Saturday, October 22, 2016

An island cloaked in myth and mystery

St Michael's Mount (named after the Archangel) is perhaps the most iconic landmark in south-west England, if not in all of England. This famous island lies off the south coast of Cornwall, and has been used by man since the neolithic period, the first building perhaps appeared in the 8th century, with a monastery being built in the 11th century.

If the name of the island jogs a memory, it could be because you have heard of Mont Saint-Michael in France. There is a connection, in fact, the English island is the sister island of its French counterpart. The monastery on St Michael's Mont was given to the Norman Abbey on Mont Saint Michael as a Priory in the 11th century. Come the 15th century, the war between the nations under the rule of Henry V, ended the association between St Michael's Mount and Mont Saint-Michael. In the 16th century, the mount became more fortress-like and more or less resembles what you see today.

The Mount as seen from Marazion

In 1659 Colonel St. Aubyn purchased the island, the descendants of the family still live there to this day. The population of the island peaked in 1821 when 221 people resided there, it was mainly a fishing port at that time. In 1954 the St. Aubyn family gifted the island to the National Trust to manage, whilst retaining a 999-year lease.

15th-century chapel of St Michael

The gardens that surround the rocky island are from the Victorian era, the frost free climate means that flowers and shrubs flourish here, and it is quite a sight viewed from the highest point on the island.

The victorian terraced gardens looking towards the mainland

As a visitor to the island, you can either walk along the causeway (low tide only) or for a small fee catch a boat from Marazion to the island. The harbour dates from at least the 15th-century but was enlarged in 1823 to accommodate larger vessels. The boat journey is short, but can be a bumpy and wet ride on occasion!.

St Michael's Mount harbour

Mural painted on the side of one of the 19th-century buildings

Marazion is a small parish only 1/2 mile from St Michael's Mount, and the gateway to the island. The town itself is quaint and has a small selection of shops and restaurants, and a bakery serving possibly the largest Cornish pasties in the county.


Largest pasty in all of Cornwall

The island has long been steeped in myths and legends. As far back as the 5th-century tales of sailors been lured to the rocks by mermaids exist, and during the 6th-century the island was said to be home to a giant named Cormoran. This giant as legend has it was slain by a farmer's son named Jack, the giant's heart still remains on the island in the form of a stone. The island is also said to be on top of a major ley line "St Michael's Line", so is a spiritual place on many levels.

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