A big thank you to Country Walkers for providing this adventure, as always, all opinions are our own.
When is an island not an island?
Perhaps when there is a cobblestone path leading to it.
Considering our first view of St Michael’s Mount at the end of our coast to coast trek over St. Michael’s Way, it was hard to imagine that we would be able to walk to the mountain we saw rising out of the sea about a half mile offshore.
The thought was so intriguing, and the castle topped hill so inviting, that we could hardly wait. However, the tide, which can run as high as twenty feet in Cornwall, insisted that we wait until the morning.
The mount has been the site of legends and lore, as well as a prized piece of real estate, for thousands of years.
There is evidence of inhabitants as far back as 5000 BC, and by the time of Christ this may have already been a major port for shipping tin from nearby mines.
Around the year 500 AD it is said that the Archangel Michael appeared sitting upon the summit to guide boats through a storm, giving the mount its name. A few hundred years later monks laid claim to it and a series of monasteries followed.
Somewhere between Michael and the monastery, the giant Cormoran was said to rule the mountain. The monster terrorized the region, stealing livestock and eating children until a young man named Jack had had enough.
Sneaking up the hill one night, Jack dug a pit, lured Cormoran into it, and disposed of the menace with a pickaxe to the head. Gruesome and effective!
The feat earned him the name Jack the Giant Killer. While very similar stories, we learned that this was not the same Jack that climbed the beanstalk.
For centuries St Michael’s Mount was sought as a stronghold by a string of various British royals and nobility, until around 1650 when the St Aubyn family moved in. Now it is managed by the National Trust, but the family continues to hold forth in the castle.
With our history lesson learned, and a good night’s rest in the picturesque town of Marazion behind us, we were ready to walk on water. But alas, no need. The tide had receded and a granite causeway had appeared.
Arriving at the fortified entrance to the village by the mount’s harbor, we were met with an unhappy revelation. It was Saturday, and the castle is always closed on Saturdays in order to give the St Aubyns a day away from the crowds.
Disappointed that we would not be able to climb to the top, we made the best of it and found that there was a lot to be discovered down at the base of the hill.
Our exploration began by walking around the port, which was bone dry because of the huge tide. Even though we had seen this at several places around Cornwall, it still seemed strange to see boats sitting on the dry bottom of the bay.
The lack of water made the stone sea walls look more like a fort than a breakwater. At the stairway up to the entrance we looked down and found a bronze footprint of Queen Victoria commemorating her visit in 1846.
Up near the walkway entrance we discovered that Queen Elizabeth & Prince Philip, as well as Prince Charles & Camilla, also have their footprints immortalized in metal.
A little village is clustered around the waterfront, so we walked the cobblestone streets up and down… both of them. It didn’t take long, especially since it was Saturday and none of the island’s handful of shops or cafes were open.
Undaunted, we poked around and found some interesting features.
The mount actually has a subway built to haul things up to the castle. It’s not something they advertise to tourists, but by standing on our tiptoes we could see it hidden behind a fence.
The single car looks a bit like a coffin on wheels and dates back to Victorian times. For some reason, they chose to dig a tunnel instead of going overland, so it makes the entire trip underground.
Passing a row of homes, obviously inhabited, aroused our curiosity as to who lived here. We speculated that they must be people who work up in the castle, or perhaps own the businesses.
At the end of the road we found a lychgate leading to the parish cemetery. The misty gray day seemed perfectly fitting for the scene of moss covered headstones and Cornish Crosses.
Perhaps it was a day like this that inspired director John Badham to use St Michael’s Mount as the setting for his 1979 movie version of Dracula.
On our way out we were surprised to see an unexpected car pulling through the entrance gate of the causeway. The gatekeeper was standing by so we inquired and he filled us in on a few interesting tidbits and confirmed some of our theories.
Cars and small trucks are permitted to drive across the walkway, but only for delivering items to the homes and shops, and only for boat owners or people who live on the island.
The population is currently about thirty five people, in addition to the St Aubyn family, and he was quick to add that he was not one of them. Normally he works on the mainland and was just filling in.
Residents must work on the island, no vacation homes or getaways here and, not that we were in the market, out of curiosity we asked if there are any rentals. No Air B&B allowed, there is no way a tourist can stay the night.
Even though our timing was bad for seeing the castle, and the weather didn’t really cooperate as far as getting good shots of the mountain, we walked back to Marazion ahead of the tide happy that we had made the pilgrimage.
On the train to London the next day we met Matt Thatcher, a student who is also a photographer. When he showed us his shot of the mountain crowned by the Milky Way we were blown away and had to ask if we could share it. He was happy to oblige.
Seeing his shot we could tell why people felt there was an angelic presence on the mount.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com