There's something very intriguing about a castle built on an island, and St Michaels Mount is certainly a very unique place to visit. It is usually a favourite place to go whenever I have visitors to stay as it has broad appeal and is always very memorable.
Plan the timing of your visit carefully
If you particularly want to walk across the causeway of rough cobbles, you need to plan your visit for low tide; otherwise opt for the short boat ride across. Either way it is quite an adventure. The granite causeway is a 5-10 minute walk and starts from the beach near the Godolphin Arms Hotel. Otherwise, the boats cross from three different points along Marazion Bay, running between the small island harbour and various car parks.
The boat currently costs £2 for adults, on top of the admission fee to the island charged by the National Trust. You can choose to visit the gardens only (£3.50), the house (£7.50) or both (£9.25) which I would recommend as great value for money.
The first surprise is that on arrival, the tiny harbour is the centre of a small village community. This was where the workers on the estate, boatmen and gardeners would have lived along with local fishermen. The cottages now house the lovely Sail Loft Restaurant, which is licensed and serves excellent Cornish fare. There are also gift shops selling National Trust souvenirs as well as local artworks and crafts.
Zigzag up to the castle
Access to the castle itself is up a zigzagging footpath through the subtropical gardens. They are beautifully planted on the steep rocky slopes. Part way up the footpath look for a huge stone on one side, known as the Giant's Heart. If you are wondering how all the supplies are carried up to the castle, the tour guide tells you about the underground tram that links the harbour with the house!
A guided tour is the best way to learn about the history of the castle / fortified home which is truly fascinating and has witnessed a great deal of historical events since it was first built in the 12th century. The island has withstood an earthquake, tsunami, sieges and the Civil War. It was the site of a beacon which would have been lit to forewarn of the approach of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Some of the things that stick in my mind from my visit are the suits of armour and weapons on display and the beautiful stained glass windows. Parts of the house are very mediaeval and castle-like while other rooms depict the comfortable home of an aristocratic family. Some of the rooms have unusual “church-shaped” doorways, as this was once a priory and place of pilgrimage, similar to Mont Saint-Michel off the coast of Normandy in France. The 15th century Priory Church is part of the tour and has a fabulous stained glass rose window and a lantern cross.
There is a library, fascinating map room, portrait gallery of the St Aubyn family and the Chevy Chase room with wonderful hunting scenes in the ceiling frieze.
St Michaels Mount is still a family home
After exploring the furnished rooms of this amazing castle, which is still the home of Baron St Levan and the St Aubyn family, climb the turret or explore the World War II Pill Boxes in the gardens. New discoveries continue to be made and a Bronze Age hoard of an axe head, dagger and clasp was found in 2009 and is now on display.
I really enjoyed the sea views from the castle battlements and exploring the tiered gardens which had to be selectively planted with flowers to endure the rocky ground and salt-laden sea air. Apparently, some areas of the gardens have to be tended by abseiling gardeners! The gorgeous views of the bay and Marazion extend as far as Lamorna and the Lizard Peninsula on a clear day.
St Michael's Mount is one of 43 tidal islands around the UK which can be accessed across a causeway at low tide. Have you visited any others? Did you find the island experience extra special or romantic?