ONE of Cornwall’s must-see attractions is St Michael’s Mount, an offshore island surmounted by a castle, and reached on foot via a causeway revealed at low tide.
The attraction has curious opening hours as the castle is still a private home, but it’s worth checking out the open days, and the tides, so you can walk across the cobbled causeway and experience the approach familiar to pilgrims over hundreds of years.
After parking in the official car park (not National Trust, so charges apply) my partner and I enjoyed the stroll from Marazion to the island. The causeway itself is level, albeit somewhat uneven due to the cobble stones, but today’s pilgrims are rewarded by a warm welcome from the National Trust guides and a range of facilities opening out south of the harbour, including cafes, toilets, the NT shop, plus icecream and Cornish sausage booths.
Our first venture was into the gardens, starting with the extensive Laundry Lawn, one of the few level(ish) areas which, on our visit, was full of swallows, swooping and diving as they chased the insects disturbed by visitors – a glorious sight on a sunny day. Further south and east, the steep slopes now play host to a mix of exotics, tender perennials and herbaceous plants, all soaking up the Mount’s frost-free micro-climate.
If you are fit enough, the gardens are something special and a blaze of colour. Signage was notable by its absence but we were able to find our way round the walled gardens, the Tortoise Lawn and other features before retracing our steps and heading for the castle itself.
This was approached via another stretch of cobbles, winding its steep way up the slope to the entrance: it’s quite a trek, with only a few places to stop and catch your breath. Once at the top, however, it was a relief to get out of the sun for a while and wander the building: the scale is smaller than some but that gives the castle a homely and accessible feel, the sort of place in which everyone can feel at home.
The oldest part is the church, originally built in 1135 and rebuilt and restored over the years, with the castle growing around it over the years. There’s plenty to investigate from the cannon on the batteries to the Blue Drawing Rooms where Queen Victoria took tea, and the Museum Room housing military artefacts. Youngers will enjoy the Treasure Quest, taking them on a hunt around the building, and a host of activities are planned during the summer holidays to provide a full day’s entertainment.
Walking back down was easier than going up, and we were just in time to cross the causeway again – then watch as the latecomers waded their way across. There is a boat service available when the tide is in, so you can still access the island, but I’d recommend timing your visit so you can experience the causeway walk for yourself.
All in all, a good day out, although it should be noticed that the ‘challenging’ terrain is not for wheelchair users or those of limited mobility, and wheelchairs and pushchairs can’t be taken up to the castle.
My favourite bit was the walk from mainland to island, but the gardens were impressive, the facilities excellent and the whole thing a good day out if you’re fit enough to tackle the steep climbs. Allow several hours to enjoy the gardens and the castle, and prepare to be tired out after all that activity.
It should be said that entry to gardens and castle is free to NT members, otherwise there’s a charge of £8 for the garden and £10.50 for the castle (£16 for both), and no discount for seniors. I enjoyed our day out but, having already explored the gardens and castle, next time I’ll probably just opt for the walk across to the island: it costs nothing, and I thought it made St Michael’s Mount a very special place to visit.