Our visit to St Michael’s Mounts took advantage of the gentler pace of life that arrived along with autumn in Cornwall. Autumn is such a special time of year – the days are still warm and those special spots are far less crowded – just right for a visit in fact!
St Michael’s Mount – a long overdue visit
Our visit to St Michael’s Mount was long overdue! We set off from the car park in Folly fields to find the boat landing stage in use that day. (This depends on the state of the tide. We could see boats heading beyond Chapel rock to the Gwelvas landing beside Marazion harbour)
There was an empty boat waiting at the end of the alley below the Godolphin Arms and our adventure began.
Marazion and St Michael’s Mount are one of the first stops on The Penwith Tour that explores the Peninsular. Part of the adventure is to explore the fortification, a hilltop castle and today’s historic home.
The Harbour – a wonderful way to visit St Michael’s Mount
It a thrill to arrive by sea, when the Mount is truly an island. It feels rather like arriving for a holiday, with the French influence gives it a “Not quite British feel”
Climbing the Mount
The path climbs fairly steeply in broad steps to reach a beautifully constructed cobbled paths culminating in a rocky outcrop to clamber across near to the summit and to find the first battery of guns. Look out for the Giants heart set amongst the stones on the route.
The Mount was said to the home one of Cornwall’s giants Cormoran – a mythical race of near humans also found in Wales and Brittany. Cormoran met his end at the hands of Jack the Giant killer who dug a pit to trap him – his remains are said to be at the bottom of the well still
As we climbed, the spectacular views back to the mainland began to be revealed and the harbour was left fairytale like, far below us now. The Mainland! (We were already thinking as island folk as we stood now 230 feet above sea level) Marazion left far behind now and then Cudden point to our right with to our left the ageless marshes gently encircling the long sandy beach that stretches to Penzance, Finally the fishing ports of Newlyn and Mousehole.
The world of our everyday lives from this new privileged perspective was fascinating. And yes, we could feel an almost palpable sense of peace about this ancient place where the ley lines cross.
Visiting the castle on St Michael’s Mount
The Tudor doorway
The West Doorway heralded the beginning of our visit to the Castle’s interior
The Castles earlier fortifications – won from the very rock of Cornwall has been cleverly adapted to make a home. Now imressively dressed in country houe styleit is a very grand home but a home nonetheless.
Sir John’s room
Quintessentially Victorian although set in a room dating from the mid-sixteenth century.
Sir John’s room was still in use as a study until the 1980’s – I could picture the “old” Lord spending many happy hours in this comfortable, humanly scaled room, pouring over his books and papers.
The former kitchens are now a cosy booked lined room dressed in perfect country house style
The Chevy Chase room
This is the former refectory for the priory. The accomplished plaster frieze was added in 16th Century when it become the “Great Hall” for the castle. The dining room is rarely used now, because of the great distance from the kitchens.
The Butlers Pantry or Smoking room
Formally the Garderobe (a sort of early Loo discharging from the castle walls) with a lovely slate floored window Now filled with intriguing cases of miniatures – I spotted a seal awarded to the Abbess.
The South terrace
Somehow we were effortless guided by The National Trust from the castle out on to the South Terrace.
The vantage point of the terrace gives a wonderful views down over the gardens. We had enjoyed our visit to the gardens last spring
The Priory Church
A short flight of stone steps took us to the North terrace and into the beautiful Medieval church. The Priory Church was originally built by Bernard le Bec the Abbot of Mont-St-Michel in Normandy in 1335. The church was extensive rebuilt in the 14th century with further renovations in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries
We sat and listened to the Plainsong chants in this chapel of simple stone walls set with glowing stained glass windows. We were reluctant to leave the aura of peace it instilled.
I remembered my last visit to St Michael’s Mount as a young teenager in the 70’s. Then the guide had told a story of a giant found entombed within the walls and also I also remembered something about very fine blue glass in the windows.
Giant or Anchorite?!
“Yes a skeleton of a man, who was over six feet tall, was found behind the cupboard where the monks stored the altar plate!”
Guide on St Michael’s Mount
- He may have been an Anchorite.
- An Anchorite is one who elects to be entombed
- They would enter the cell, accompanimied by “The offices of the dead” (usually said by the Bishop,) before being walled in
The guide pointed us towards a huge mug found with the skeleton that now hangs in the Chevy Chase room. Intregued, I managed to take a snap, through one of those plunging spiral staircases that dissect the walls of the castle.
The Blue Drawing room
Such an elegant room as befits a room where Queen Victoria was entertained by the housekeeper when she visited to find the family “Not at home” Access is limited to the doorway of the Blue drawing room now because of the weakness in the joist. This set of rooms designed and furnished in the 1750’s by the 4th Sir John St Aubyn. The present Queen signed the visitors book there when she visited in 2013 – at last they were “At home”
The Blue Drawing room(s) was created in the former 15th century Lady Chapel that was used by pilgrims and interestingly the ley line runs straight through here not through the main chapel.
Onward through the interior of the Castle
Our route then followed the opulence of the Victorian interior, lined with grand Oils of former Lords and Ladies. There is though a portrait of Dolly Pentreath the last Cornish Speaker. (Read more about the life of Dolly Pentreath and her last resting place in the the Penwith Tour II
We continued to what I would like to call the Armoury but The Museum room is a former kitchen.
The Map room
Our guest have often said they found Ednovean Farm on the map, so we spent some time studying the maps on display. Our reward came at last in the vast 1756 map, in the final anteroom, mentioning the name Ednovean!
A late lunch!
We had promised ourselves lunch as a treat in the Sail loft restaurant on the way home so we settled amongst the well preserved buildings at the foot of the mount to watch the world go by, setting off to put the first foot at the bottom of the slope that led to the castle on the Mount and realised why we were so hungry – it was three o’ clock! The time had flown by and we had been so intrigued that all thoughts of food had been forgotten.
Our visit to St Michael’s Mount – a wonderful memory
We sometimes sit on one of little coves around Mounts Bay, watching the Mount and remember our visit!
St Michael’s Mount – From pagan shore to monastic island
St Michael’s Mount has an ancient Cornish name – “Karrek Loos yn Koos”. This refers to a time before the sea submerged the swampy forest to form Mounts Bay.
The journey to the St Michael’s Mount today encompasses the long history! It started with the pagan legends of giants long before a pilgrim’s path followed the tidal causeway to the island. Finally the monastic island where the archangel St Michael’ was said to have appeared to the fishermen, evolved to a castle and home.
One legend claims the Mount as the island of Ictus where tin was said to be traded with the Phoenicians and by 1727 the harbour on St Michael’s Mount was improved to become a thriving sea port until rivalled by improvements to the bigger harbour in Penzance.
The houses that skirt the harbour today are just the remains of what was once a thriving village. There was a population of 200 people within the fifty three houses, four streets, three public houses, three schools and a Wesleyan Chapel. When the railway was extended into Penzance in 1852 the population dispersed which finally led to most of the houses being demolished
St Michael’s Mount – an evolving name
The Cornish name Cara Clowse in Cowse (The Hoare Rock in the Wood) was recorded in 1602; Carrack Looes en Coos (A Hoary or venerable Rock in the wood or forest) by the late 17th Century Carrel loes yn coes (Grey rock in the wood)
St Michael (the Archangel) was believed to have appeared here in A.D 710 one of three ancient apparitions and the name “Sanctus Michael beside the sea” and “The Mount of Sanctus Michael of Cornwall” followed with a more French form after the donation of the Mount and the Priory probably by Edward the Confessor in 1030 of Mount Mychell, le Mont Myghellmont 1478 Synt Mychell Mount 1479