A picturesque castle on an island in the middle of a bay? What more could you want?
St Michael’s Mount with its hilltop castle and surrounding gardens is delicately perched in the bay parallel with the village of Marazion, near Penzance.
The castle and the island around it has existed in many forms, originating as a priory for a group of monks who came over from Mont St Michel. This is a similar affair, with a monastery built on an island off the coast of Normandy, France. These fellows came over in the early 12th century and built a church in 1135. Said church still exists today, although I image it looks rather different from the original as it was largely rebuilt in the 14th century and further renovations have occurred since then.
From the time of the monks, the island with its remarkable castle has changed hands several times, but now belongs to the St Aubyn family who took over the property in 1659.
Around 30 people currently live on the island, with the majority of their lives revolving around the weather and tides.
The harbour has been in use for maybe over 2000 years, primarily being used for trade and fishing. The pier originally dates from the 15th century, being enlarged in 1823. The harbour remains full of boats, and there’s even an amphibious vehicle tucked around the corner.
The walk up from the little village takes you through some of the gardens on the south side of the island and up the old cobbled path to the castles front door.
Legend has it that at one point a giant named Cormoran lived on the island, stealing livestock from the local farmers to eat. He continued to terrorise the locals, until a young lad named Jack decided to dig a big pit, lure the giant down the hill until he fell in it. Jack then filled in the pit with Cormoran at the bottom. The giants heart can still be found amongst the cobbles of the path.
The ‘pit’, or well, that exists today was really the source of water for the islanders until about 100 years ago.
The walk up to the castle offers some pretty spectacular views of the bay, Marazion and down to Penzance.
There is an underground railway that comes up to the castle from the harbour; built around 1900 by local miners, this is still used to transport goods. The gun batteries along the rim of the mount was installed in the 18th century.
The garden on the Mount is pretty spectacular and were actually designed to be viewed from above as well as on ground level. It’s maintained by a team of four gardeners, who do an amazing job at keeping the garden is good condition. This even involves some abseiling down from the castle battlements to the higher garden tiers. During WWII a number of pillboxes were built on the Mount to serve as look out posts in case of German invasion.
The inside of the house is as beautifully decorated as is expected. The crest of the St Aubyn family can be found on the wall on entry to the property and there are wonderful views of the church from all sides, complete with extravagant stained glass windows. Other rooms include St John’s room, the library, smoking room, blue drawing room, map room, garrison room, museum room and the east wing were the family still live.
The Mount is now a National Trust property, so while it is free to access the main village, if you want to go up and into the castle and/or gardens it’ll cost you (unless you’re a member)
Accessing the island itself is either via the uneven cobbled causeway that becomes visible at low time, or by taking the seasonal boats across (for a cost). Please check the tide times prior to visiting.