A castle on an ancient bit of rock in the sea, accessible only at low tide when the water draws back to reveal a causeway of granite cobbles. A giant slain by a young boy, his heart preserved as a stone in a footpath. St. Michael’s Mount bears mythical status, and as you gather on the shore, perhaps wandering among washed-up seaweed, it is easy to understand why.
We diligently checked the tides at Marazion Beach the day before our trip from Penzance to the Mount in order to time our arrival accordingly. The sea of course does not strictly abide by the tide tables, so we turned up on the shore at Mount’s Bay early in the morning to still water and the mount a silver shadow in the mists. Slowly, almost indiscernibly, the water of the English channel receded over the course of an hour to at last expose the tidal walkway.
The briny air cleared our lungs as we joined others on the slick causeway, clumps of seaweed lining the walk. St. Michael’s Mount boasts a castle, chapel, and gardens today, but its roots as a monastery may stretch back as far as the 8th century.
The entrance fee to the castle (£10.50 at the time of writing) is worth it. (There is a separate fee to access the gardens, but we skipped this part.) We were prepared to climb, following a winding cobbled trail through garden and forest up to the top of the mount. I kept a sharp eye out for a heart-shaped stone set in the path, purported to be the heart of the giant slain by the boy who would come to be known as Jack. Blink, and you’ll miss it.
The Mount is layered with history. The castle, dating from the 1400s, has been home to the St. Aubyn family since the 17th century. It has absorbed earlier buildings, including an older castle; the Mount’s chapel has been used for worship since the 12th century.
And its colourful residents have certainly left their mark. The castle and priory church are home to art and artifacts ranging from the awe-inspiring (500-year-old carvings of biblical scenes, a tidal clock, an underground railroad) to the weird (a mummified cat, a model of the Mount made with corks, a brass imprint of Queen Victoria’s footprint when she visited). It took us a good half a day to do the castle and some of the grounds, taking it in at a leisurely pace.
We opted to walk back across the causeway to have our lunch in Marazion, the town on shore. We asked a local where we could find the best Cornish pasties, those hand pies filled with delicately spiced meats and herbed potatoes and vegetables. His advice? “Walk up the road and follow your nose to Philp’s!” Said directions allowed us to navigate with no difficulty to Philp’s Pasties, where we ordered a minced beef and a steak pasty for takeaway. These we took on a walk along the town’s shoreline, where we found a bench overlooking the Mount from a vantage point. It was the perfect place (and view) to enjoy our piping hot pasties.
St. Michael’s Mount has withstood the ravages of time and seen its share of motley visitors and residents in its more than 1000 years of existence. It has suffered soldiers their battles, heard the chants of monks, hosted an apparition of St. Michael himself. Like the way the outline of the Mount blurs with the sea in heavy mist, it can sometimes be hard to know where history ends and the myth begins.