This tiny island appears to have been lifted straight out of a fairy tale. A perfect little crescent harbour, an ancient castle, a cobbled causeway that appears and disappears twice a day and steep, wooded slopes – it’s the stuff of legend.
Getting to St Michael’s Mount is almost as much fun as exploring the island itself. When the tide is out the causeway is exposed and it’s a 10 minute walk over the chunky, uneven cobbles to the harbour. If you’re planning to get back to the mainland on foot, you’ll need a tide timetable and to be very vigilant – the tide whistles in faster than you might imagine, so always leave yourself a healthy margin for error. When the island is cut off by the tide, you’ll need to catch one of the small boats that potter to and fro between the rocky piers on Marazion beach and the harbour on the Mount. These run throughout the day in spring and summer but far less frequently at other times.
The history of St Michael’s Mount is astonishing. The Mount started life as a working port over 2,000 years ago, exporting Cornish tin to Europe before becoming a religious site – the church here is almost 1,000 years old. Not always a place of peace, the island played key roles in the War of the Roses in 1473, the raid of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the Civil War from 1642. The castle and the church are packed with artefacts that tell these stories and others, from the huge (canons) to the tiny (an ancient Egyptian mummified cat).
As if all that were not enough, sub-tropical gardens cling to the steep granite sides of the island in a series of terraces and walled sections. Children are kept entertained by a nature trail with clues and a prize at the end. The best time for the gardens is May and June, when the flowers are at their peak and the gardens are open 5 days a week (they are only open 2 days a week at other times).
There is so much to take in on a tour of the castle and church that you’ll need regular stops for refreshments – there’s a café serving good snack-type foods, or the Sail Loft Restaurant offers more substantial meals.
St Michael’s Mount
Marazion (near Penzance), Cornwall, TR17 0HS, 01736 710265