Island castle set in the middle of Mount's Bay, just off the coast of Marazion. The Mount is now managed by the National Trust but remains the home of St Aubyn family.
St Michael’s Mount is a picturesque island just off the shore at Marazion. Accessible by causeway when the tide is low, or by boat at high-tide, the Mount is home to a working community of local people, as well as a large medieval castle! The castle creates an imposing, dramatic spectacle when viewing the island from the land or sea. Perched up high on the craggy rocks, the castle has the façade of Gothic architecture. On closer inspection, however, it is far more welcoming and is made even more appealing by the backdrop of the ocean, particularly on a sunny day.
History of St Michael's Mount
The island and the castle both have a long and complicated history. It is believed that even between 400 B.C and 400 A.D the island and the bay were being used as a port for exporting tin and copper to Europe. Since then, the island has seen its fair share of violence, with a number of battles for ownership being played out on its ground. It saw newcomers during several bloodthirsty periods in history, including the Norman Conquest, the Wars of the Roses, the Spanish Armada and the Civil War.
In 1193, during the Crusades, Henry de la Pomeray seized the priory on the island and commenced building the castle that was to be the foundation of the one there today. In 1659 a certain Colonel St. Aubyn purchased the Mount, including the castle. His descendants were to live in the castle for a further twelve generations and are still there today.
What to See & Do on the Mount
The Harbour & Village
Sitting in the lee of the island the sturdy little harbour obviously has one of the most iconic backdrops in Cornwall. Not only is there the castle perched on top of the looming, tree covered slopes of the Mount, but the attractive quayside, lined with cottages.
It is believed that there has been a harbour of some sort here for over 2,000 years with the island acting as a tin trading port as far back as the Phoenician times. Even in Victorian times the Mount was fairly bustling with its own fishing fleet and over 50 houses in the harbour area.
Back then there was a pub, dairy, stables and a school on the island. The buildings all remain, but have been repurposed with names like "the Sail Loft restaurant" giving some clues to their past.
The Pilgrims Steps & Giant's Heart
In order to reach the castle you must first make the climb up the mount. It is around 200ft (60m) ascent from the Causeway to the castle entrance which makes for pretty steep going.
The route up to the castle, once past the Moomin hut-like Dairy, is known as the Pilgrim's Steps. These stone steps wind upwards through the trees and past one of the Mount's most special sights – the Giant's Heart.
Set in the path, among the other granite cobbles, is a small dark stone shaped like a heart. I'm not sure if the size and colour of the stone is meant to reflect the giant, Comoran's unpleasant nature.
The Gun Batteries
Once you emerge from the trees and onto the rocky outcrop that tops the island you will be met with a panoramic view of the coast – from Marazion to Mousehole. Given that this wasn't always just a fairytale castle you may not be surprised to find a number of battlements bristling with canons.
Whilst at some point these gun emplacements were genuinely defensive, they have for a long time been mostly for show. Ironically they were actually enlarged in the late 18th century, but for ceremonial purposes.
North & South Terraces
For the best views on St Michael's Mount there are the two terraces.
If you follow the usual route around the castle then the first of these will be the South Terrace. Comprising a large area of flat roof bordered by battlements and turrets this south-facing patio is something of a sun trap. It also has great views to the gardens below, particularly from the circular viewing platform jutting out of the corner of the castle.
A short walk around the top of the castle leads to the North Terrace with its views out over the harbour towards Marazion.
Inside the castle
Some of the castle's interior is open to the public and it takes around an hour to explore this. It's quite hard to know what proportion of the castle this is, and also to keep one's bearings as you navigate the twisting passages and stairs.
Whilst some of the rooms are fairly unremarkable there are a number of points of interest along the prescribed route. Probably the most notable of these is the Blue Drawing Room.
These were the main reception rooms of the castle and are decked out to impress. Decorated and furnished in the 1750s this set of rooms are in the rather indulgent Strawberry Hill Gothic style with a colour scheme straight off of Wedgewood pottery.The rooms were commissioned by the 4th Sir John St Aubyn whom you can see in a family portrait which hangs above the fireplace.
Over the centuries the rooms have hosted various royals including Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II.
The castle's dining hall has served this purpose since the days the Mount was a priory. In fact it was in daily use as such until the 1950s.
With the Dissolution of the Monasteries and departure of the monks the room received a makeover and change of name. The current vaulted ceiling was installed and the hunting-themed frieze added – telling the tale of Chevy Chase this is where the room gets its name.
Directly downstairs from the Chevy Chase room, and linked by a hidden staircase, is the Garrison Room. Originally a storeroom it is now home to a collection of antique weaponry and full set of Samurai armour which was a gift from the Japanese Emporer.
It is thought that there has been a chapel atop of the Mount before even the priory was established in the 12th century. However, this was when the outline of the current church took shape. Largely rebuilt in the 14th century this simple, but beautiful, medieval church is dedicated to who else but St Michael.
It is the tower of the church which forms the high point of the whole building and helps give the castle its fairytale outline. Sunday services are still conducted from May to September by the island's own chaplain.
It is not just the castle that makes St Michael’s Mount the magnificent sight that it is. There are stunning, exotic gardens in the castle grounds that can be visited separately from the castle. The plants grow on an almost-vertical granite rock-face, warmed by the sun, providing perfect growing conditions for a variety of delicate plant-species. The gardens were first planted in the 1780s. Throughout the warmer months, there are garden evenings open to the public. These events include tours of the garden followed by a delicious buffet meal at the Mount’s Sail Loft restaurant.
Where to Eat on St Michael's Mount
The Sail Loft Restaurant generally offers hearty lunches, with meat, fish and vegetarian options. Locally-sourced produce is used in many of the dishes, including fresh seafood landed at Newlyn just across the bay. Another dining option is The Island Café with its waterside garden. The café offers a range of lighter meals and snacks, including Cornish pasties. There are also two ice cream kiosks on the island with a great range of flavours available.
Visiting St Michael's Mount
There are a few things to bear in mind when planning your visit to St Michael's Mount. First of all when?
Besides being closed to the public on Saturday, the Mount is generally open from 9am to 5pm. We would recommend spending at the very least 2 hours exploring the Mount and ideally up to 4 hours.
Once you have decided on a time there are a couple more practicalities to be considered. Chief among these is the fact that St Michael's Mount is an island so you need to be aware of the tide times. Don't worry there isn't much chance of being stranded on the island as there are regular boats running at high tide. However, these boats don't run during the winter, so please read the information below.
Crossing by foot
St Michael's Mount is connected to the mainland by an ancient cobbled causeway. At high tide this is completely submerged by the sea.
The Causeway is open for around two and a half hours either side of low tide. At almost half a mile in length you should allow about 15 minutes to make the crossing. All in all this gives you just about the perfect amount of time to spend on the island.
Crossing by Boat
Obviously being a slave to the tides isn't ideal if on the day you visit low tide happens to be at 6am. The Mount is served by a number of ferry boats which run back and forth continually. The trip takes between 5 and 10 minutes each way and is a great way to arrive on the island.
The boats generally leave from Chapel Rock on the beach just in front of Marazion. However, during spring high tides you can only catch the boat from Marazion's diminutive harbour which is known as Top Tieb.
There is a further option for crossing at high tide – the "Duck". Based on the 1950s amphibious DUKW vehicles, this half bus, half boat cuts a strange sight as it motors down the beach towards the sea.
Even paid parking in Marazion is at a premium so make sure you bring some change. There are two main car parks in the village; the bigger car park at Folly Fields on the western edge of the town and the Slipway next to the Godolphin Arms.
If you are visiting during the summer I'd advise getting here early (before 10am) as the car parks can fill up quickly. And from experience I can tell you the nearest free parking is around half an hour's walk.
Is St Michael's Mount dog friendly?
Compared to the majority of National Trust sites the dog policy on the Mount is quite strict. Except for assistance dogs they are not permitted in the castle itself at any time.
Between October and March (inclusive) dogs are allowed in the harbour and village.
Does anybody live on St Michael's Mount?
Despite the fact that the Mount is a big draw for visitors and holidaymakers with its castle and its uniqueness, the harbourside village itself has been a real community for centuries. The harbour was a busy port in the middle of the nineteenth century, which caused the population to rise to approximately three hundred. Nowadays, the village is home to a community of at least thirty-strong who work and live on the island. These inhabitants work on the boats, in the gardens, the castle and generally take care of the island. This gives St Michael’s Mount an unique atmosphere of being “alive” with a strong sense of community spirit.
The current members of the St Aubyn family occupying the castle at St Michael’s Mount are James and Mary, and their four children. James St Aubyn plays an integral part in all maintenance work to preserve the history and natural beauty of the island for future generations of visitors to enjoy. He works closely with the National Trust. The Mount was given to the National Trust in 1954, though the St Aubyn family maintain the lease to live in the castle and to operate the visitor business.
Legends of St Michael's Mount
It would be odd indeed if somewhere as iconic and fantastical as St Michael's Mount didn't have a few legends attached to it. Some of these stories are rooted in historic events, while others appear to be inspired only by the location itself.
The Mount has long been regarded as a sacred site by some. This goes all the way back to at least the 5th century when there were stories of seafarers, who had been lured towards the perilous rocks by mermaids, being guided to safety by an apparition of the Archangel Michael.
Already a site of pilgrimage, the island also lies on the convergence of ancient ley lines which run through Europe and England. These are believed by some to impart a special energy.
By far the best known tale set on the Mount is the story of Jack the Giant Killer. It is said that the giant Cormoran, who built the castle that sits on the summit of the mount, was quite an unpleasant character. What angered the locals most about the giant was his habit of wading across to the mainland and helping himself to a few cows whenever he felt peckish. Enter young Jack…
Jack had the cunning plant of digging an enormous pit and then blowing his horn to wake the slumbering giant. Enraged Cormoran rushed towards Jack and fell into the pit never to be seen again. All that remains of the giant is his small, stone heart which is set into the cobbles of the Pilgrims Steps. Legend has it that if you put your ear to the stone you can hear a heartbeat.
St Michael's Mount as a film location
Being an island with a castle on top and Mounts Bay as a backdrop, St Michael's Mount has not gone unnoticed by the film industry. Over the years a number of major productions have used the Mounts as a filming location. These include:
Never Say Never Again (1983)
Johnny English (2003)
Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box (2012)
House of the Dragon (Game of Thrones prequel) (2021)