Did you know that there was a smaller twin of the famous Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy in France on the English side of the Channel? Similar in shape to Mont Saint-Michel, St. Michael’s Mount is a rocky island topped with a castle. St. Michael’s Mount is one of the most famous sites in Cornwall, the southernmost county of England that juts westward into the Atlantic ocean. Although the family still have living quarters at the castle, the mount is now operated by the National Trust.
History of St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall
Edward the Confessor, King of England from 1044 to 1066, gave St. Michael’s Mount to the Benedictine monks of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy in the 11th century. St. Michael’s Mount was under the control of Mont Saint-Michel until another English king took it back during the Hundred Years War with France.
Even though the St. Aubyn family have lived on the island since the 17th century, the story of St. Michael’s Mount predates them. The oldest part of the castle dates to the 12th century.
My son was fascinated to learn that St. Michael’s Mount was swept by a tsunami in 1755. It was caused by an earthquake in Portugal 1000 miles away!
The Castle, Chapel and Gardens at St. Michael’s Mount
The St. Aubyn family still live in the castle on a lease back from the National Trust which maintains the property. The co-manage taking care of the historic rooms open to the public. As you would expect, the inside of the castle has lots of dark wood and traditional decor. The views from the windows are fantastic.
We wanted to know how anyone could possibly carry food and basic necessities up to the castle. It would be the perfect place for Amazon to drone drop their items. The National Trust guide told us there is a Victorian train that takes necessities up to the castle. You can see the train hidden behind the cafe near the base of the mount. It’s not so much a train as much as a wagon. On the other hand, it sure beats having to carry up luggage and groceries.
Tips for Visiting St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall
Despite having read about visiting St. Michael’s Mount, we found we were not prepared for the actual visit.
The Easy Part of visiting St. Michael’s Mount:
I found that the things I worried about were actually really easy.
- St. Michael’s Mount has a dedicated parking lot right in the little town of Marazion across from the causeway where you can park your car. National Trust members receive discounted parking.
- The walk across the causeway is very easy and takes about 10-15 minutes.
- Don’t worry so much about the tides coming in. Every National Trust member seemed to know the times of the tides for the day. There are placards placed around the site reminding you of the tides.
- There are places to eat and shop on St. Michael’s Mount. After our trek up the hillside, we treated ourselves to some delicious ice-cream. The Courtyard Shop has a well-curated collection of items I hadn’t seen elsewhere.
Here’s what I wish I had known about visiting St. Michael’s Mount:
- Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes. Some of the stones underfoot really gouge into the soles of thin-soled shoes.
- Dogs are allowed only at the base of St. Michael’s Mount. The area is charmingly called the village and harbor. It is a more limited space than you would think because the walkway up to the castle is off-limits.
- I can not emphasise enough how much you should wear walking shoes. The path up to the Castle is NOT paved. My kids thought it was fun hopping from stone to stone. A well-dressed older gentlemen in front of us though went tumbling because his shoes did not have enough grip on the stones. We were lucky and went on a nice, dry day. I would imagine these stones would be trickier in wetter weather.
- The path up to the castle is pretty vertical. There are not even any front steps for this castle. You clamber up rocks to access it.
- Obviously St. Michael’s Mount is not wheelchair or buggy friendly from what I have said. Even toddlers may find it challenging though. I know from my own kids that they when they were toddlers they just wanted to explore by themselves. You’ll need to keep a close eye on them because the stone pathways are not smooth. Even inside the castle, there’s lots of stairs which could present a problem.
- Right near the car park, there is a charming little playground for children to let off some steam.
- Marazion is a charming little town in its own right. It’s got restaurants, cafes and benches that overlook St Michael’s Mount. With the sun glistening of the water and the rocks, it’s a view that you really can’t get tired of.
- Like other places we found in Cornwall, St. Michael’s Mount is closed on a Saturday.
We thought St. Michael’s Mount was beautiful and lived up to expectations. When the tide is out, the beach is flat and great for children to play. When the tide is in, you can really see the beauty of the little isolated island castle.