Cornwall’s Floating Castle: St Michael’s Mount
The image of a floating castle by the sea first entered my vision many years ago, when I first visited France. It was my parent’s backpacking trip to Western Europe and they somehow had the tenacity to carry along an unruly eight-year-old. While the spotlight was reserved on the most popular, “had to tick it off the list” attractions, their interest in history also took them to Normandy and the D-day beaches. Frankly, I don’t remember much of it: my most enduring memory probably when I managed to drop my book into a (thankfully clean) toilet…
Nevertheless, it was on that journey when I first saw Mount St. Michel, the island monastery and city separated by the tide that had become one of France’s most recognised landmarks. Approaching on the causeway from France, I remember imagining how people’s lives would have been, limited yet protected by the changing tides. A perfect, picturesque little kingdom for myself.
Little did I know then that Mount St. Michel had a British (Cornish, to be precise) counterpart. While summer is now long behind us and these travelogues way overdue, it’s time to travel to the edge of Britain, to Cornwall and St. Michael’s Mount.
I travelled with my parents as it was in France, although many years on the role of navigator had been overtaken by me… instructing the sat-nav. As we approached Marazion, the village opposite St. Michael’s, it is clear why it did not feature on my parent’s European itinerary. While the island certainly provoked sentiments of a peaceful and beautiful England, compared to its French counterpart, it lacked the grandeur and was situated at a far-flung corner of the British Isles. While St. Michael’s was also conceived as a priory, Reformation on this side of the Channel saw the priory seized by the Crown and converted, eventually into a relatively simple family home. Which was still a mansion, although now under the wing of the National Trust.
As a tidal island, St. Michael’s was linked to the Cornish mainland through a causeway that disappears intermittently under the water. We arrived for lunch, picking a nice pub that overlooked the causeway. Throughout lunch a marvellous scene directed by the tide unfolded: at starter time the beach remained accessible by holidaymakers, yet by the end of the main course they had become completely submerged; the whole spectacle may have only taken an hour or so. Fortunately, unlike my previous visit to a tidal island there were no plans to walk across the sand, and in the comfort of a boat we arrived onto the shores in no time.
And that was worth it. The ‘house’ on St. Michael’s may have been less prominent, but it also felt more homely. Fewer tourists, less traffic, instead of rows of shops there were gardens, beautifully-tended. A trail leads from the jetty through the gardens towards the house, much like castles in fairytales; and once you get there, and all the way onto the uppermost tower, the view was stunning. As I gazed out into the surrounding seas, the Ghibli film Castle in the Sky came into my mind. Judging from the view down towards the mainland across the sea, St. Michael may as well be floating.
As you do when you visit National Trust properties, the visit naturally digressed towards the cafe, which on that summer day may have been the livest spot on the picturesque and usually quiet island. Sitting by the sea with an ice-cream, it was a perfect summer’s day, one that in light of the darkening days, will be treasured and cherished. Just like the bottle of mead that I bought from the gift shop.
Cornwall, I don’t know when, but we will meet again.
St. Michael’s Mount is a National Trust-run site. You can find more touristic information and opening times on its website