St Michael’s Mount is in west Cornwall, near Marazion. When translated, its Cornish language name, Karrek Loos yn Koos, means “grey rock in a wood”.
St Michael’s Mount is a well known Cornish attraction, drawing thousands of visitors every year. This castle on an island is just like something out of a fairytale. It’s one of Britain’s 43 tidal islands, and can be reached on foot from the coast at low tide.
While I’ve visited St Michael’s Mount before, it was several years ago. Therefore, it secured top position on our summer to do list this year. Plus, I like to make the most of my National Trust membership.
St Michael’s Mount Myths and Legends
There’s much history, mythology and historical certitude attached to St Michael’s Mount. Evidence suggests primal life once existed on the island and it was later a monastery, in the 8th to 11th century. There’s even talk of a giant who once lived on St Michael’s Mount, but don’t worry, he’s long gone.
The island is believed to be named after Archangel Michael, the patron Saint of Fishermen. There are stories of his apparition appearing on the rocks, warning fishermen of trouble and turbulent seas. Tales of naughty mermaids too, luring seamen onto the rocks. Of course, there are reports to refute these claims. Let’s face it, after a cup or two of Cornish mead, you can see all sorts.
Whenever you visit St Michael’s Mount, your day will be imbued with stories and old tales. Enough to capture the imagination of all ages.
Planning Your Day Out At St Michael’s Mount
Car Parking for St Michael’s Mount
Another important thing to tell you is, unlike other National Trust venues, there’s a parking charge for visiting St Michael’s Mount even if you’re a National Trust member. There’s plenty of parking along the seafront at Mounts Bay though. I admit I found it hard to judge how long we’d need and paid £5.10 for 6 hours.
Entry and Boat Tickets
The National Trust are now operating an online booking system for entry to the castle and gardens. You have to book your time slot beforehand. The gardens are closed on Sundays, so if you visit then you’ll only be able to enter the castle (like us!).
Timing your visit’s important too. At low tide you can follow in the footsteps of previous island dwellers and pilgrims, and walk along the causeway. Otherwise, you’ll need to book boat tickets. The National Trust website makes this super easy, telling you if you’ll need a boat ticket. At the time of our visit to St Michael’s Mount, this cost £2.50 per adult and £1.50 per child, one way.
If you’re a National Trust member, I’d also recommend Lanhydrock House and Gardens for a brilliant day out.
Don’t worry about waiting ages for a boat either. There are lots in operation. Even though they can’t take large numbers, we pretty much hopped on straight away. I purchased our return boat tickets on St Michael’s Mount. You can buy these from the cafes and gift shops, or there’s plenty of Q codes dotted around to scan for online payment.
It goes without saying that it’s worth checking the tide times before you visit St Michael’s Mount. If you time it right, you can walk the famous yellow bricked causeway one way, and get a boat for the other. I think the causeway holds its own appeal and it makes for a great photo opportunity.
You can check tide times for Marazion at Magic Seaweed.
On St Michael’s Mount
Stepping off the boat and onto the harbour at St Michael’s Mount, I felt like I was entering a film set. It’s so authentically traditional with a few houses and buildings surrounding the harbour. They’ve clearly remained unchanged for years.
While St Michael’s Mount only has 30 inhabitants, it used to have a more vibrant and thriving community. In the 1800s the harbour was central in trading and exporting Cornish tin to Europe. At its peak, St Michael’s Mount boasted over 300 islanders, 53 houses and 4 streets. There was a school, a pub and a dairy.
Reading through St Michael’s Mounts history and how it sufficient island life used to be, I can’t help but wonder if they had it all sussed.
It’s certainly worth walking around the harbour. There’s plenty of small boats moored, giving a sense of life and character; a mix of the old with the new.
Reaching the castle from the harbour involves a steep winding cobbled walk on Pilgrims Way. Mismatched, uneven steps, with ochre and greying stones gradually snake their way up to the island’s prime destination. The castle’s quite a sight. Built in the 12th century, it has a french counterpart, Le Mont Saint Michel, in Normandy. It always astounds me knowing these castles were built hundreds of years ago. It must’ve taken ages! How did they manage it?
Accessibility-wise, the walk to the castle isn’t wheelchair or pushchair friendly. Those with limited mobility are unlikely to be able to enter the castle.
Reaching the top of Pilgrims Way, we find ourselves in the old battery. Old cannons remain in place, keeping guard over the Mount. I couldn’t help but smile seeing the St Piran’s flag flailing and flapping in the unseasonal August wind.
St Michael’s Mount has quite a connection with the military. It’s been the target of sieges and takeovers in previous centuries. As such, it boasts quite a list of previous owners. There’s more evidence of military connections in the castle too. You’ll find a room dedicated to weaponry from all over the world, including a Samurai warrior.
Inside the castle, we look from room to room, getting a feel of what life was once like on St Michael’s Mount. Much memorabilia is connected to the St Aubyn family who have lived in the castle since the mid 1600s and remain there today.
I loitered a bit and gazed at the sea views from the windows of the castle. If I lived here, I can only imagine the amount of time I’d spend looking out to sea.
Navigating the castle, from room to room, we’re naturally taken to the battlement. I’d recommend walking around here to fully appreciate the panoramic views. From looking out to sea to the horizon, to taking in Mounts Bay and the sweeping Cornish coastline, it’s pretty amazing.
From here, you can enter the little church. Built in the late 1300s, it continues to hold a Sunday service in peak season.
We visited the mount on a Sunday so the gardens were closed. Hopefully that won’t deter you. We fully appreciated the gardens from the roof of the castle, where clusters of agapanthus danced away in the wind.
Looking down, the plants looks quite exotic and probably thrive in the coastal climate. When they’re open, there’s a walled garden to explore and if you’re lucky, you may find the seagull seat.
Food and Drink
St Michaels’ Mount has 2 eateries – The Sail Loft and The Island Cafe. I’ve eaten at both and they’re good! There’s a couple of pop-ups too: The Horsebox, selling sausage rolls, drinks and snacks, and The Beach Hut, a street food takeout hut. An ice-cream bike does the rounds too. A must, in our book, on a day out!
There’s picnic tables available as well, if you wanted to bring your own food. Just beware of the seagulls!
We had a great day out at St Michael’s Mount. We didn’t spend as long there as expected either, probably because we didn’t explore the gardens. Plus, the weather wasn’t great despite it being August. One for next time, that’s for sure.
While I was hoping to walk along the causeway on the way out, but the tide was too high. No biggie, we love a boat ride!