To set the stage, this is not technically a museum but it is an historical location with a number of areas of interest.
So if it’s not a museum, then what exactly is St. Michael's Mount? To start, a spectacular visual experience beginning with the walk (or boat ride during high tide) from the mainland, to the views of the countryside and seaside from the top of the mount. Is it particularly well curated? Sort of – not of museum quality maybe but then again, it’s not a museum. Are the staff well informed and helpful? You bet.
St. Michael’s Mount is a rocky island that climbs dramatically out of the sea. Sitting atop the mountain is a medieval castle, which to this day remains a private family home. The small village and harbour are distinctly attractive and draw a high number of yearly visitors.
Parking was easy as there are numerous parking lots with attendants all within walking distance and at varying prices. In fact, compared to all my travels around Cornwall, this was one of the easiest places to find a parking spot.
You approach the Mount via a cobblestone causeway only accessible at low tide. Upon embarking you’ll appreciate the wide expanse of open beach and beautiful harbour walls surrounding the Mount.
There was an excellent visitor centre on the island, which includes a detailed time-line of the history and pre-history of the island, a film and interpretation focusing on 'Island Life', a bronze scale sculpture of the Mount, and a fascinating overview of some of the more interesting artefacts on display in the castle, to name just a few of the highlights. There are narratives of the people that have lived on the island in the past, as well as stories of today’s residents and their experiences. The entrance fee also includes an option to visit some of the Mount’s privately tended gardens.
It goes without saying that the ascent up “The Pilgrim's Steps” to the castle is challenging – it was certainly designed to be that way when it was built as a monastery in 1135, and then later used as a fortress ideally suited to its location. Sadly, I visited on a Bank Holiday so the island was quite crowded. There was a long line to get to the Castle itself, making the return across the beach during low tide precarious. I decided to miss the tour, but here’s the interesting part…as I turned to leave, one of the staff noticed and radioed down to the front office, and when I got there they gave me a full refund. Now that is fantastic! The stroll back to the town of Marazion was lovely; the view of the town is as delightful as the views from the Mount out toward the sea.
My only regret was not being there to watch as the tide came in but that’s something I can save for next time.
Back in Marazion I had a saunter around town and a quick lunch. What a pretty spot! There are a number of decent antique shops, several art galleries, the Marazion Town Museum (based in what was once the District Fire Brigade HQ and features a large scale model of HMS Warspite) and any number of good restaurants. I stopped in at Ben’s Cornish Kitchen and had a very nice meal. Reservations are recommended, dogs are welcome.
You’ll need a good pair of shoes and be steady on your feet. Do your homework before you go: check the tide tables, read up on the property so you know what to look for, understand what you might see in the gardens with its unique Mediterranean micro climate, recognize the evolving religious nature that makes up the heart of the mount, look to the changes that the Victorian period brought and understand that it has been in one family since 1650!
All in all a very memorable day out – and to get back to my earlier statement – I’ll grant that it’s not a museum but it certainly is a piece of living history.