St Michael’s Mount
There is something rather special about a tidal island and St Michael’s Mount near Marazion is one of the most famous. A man-made granite causeway provides access to the 57-acre craggy rock topped with an imposing medieval castle, church and harbour community. The island is home to the St Aubyn family and managed by the National Trust. The causeway is open to pedestrians for about four hours in each 12-hour tidal period. At other times, a boat service is in operation.
The steep granite slopes are covered in terraces creating a remarkable coastal garden with breathtaking views and no shortage of summer colour. Although the climate is mild and frost-free, only the hardiest plants survive the salty winds and arid conditions. Cobblestone footpaths spiral around the island and are lined with rock plants, aloe, arid-loving agave, puya and bromeliads on the warm West Terraces. Herbs such as lavender and rosemary thrive on the Mount along with blue agapanthus, acid yellow coronilla and trailing rock plants. In sheltered areas there are colourful pelargoniums, gazanias and lithodoras along with pocket-sized lawns sheltered by stone walls.
The trail of discovery climbs 61 metres (200 feet) to the historic castle with its turrets, towers and battlements. The Bottom Walled Garden has bay and fuchsia plantings while the Middle Walled Garden is planted with silver green foliage and waving prairie-style grasses. Look out for the golden blooms of the Medicago Arborea, used in the wedding bouquet of the first Lady Levan and all family bridal sprays ever since. After a breathless climb, the Top Walled Garden with its red brick walls is planted with sea-like waves of pericallis, parahebe and pelargoniums. The garden was created by the four daughters of the 4th Sir John and includes a summerhouse for enjoying panoramic sea views.
The castle itself was built on the site of an 8th Century Benedictine monastery and was a sister priory to the French Mont Saint-Michel, which is remarkably similar although considerably larger. The current buildings date back to the 12th Century when it was a Benedictine monastery and place of pilgrimage. Following the Dissolution of Monasteries Act (1536) the island passed through various owners until it was bought by Col. John St Aubyn in 1659. His descendants, the Lords St Levan, still live in parts of the historic castle. Their provisions are brought to the island by boat and transported to the house via an underground narrow gauge railway, the only one of its kind in the UK, sadly not open to the public.
Tours of the castle start with the portcullis and servants’ quarters and take in centuries-old paneled corridors, a Great Hall and Garrison. Cosy sitting rooms are crammed with antiques, artworks, imposing fireplaces, coats of arms, muskets, suits of armour and curiosities. As the rooms unfold you can see the many purposes of this castle as it evolved from religious monastery and fortified castle to unique family home. There is a separate chapel, still in regular use, with 500-year-old alabaster bible carvings and a 15th Century Lantern Cross.
A visit to St Michael’s Mount provides a unique treat which is always enjoyable. Although it does require a certain degree of fitness!
For information on all of our current tours please click on the link:
Images credit: Eliza Ford, Visit Britain