One of the main reasons I stayed in Penzance while in Cornwall last year, was to walk the causeway across Mount’s Bay to St. Michael’s Mount. I’d seen photo after photo of it, rising from the water like a fairytale castle from a story book.
The day before’s rain had stopped some time during the night, leaving just a grey mist. I caught the bus along to the little village of Marazion, and negotiated my way along the granite setts of the causeway to the island.
The Mount has had quite a few incarnations over the years: as a Benedictine priory, a fort and, when bought by Sir John Aubyn in 1660, as a family home. The family still lives there.
During its days as a monastery it was a destination for pilgrims, encouraged by an indulgence granted by Pope Gregory in the 11th century. I can’t imagine going up these steps on my knees. They are steep and made up of rocks and stones thrown in willy-nilly. It was very hard going.
And even more intimidating when almost to the top, for someone who is still trying to cure a fear of heights. There didn’t seem to be anything to stop you rolling down the hill if you happened to lose your footing. Now that would have been embarrassing.
I started with Chevy Chase, which was the refectory for the priory, and continued as the main dining room for the family until the 1950s. The present Lord Levan says, ‘Even today, we sometimes assemble to enjoy the tradition of eating here which has lasted almost nine centuries.’
I wandered in and out of the rooms, each one, it seemed, differently decorated to the one before. One set of rooms is called the Blue Rooms, painted in lots and lots of pastelly blue. I thought it was awfully sad to hide the beautiful architraves under white paint. I wonder how Queen Victoria felt about the colour scheme, as she took tea on the sofa with the housekeeper, during an unannounced visit in 1846 when the family were away. Maybe it was her thing.
But I loved the library. I could have sat there forever, a fire roaring, hot chocolate being brought by the servants, my choice of any book.
This passage leads to the family’s private apartments. I desperately wanted to sneak down for a look but just managed to control myself.
I found myself at one stage in the 12th century chapel, a little cocoon of quietness and comfort.
I wandered out onto the battlements.
On the way back down, I passed what they call the Dreckley Express, a cable operated incline railway, that transports supplies from the harbourside tram yard to the kitchen pantry of the castle. This happens on a daily basis, and has for over a century. Very convenient.
At the bottom of the steps is The Giant’s Well, which until 100 years ago was the source of water for the castle. The well is the focal point of the story, Jack and the Giant Killer, as the remains of the giant are said to lie at the bottom of it.
This gorgeous little building was the dairy; a bit different to the dairies I knew in my childhood in Victoria’s Gippsland.
It was early afternoon by the time I finished exploring and the tide was in. Which meant I had to climb into a boat, not something I’m that comfortable with, never having learnt how to swim.
I’m glad I made it to my fairytale castle. Now I’m desperate to visit Mont Saint Michel in France, which looks even more exotic.