MY ST. MICHAEL’S MOUNT TRIP, YOU’LL LOVE IT!
I’ve been taking a couple of weeks off work (and Facebook) for my family summer vacation in St Mawes, Cornwall. 🙂 🙂 🙂
The summer weather in July this year has been absolutely fabulous!! Believe it or not, it has been at least a decade since I last took a two week England holiday and it has not rained once or even been partly cloudy, just clear blue skies all day and every day!! …I could almost forget that I was still in England..haha! 😉
In fact, England has been basking in a heatwave for what seems like weeks now, and I am so thankful to be spending my vacation nearby the sea for its cool breezes. 🙂
I’m not one for lazing on a beach for the entire day (I’d get bored) so I like to go see and do things. I have been visiting numerous Cornish attractions and resorts most days. Clocking up too many miles driving, but everywhere is so picturesque in Cornwall.
Yesterday, I visited to St Michael’s Mount. It is only a few miles out of Penzance, and not that far by car from the The Lizard peninsula. It was an easy drive coming from Falmouth via Helston.
I had always wanted to go see St Michael’s Mount again, because when I last visited back in my teens the weather was really terrible and the low tide was not in sync with our time at Marazion, Cornwall.
I recall the sea was too uninviting to go the short distance across to the Mount by motorboat, and the waters were still too high to walk across the stone causeway and follow in the footsteps of so many pilgrims before us. But this year the everything was just perfect for my visit!
I left my fav aunt sitting on the sandy Marazion beach reading her Rosamunde Pilcher romance book, while my sister and I took the small motorboat (adult £2) across. The tide had already turned on our outward journey, so we anticipated that the sea will have gone down enough to be able to paddle back on the stone causeway…more about that later!
There was no waiting for the motorboat, there were a half dozen boats continuously ferrying tourists to and from the Mount harbor. My boat was filled with Chinese students all doing their Europe trip, and posing for photos to post on RenRen…the Chinese version of Facebook! I got a chance to practice some basic Mandarin that I have been learning, albeit very slowly!
The sea water was crystal clear and I could see the sandy bottom and the submerged stone causeway as we zigzagged and bobbed up and down above it. We soon arrived at the Mount harbor steps.
First impressions, this craggy island idyll looked like it was going to be worth the expense and to splash out to buy the guidebook…which I suggest you speed read before you begin your climb or you’ll miss seeing many interesting things.
My sister is still on crutches from a knee fracture she acquired while gardening, and the stone cobbled paths meant she had to take extra care walking. The path up to the castle becomes steep in places, but it doesn’t take long to reach the summit. My sister made it ok, and then said the climb up wasn’t as challenging as she had imagined it would be.
On the path up, there are many great vantage points to take in the commanding views of the Cornish coast and Mount’s Bay, but they’re nothing compared to what you’ll see when you get to peer over the battlements right at the top. The views in all directions are quite spectacular, especially on sunny days when the sea is totally calm and it is not hazy on the horizon.
Half way to the summit, and I nearly overlooked the tiny dark heart-shaped cobblestone that is the heart of the mythical giant of the Mount. Legend says that the giant called Cormoran is said to have lived in a cave at the top of the rock and used to wade ashore and steal cattle, until one night he was lured into a pit (where the Well now is) and slain by a young lad called Jack. I stopped to feel the giant’s heartbeat…and my own!
OK, now that I’m talking about the history of St Michael’s Mount, I’ll be an anorak for the next segment of this post. As you can imagine this place has had a long history attached to it…but I’ll whiz through to the juicy bits! 🙂
St Michael’s Mount History
The Mount was created approx 275 Million years ago when the Cornubian Batholith was formed following the cooling of magma or molten rock resulting from the collision of the earth’s tectonic plates. The batholith is the granite spine, rich in minerals that also runs along most of the length of Devon and Cornwall.
Flint arrowheads which possibly date back as far as 7000-4000 BC have been found, evidence that the Mount had been used by hunters.
The guide book mentions that around 2000 BC the Mount’s Bay area was mainly a marshy forest, but during the Bronze Age (2000 – 800 BC) the Mount became a center of trade and an early settlement because many artifacts discovered can be dated to the latter part of this period. It is also possible that the Mount continued to be used as a port throughout the Romano-British period (Ictis – 400 BC – 400 AD).
The church on the summit of the island has some religious roots. It was built after the Norman invasion in 1135 when St Michael’s Mount was granted to the Benedictine Abbey of Mont Saint-Michael in France.
However, it is speculated that during the Dark Ages (400 – 1000) the island became a Christian citadel, and there has been physical evidence of a possible pre-Norman monastery here too. Inside the church there is a modern bronze figure of St Michael and the stained glass windows are early 12th century.
In 1193, Henry de la Pomeray (an ally of Prince John) seized the Mount while King Richard I, the Lionheart was on the continent during the Third Crusade. When the King returned and John was seeking a pardon for trying to muscle in on his brother’s throne, Henry refused to surrender back the Mount. In the face of hopeless odds and overwhelming forces sent by the King to retake the Mount, Henry killed himself and bequeathed the island to the monks of St Michael’s Mount.
During the next few centuries control was steadily relinquished, what with with Hundred Years’ War with France, Wars of the Roses and Civil War, to the start of English Reformation. Suffice to say, St Michael’s Mount changed hands a few times, and the last monks had long ago packed their bags in 1548.
When you are up on the battlements and see all the cannons, you do wonder what part did the Mount play when the Spanish Armada sailed past Mount’s Bay in 1588. The guidebook mentions,.. the beacon on top of the church tower was the first to be lit in a chain that stretched along the south coast of England to alert London of the Armada’s arrival.
The guidebook also mentions that the cannons have been used in serious action against a French frigate during the Napoleonic Wars.
Elizabeth I sold the Mount in 1599, and over the next century it was repeatedly bought and sold and then passed down the St Aubyn family for many, many generations, including to today’s 12th generation.
Over history the Mount has survived an major earthquake (1275) in medieval times, and a 3 meter high tsunami caused by the Great Lisbon Earthquake on 1st November 1755 which caused extensive damage in the harbor area of St Michael’s Mount.
In a more recent period of English history, most of St Michael’s Mount was given to the National Trust by the 3rd Lord of St Levan, but retained on a 999 year lease so the 12th generation St Aubyn family (currently James St Aubyn and his wife Mary Bennett) can continue to live in the castle just as the family have done since the 17th century.
My Quick Personal Guide To St Michael’s Castle
On the path up to the fairy tale castle there is much evidence of fortifications that would have been used during the English Civil War.
I also noticed vertical stone work which is typical of the period.
As you tour round the castle there are quite a few interesting things to see, the Chevy Chase room (not named after the American Actor) has a plaster frieze of hunting scenes that runs all round the room.
There are also some interesting stained glass windows with two roundels depicting heaven and hell. There are quite a few portraits in the rooms, but I’m not a big fan of 16th-17th century portraiture as the paintings always lack smiles.
When you are on the roof terrace there is a sheer 200 feet drop to some sub-tropical gardens below.
Sadly, these were not open on the day of my visit.
The southern side has its own micro climate because I could see exotic and unexpected succulents flourishing below.
Coming down from the Mount seemed quick and easy, even for my sister on crutches! We made for the shop to buy some postcards, gifts and Cornish Mead.
We had about a 30 minute wait for the sea level to drop to below knee height so we could be like pilgrims and walk back on the stone causeway to the the sandy shore, and to be reunited with auntie for cream teas and a look in the nearby gift shops.
The sea was freezing, but walking barefoot on stones made it feel much colder than it actually was!
I’d certainly recommend a visit to the top of St Michael’s Mount, you could actually be there all day!
The weather was perfect during my visit, but I can imagine it would be a little blustery at the summit if visiting on days when the weather is not so good.
You can dig more information about St Michael’s Mount on the National Trust website http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk
…and visit the local Marazion site to check the tide time predictions if you want to walk across to St Michael’s Mount: http://www.marazionguide.com
HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!! 🙂