Question – who here likes a castle on a hill? Especially an isolated castle on a hill? I know I certainly do. For one thing, it appeals to the rich hermit that lives in me. For another, there is always the possibility of ghosts, and even though I don’t believe in them, I still hold out a tiny tiny sliver of hope to see one. So when the train pulled into the Penzance station and I saw St Michael’s Mount framed against the horizon, I knew that I had to visit this place.
St. Michael’s Mount sits on craggy tidal island in Cornwall, England. It’s believed that the site started as a monastery sometime during the 8th to 11th century. By the 11th century, it became the Cornish twin to the French Mont Saint-Michel when it was given over to the Benedictines. In the mid-13th century, the original building was destroyed by an earthquake so of the buildings we see today, parts of them date back to the rebuilding that took place in the 14th century. In the 15th century, when England went to war against France, St. Michael’s Mount had its connections to Mont Saint-Michel severed by Henry V.
One of the best things about St. Michael’s Mount is how to get there. During high tide, there are boats to take you across to the 15th century harbour. Or if you wait for low tide, you can walk across! From the little town of Marazion near Penzance, there is a granite man-made causeway that leads directly to the island. Once there, a path through the gardens and several historical structures takes you up to the medieval doorway of the castle. There are a number of rooms which you’re allowed to visit but you can’t really explore the nooks and crannies, unfortunately. It is understandable, though – if I owned this place, I wouldn’t let random tourists touch my 18th century books or sit on my 16th century furniture either! Speaking of owners, the castle is run by the National Trust but the St. Aubyn family who has owned it since the late 1600s retains a 999-year lease to inhabit it. Lucky people…
Inside the castle, you’ll see all sorts of things including plaster frieze depicting hunting scenes, stained glass that date back to the 1500s, armour and weapons from various places around the world, and a pretty fantastic wood ceiling in one room. But no ghosts. St. Michael’s Mount had more than its fair share of devious politics, strict religion, and bloody war – you’d think there’d be a ghost or two. Unluckily, I didn’t see any…
The fact that I didn’t find a ghost was more than made up for once I stepped out on to the terraces of the castle walls. The panoramas of the water and the Cornish landscape was phenomenal. The gardens around the castle were pretty awesome as well – I’d be a gardener if my work location was on a cliff at a sea’s edge! There are also canons so you can pretend to fight the pirates attacking Marazion and Penzance, if you’d like.
All in all, St. Michael’s Mount is a pretty neat place for those who enjoy architecture, history, and landscapes. And if you are a photographer, you’d also have a great time out here!
Have you been to Mont St. Michel? How does it compare to St. Michael’s Mount?