St Michael's Mount is a striking and imposing castle, perched high on an island just off the coast of Marazion in Cornwall. At low tide it's possible to walk across a stone causeway to the island, but much of the time it's cut off by the tide, relying on a small passenger boat to transport people back and forth. St Michael's Mount consists mostly of granite, with mineral veins running through.
Unusually, it's still lived in - by the St Aubyn family, who have owned the Castle and lived in it continuously for over 300 years.
St Michael's Mount was being used as a port, exporting the local Cornish tin and Cornish copper to Europe, as early as 400BC. There was then a church built and then the Castle. The Mount has a long history of upset and invasion as the early years were troubled times with lots of wars, especially religion-based during the reign of King Henry V and the 100 year war. The history is fascinating - and enough to fill more than one whole book.
St Keyne's Visit to St Michael's Mount
In the year 490 AD St Keyne visited St Michael's Mount on one of her pilgramages. She was well liked, so stayed quite some time.
During her visit she went to a local Holy Well and placed a spell on the water that anybody who drank from the well, or sat in the naturally-formed rock chair close by would wear the trousers within the marital home.
During its lifetime St Michael's Mount has been passed around as a gift by Kings, won in battle by armies and lived in by various groups and families.
During the Civil War, the Mount was used to store firearms and weaponry, which is how it came to be bought, in 1659, by Colonel John St Aubyn - and to this day the Mount is still owned by his descendants.
Although the St Aubyn family own the Mount, they set up a partnership with the National Trust, who manage the visitor numbers. This has been a clever way for the family to continue living in the Castle, yet enabling sufficient income to keep the Mount updated.
The Mount has a lot of history, as a working environment, so close to Mother Nature's elements, there have been tragedies, mistakes and natural disasters to cope with.
Probably the most unexpected natural disaster was the tsunami that hit St Michael's Mount in 1755.
With all people and goods needing to be transported to the Mount either over the causeway at low tide, or by boat at high tide, there have been plenty of opportunities for mishaps to befall the careless or arrogant.
In 1755 there was a tsunami, caused by an earthquake in Lisbon. The tsunami waves hit St Michael's Mount, with the height of the sea water rising and falling 6' many times over five hours. This caused a loss of life and of property at the base of the Mount.
The village and the island were really prospering as a successful sea port during the 1700s and first half of the 1800s. It then went into decline and finally, once Penzance harbour was upgraded and the railways reached Penzance, a lot of the original village was demolished and people moved away.
Population of St Michael's Mount
At its peak there were 221 residents, three schools, a chapel and three pubs - although 221 residents didn't need three pubs, these were certainly frequented by the visiting sailors to the sea-port.
Like any village, there is a cemetary on St Michael's Mount, but there is no access to this for visitors.
Horse Drowned Attempting to Use the Causeway
Knowing the tide heights and times is essential if you want to reach St Michael's Mount safely. These days it's easy to find out the tide times and we'd expect locals to instinctively know when's a good time to cross and when it's not safe.
There was a tragedy in 1845, which was reported in the West Briton & Cornwall Advertiser on 22 August. The newspaper report showed:
CAUTION TO WAGGONERS
On Wednesday afternoon, the 13th instant, a waggon belonging to MR. GEORGE TREWEEKE, of the parish of Breage, heavily laden with copper ore, attempted to proceed across the causeway from Marazion to St. Michael's Mount, before the tide had receded sufficiently to allow it to do so without danger. The waggon had not gone far, before the horses were obliged to swim, and the poor affrighted animals turned into still deeper water. Assistance was speedily at hand, and several boats put off and arrived just in time to save the life of a lad who had been riding the fore horse, which was unfortunately drowned. With the utmost difficulty, the other horses were set at liberty, and towed to land. Several other waggons were following, but stopped in time to avoid danger.
St Michael's Mount Tramway
You might be surprised to learn that St Michael's Mount has its own underground tramway. Built around 1900 by tin miners, it is a narrow gauge railway and takes goods from the harbour up to the Castle. It is a cable-hauled railway and incline, which delivers supplies and guest's luggage up to the top of the Mount.
There are photographs of this railway in the book Cornwall Narrow Gauge, by Middleton Press, the photos are on pages 87-89. Published in May 2005, ISBN 978 1 904474 56 2
This tramway is still used today, although it is considered too steep to be safe for passengers and the National Trust prohibit visitors from seeing it.
You can see part of the tramway's existence on the harbour if you look carefully. There are two wooden blocks set into the harbourside wall, on the quayside. You'll also see some of the tracks embedded in the harbour.
- Morgawr - Cornish Sea Serpent
While on the Mount, keep an eye on the sea - you might catch a glimpse of the elusive Morgawr, the mythical Cornish sea serpent.
There have been two royal visitors to St Michael's Mount... although I'm sure quite a few have popped in privately for a cup of tea over the years!
- 1846 Queen Victoria made a visit on her yacht to St Michael's Mount, actually sailing into the harbour and anchoring. There is a brass plaque on the harbour to show where the Queen stepped foot ashore
- 1967 the Queen Mother visited St Michael's Mount. She arrived by sea, using a small pinnace to travel between The Royal Yacht Britannia anchored off-shore and the harbour.
St Michael's Mount has also been used for film locations - the two most well-known films being:
- In 1979 the Castle was used as Castle Dracula, in the film Dracula.
- In 2003, just the exterior of the Castle was used in the film Johnny English, as the French chateau of the main character Pascal Sauvage, this was Rowan Atkinson's spoof 007 film,
You never know when you might see famous people visiting St Michael's Mount With the new generation of the Aubyn family taking over, there'll be a lot more interst and famous people visiting them I'm sure.
St Michael's Mount, von Ribbentrop and Hitler
In a bizarre twist, recent documents have come to light regarding Hitler's invasion of Britain during the 2nd World War. He'd collected picture postcards of the Penzance and St Michael's Mount area and had even thought about invading Britain via Cornwall.
Hitler had told von Ribbentrip that when Germany won the war he'd be given nearby Tregenna Castle in St Ives to live in - and Hitler would even "throw St Michael's Mount in" for good measure! Cornwall would certainly have been a very different place today if this had happened.
St Michaels Mount Myths and Legends
Cornwall has a long history of myths and legends, including a lot of giants. One giant lived at The Mount.
Cormoran The Giant
A giant called Cormoran, The Giant of St Michael's Mount, lived here. He created his home on The Mount, which he made his wife build from white granite. Cormoran the giant lived on the Mount with his wife until her untimely death. Cormoran was friendly with another giant who lived nearby on Trecrobben Hill. They owned one hammer between them, so whenever either of them needed the hammer, if the other giant had it they'd shout over for it to be thrown to them. One day Cormoran called out for the hammer, but the giant on Trecrobben Hill threw it over quicker than expected. It hit Cormoran's wife and she died.
Jack the Giant Killer's Well.
As you start to ascend the path leading to the Castle on St Michael's Mount, you'll walk past the Giant's Well - and a rock called 'The Giant's Heart', which is well marked. Both these are references to another Cornish legend. Jack the Giant Killer allegedly dug the well while the evil giant Cormoran was sleeping. As dawn broke, Jack blew on his horn and when Cormoran woke and rushed towards Jack he was blinded by the sun and he tumbled into the well; his heart flew 50 yards up the hill in the process - and that's the Giant's Heart that is in the stonework to this day. The well is to be found at OS Map Reference SW515298.
Giants Heart st St Michael's Mount
One of the enduring stories from here is the Giants Heart at St Michael's Mount. If you take the guided tour you're lead up the steep cobbled path, then, close to the top and right under the Mount, as you turn to the right, the Giants Heart is pointed out to you.
The Giant's Heart at St Michael's Mount is part of the cobbled pathway that you walk over, so you really can't miss it (especially as the guide points it out).
Can you see it?
The Giant's Heart stone is about the size of a small adult hand.
St Michael's Mount Timeline
400BC to 400AD
The Mount was an important sea port for exporting locally mined tin and copper to Europe.
Following a vision, a church was built on the site and dedicated to St Michael.
Edward the Confessor built a chapel on the Mount.
Work commenced on building a church, which was consecrated in 1144 by the Bishop of Exeter
The Abbey was seized and work on the Castle commenced.
Four miracles were reported, resulting in an increase in pilgrims to the Mount.
The first non-French prior, Richard Auncell of Tavistock, was appointed.
Dissolved as a monastery by King Henry V
St Michael's Mount was seized and held hostage for 23 weeks.
St Michael's Mount was bought by Colonel John St Aubyn - ancestor of the current owner
The Harbour was improved, enabling it to become a sea port.
A great tsunami struck St Michael's Mount causing loss of life and property.
Peak of the population, with 221 residents.
The Harbour was widened to take larger ships
Queen Victoria visited St Michael's Mount, on her yacht. There is a brass plaque on the harbour to show where she stepped foot ashore
The railway line came to nearby Penzance, drawing residents away from the island
Elizabeth Terrace was built, a terrace of eight houses at the back of the village
Underground narrow gauge railway built to take goods from the Harbour to the Castle
The Mount was given to the National Trust, with the St Aubyn family retaining a 999 year lease to live there.
The Queen Mother visited St Michael's Mount, arriving by sea. The Royal Yacht Britannia was anchored off-shore and she used a smaller pinnace to reach the harbour.
Filming of the Dracula film took place on the Mount - the Castle was used as Castle Dracula.
The exterior of the Castle was used in the film Johnny English as the Pascal Sauvage's French Chateau.
James Aubyn took up residency and running of St Michael's Mount
Directions to St Michaels Mount
St Michael's Mount is an island, so you cannot drive to it. You'll need to find a local public car park to park in. There are a few small public car parks close to where you need to be, which are pay and display, or, if you're prepared to walk about half a mile, then you can simply park for free along the approach road to Marazion.
Castle Opening Hours: March to October, 6 days a week from 10.30am-5.00pm. It is not open on Saturdays. Last admission is 45 minutes before the castle closes.
Gardens Opening Hours: May/June Mon-Fri 10.30am-5.00pm. July-October, Thu-Fri only, 10.30am-5.00pm.
Village Opening Hours: The village shops, cafe and restaurant are open the same opening times as the Castle.
Admission Prices for Castle: Adult £9, Child £4.50. Family £22.50
Admission Prices for Gardens: Adult £6, Child £3
Admission Prices for both: Adult £12.50, Child £6. Family £31
FREE: You are welcome to walk around the harbour, village and visit the cafe/restaurant without paying any admission fee.
Fees are only to visit the Castle at the top of the Mount, or the Gardens.
FREE: National Trust members get free entry to the castle and gardens.
Address: St Michaels Mount, Marazion, Cornwall, TR17
Telephone: 01736 710507/710265
Directions to St Michaels Mount
cornwall_UK (author) from Cornwall, UK on June 02, 2013:
I've just updated this article on St Michael's Mount, definitely one of the top places to go in Cornwall this year!
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on September 16, 2010:
Oh, St. Michael's Mount *would* be the perfect place to film Dracula! What a nifty spot!
cornwall_UK (author) from Cornwall, UK on September 16, 2010:
Real people live in the village too, last time I was there one of the posh people from the Castle *grins* was chatting to one of the residents as they sat outside in the sun.
It was all quintessentially British.
Duchess OBlunt on September 16, 2010:
That’s amazing that someone has always lived in this castle. Usually you hear about how they are abandoned for awhile before someone comes along who has enough interest – not to mention funds – to make restoration.
Great history in this one.
cornwall_UK (author) from Cornwall, UK on September 16, 2010:
I don't know, I've not heard of Aqua Teen HF. I'll have to look into it.
Jane Perkins on September 16, 2010:
don't they also use a cartoon version in Aqua Teen HF?