Britain at its best: Enjoy our very own Mont-Saint-Michel – a castle-topped tidal island of rugged slate and granite that rises from the Atlantic Ocean 200 feet off the coast of Cornwall
- St Michaelsberg along the Cornish coast looks eerily like its twin in Normandy, Mont-Saint-Michel
- The St Aubyns have lived in the island’s historic castle since 1660 – visitors can book a tour online
- Subtropical plants that would struggle for survival elsewhere in Britain hang on the slopes of the castle
From the headland of Cudden Point, a few miles along the Cornish coast, St. Michael’s Mount looks like a truly hideous fortress.
But from the coast across from the small town of Marazion, it somehow becomes a pure fairytale. Rapunzel could have let her locks down from one of the towers.
The tidal island eerily resembles its twin in Normandy, Mont-Saint-Michel, from where the Benedictine monks first arrived in 1044. She has been secular since the English Civil War when she was held by royalists as one of their last strongholds against Roundhead forces. Since then it has been a rather unusual family home.
Historically: “St. Michaelsberg looks like a really forbidden fortress,” writes Martin Symington of The Daily Mail
The St. Aubyns have lived in the island’s historic castle since 1660. James St. Aubyn (aka Baron St. Levan) and his wife Mary live in a private apartment in the castle
Crowned by the castle, the tidal island of rugged slate and granite juts out about 200 feet from the Atlantic. For about two hours, waves roll over a dam on either side of the tide, separating the mountain from the mainland.
As I wait for the water to subside, I let my senses wander over the centuries to the legends of St. Michael, from fishermen to the plainchant of long-exiled monks. Then I see a man walking on the water. At least that’s what it looks like. The figure is followed by a number of other souls who trot from Marazion to the island.
Soon it will be my turn to stroll the few hundred meters over the cobblestone dam. There have been no passenger boats since reopening after the lockdown. Therefore, visits are limited to the four hours at low tide when the dam is exposed. Tickets to tour the palace and the gardens must be purchased online in advance.
A steep path leads to the castle, which is a jumble of eras and styles. The St. Aubyns have lived in the castle since 1660. James St. Aubyn (aka Baron St. Levan) and his wife Mary live in a private apartment in the castle.
He tells me, “We live here under an agreement with the National Trust, to which my grandfather donated most of the island in 1954.” The family is looking for a new castle clerk to take on the maintenance tasks that you can touch. I am tempted to apply.
I visit the castle (mask on, required) and take a break in the original monastic refectory now known as the Chevy Chase Room. The huge oak table and the plaster frieze from the 17th century with caricature hunting scenes suggest that times were rougher.
The tidal island eerily resembles its twin in Normandy, Mont-Saint-Michel, from where the Benedictine monks first arrived in 1044
Subtropical plants that would struggle for survival elsewhere in Britain cling to the castle’s rocky slopes
Get the tide and book for the castle or garden terraces (open May 20th and 26th respectively) from £ 10 at stmichaelsmount.co.uk. B & B double rooms at the Polurrian On The Lizard Hotel from £ 119 (polurrianhotel.com).
The garrison room is filled with exotic treasures gathered by the St. Aubyn family during colonial exploits. My favorite is a magnificent suit made of samurai armor that the Japanese emperor gave as a gift.
I find an ingenious tidal clock from 1785 that helps the St. Aubyns plan their crossings. Even stranger is the model of the mount made from champagne corks by a butler in the 1930s.
From the castle terraces you have a wide view over the sea to the lizard peninsula and dizzying down to the gardens, to which I come next.
It is quite astonishing that a garden even exists on this salty piece of wind-blown rock. But the Gulf Stream has a negative impact on the climate. Subtropical plants that would struggle for survival elsewhere in Britain cling to rocky slopes and patio beds that fall to the water’s edge.
A guide tells me that gardeners can sometimes be seen rappelling and weeding down cliffs. I climb the steep garden paths with their strange looking cacti and flowers. My phone’s plant app identifies puya, agave, and aloe.
Then I notice a sylph-like woman with purple hair consulting a talisman piece of stone in her hand. She says, “We are on the St. Michael’s Alignment Ley Line, which connects to Glastonbury. It’s a very sacred place, don’t you think so? ‘
I am not sure what to think.