of us though went tumbling because his shoes did not have enough grip on the stones. We were lucky and went on a nice, dry day. I would imagine these stones would be trickier in wetter weather.
- The path up to the castle is pretty vertical. There are not even any front steps for this castle. You clamber up rocks to access it.
The castle looms over the mount.
- Obviously St. Michael’s Mount is not wheelchair or buggy friendly from what I have said. Even toddlers may find it challenging though. I know from my own kids that they when they were toddlers they just wanted to explore by themselves. You’ll need to keep a close eye on them because the stone pathways are not smooth. Even inside the castle, there’s lots of stairs which could present a problem.
- Right near the car park, there is a charming little playground for children to let off some steam.
- Marazion is a charming little town in its own right. It’s got restaurants, cafes and benches that overlook St Michael’s Mount. With the sun glistening of the water and the rocks, it’s a view that you really can’t get tired of.
These men were out crabbing when the tide was out.
- Like other places we found in Cornwall, St. Michael’s Mount is closed on a Saturday.
We thought St. Michael’s Mount was beautiful and lived up to expectations. When the tide is out, the beach is flat and great for children to play. When the tide is in, you can really see the beauty of the little isolated island castle.