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St Michaels Mount Castle and the island that it is sat on is a serious melting pot of myths, legends, secret and stories just waiting for you to uncover.
It almost looks like a fairytale, doesn’t it?! A mysterious castle perched on a holm, cut off by the sea that you can only reach at low tide? It’s the stuff of fantasy!
To add to the storybook, this isle has many legends surrounding it with tales of mermaids, giants, miracles and angels.
As well as the myths, there are many chapters of its colourful history that we do know of.
How it became a religious community, a chess piece in political and religious warfare and finally a family home and tourist attraction.
Here are some mind-blowing St Michaels Mount castle facts, stories and secrets you didn’t know before.
What is St Michaels Mount?
St Michaels Mount is a tidal island that lies off the east coast of Cornwall. The mount is part of the civil parish of Marazion (pronounced Ma-ra-zy-un) and there is a man made causeway that connects the island with the town.
In Cornish, St Michaels Mount translates to ‘Karrek Loos yn Koos’ meaning ‘the grey rock in a wood’. Many think this means that at one point the island may not have been an island at all but a large forest.
The mount has a medieval castle perched on top and some landscaped tropical gardens beneath which are now owned by the National Trust.
Running the mount is a joint partnership between the St Aubyn family and the National Trust who live in the castle. It’s a huge tourist attraction that sees well over 300,000 people visit each year!
As well as a hot spot for sightseers, it’s a living community with a working village and harbour that has 35 residents who call it home.
They all have a part to play of running the island from farming, boating and maintaining this beautiful place.
The stories, myths and legends of St Michaels Mount
From mysterious earthly energies, tribes of settlers, pagans, pilgrims, kings, soldiers and saints.
This tiny island has SO much to uncover. It has inspired tales for thousands of years.
In order to really understand what it is today, you have to peel back the layers of time.
Why is it named after St Michael? What was it used for? Who lived in the castle over the years?
Well, like any story, you must start at the beginning! So, here are some facts, secrets and stories about St Michaels mount and its majestic castle!
1. The castle was once home to a HUGE giant
The most famous fairytale connection that St Michaels Mount castle has is that once upon a time it was home to Cormoran the Giant.
Cormoran was 18 foot tall, with a 9-foot waist, and had twelve fingers and twelve toes.
He is thought to have had a hand in creating the island and castle along with his wife Cormelian.
He would use it as a base to raid cattle from the surrounding villages on the mainland and he would eat whatever he got his hands on. Men, women, and children!
He had a cave on the island and only crossed over to the mainland at low tide. Even though, I’m not sure how that was such a challenge at high tide with being 18-foot tall giant but still, play along…
He was a force to be reckoned with and terrorised local communities. That was until the foolhardy hero Jack came along…
The fairytale of Jack the Giant Killer
Jack was a young boy and son of a farmer who lived around the same time of King Arthur.
One day, the magistrates were meeting at the Town Hall to talk about the giant Comoran and how he must be stopped. Jack happened to be there and asked what the prize would be for killing the giant.
The magistrates replied that whoever killed the giant would receive his treasure. So, Jack took the offer!
He went over to the island with a horn, shovel and a pickaxe on a winters night and dug a pit of twenty feet deep. He then covered the top of the pit in straw and moss to make it look like solid ground.
The next morning, Jack blew his horn and woke the giant from his slumber.
The giant threatened to cook Jack for his breakfast and began to charge at him. But, the sun blinded the giant and he fell into the pit.
Jack then gets his pickaxe and pierces the crown of Comorans head, killing him instantly on the spot.
He then buries the giant and walks into his cave, taking all of his treasure.
On his return back to the town, the magistrates then decided to name him Jack the Giant-killer!
The Giant’s Heart
Although the fairytale of Jack the Giant Killer and Comoran happened long ago, the story of the giant has not entirely left the island.
In fact, many say that the broken tree trunks and boulders dotted around here are down to Comoran’s rage!
On the Pilgrim’s way up to the castle, you’ll find an unassuming attraction of the Giant’s Heart.
Trodden on by thousands of boots over time, this heart-shaped cobble is all that’s left of Comoran. He lies in wait for you to discover him.
Many say that when you stop here and really listen you can still hear the sound of the giant’s unhappy heart beating!
Although the National Trust have a sign for it, it is still quite hard to locate on the pathway. So keep your eyes peeled.
2. The mount was named after Saint Michael the archangel
Although we see mermaids now as romanticised by characters in the likes of cartoons. Mermaids were never seen as friendly creatures throughout history.
They were sirens with deafening screams, a sailor’s curse, a fisherman’s downfall; they were evil enchantresses that would make any sea voyage fail!
In their wrath, they would create storms, sink ships and lure men astray.
It was the same here at St Michael’s Mount recorded as far back as 495AD. Fishermen would tell tales of Mermaids who would lure fishermen onto the rocks.
Eventually, many said that they saw an apparition of the archangel St Michael who would guide them to safety on the west side of the island.
St Michael is supposed to have saved many men this way and it’s still a miracle that pilgrims celebrate today!
The mount was eventually named after him and the abbey was built in his honour.
3. It’s home to supernatural Ley Line energies that are very powerful
The island is also a major site for spiritual seekers as the heart of the island is built over the old-age Ley Lines.
Ley Lines are supernatural lines that connect the universe through various monuments and landforms. These lines carry pockets of concentrated energy that can be harnessed by certain individuals.
They were first theorised in 1921 and the debate of whether they truly exist has been much debated ever since.
The Ley Lines are thought to connect major ancient monuments over the world like the Great Pyramids of Giza, Chichen Itza, and Stonehenge.
All sites that have been known for their spiritual presence.
If you were to line up St Michaels Mount with Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, it’s almost a straight line. You could even then line those up with similar sites dedicated to St Michael in Ireland, Italy and Israel.
The Ley Lines in Cornwall run under the sea and right over the heart of the island. Some say that if you climb to the top of the mount, you’ll find a bedrock outside of St Michaels Mount chapel.
If you sit on it you can try and harness the energies. It creates a vibration throughout your whole body.
Why not try it for yourself on your visit?
4. There have been settlers here for thousands of years!
The mount is a place of new discoveries all the time. Even the Pilgrim’s way on the mount was only rediscovered in the 1950s!
There is evidence to suggest that the mount was home to Neolithic people around 5,000 years go.
We know this from flint fragments found on the island. Quite recently, there was a groundbreaking find by the assistant head gardener Darren Little. ‘
The Bronze Age Hoard’ that was uncovered included 48 items which included arrowheads, ingots, blades and buckles.
After some testing made by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in London, they traced the tools back 3,000 years! It’s thought that they were used by a Blacksmith.
Some of the hoard is now on display in St Michaels Mount castle and some are cared for by the Royal Cornwall Museum.
5. It was an industrial hotspot with the tin trade
As far back as two thousand years ago, the island was famous for providing Cornish tin for trade. This was just before the Roman Invasions.
It’s thought that Phoenician ships sailed into the harbour here to collect tin for trading with the rest of Europe.
The tin trade became huge and a way to businessmen wealthy. So, the harbour became a busy port with hundreds of vessels who would import and export goods.
There are studies that even link this port with the tin port of Ictis mentioned by Posidonius in Ancient Greece!
6. The island was gifted to the Benedictine Order by Edward the Confessor
The history of St Michaels Mount as a religious area started around the 8th century when a tribe of Celtic pagan settlers were on the mount.
However, in the 11th century, Edward the Confessor gifted the mount to the Benedictine Order with the vision of a Christian chapel.
This was the same order that was residing at the Norman Benedictine Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel overseas in Normandy.
However, it wasn’t until a century later that the Benedictine priory and chapel was built and established for Bernard Le Bec.
The community was then only a small one of around 12 monks who lived on the mount.
Despite their size, they managed to build the religious site by hand! This was the very beginnings of the castle.
7. The mount was first seized by tricks!
St Michaels Mount was long seen as a religious and holy place. However, its position off the coast and its great height meant it was an opportunity that was too good to resist.
Many wanted to own the land as a defensive fortress here. So, Henry La Pomeray decided to do just that. But, he was incredibly sneaky about it.
In 1193, King Richard the Lionheart was on a crusade to the Holy Land. While he was away, Henry decided to lead a group of Prince John’s supporters to seize the island.
Henry was already suspected of conspiring with King Richard’s brother John. So when a messenger came to tell him he was arrested for treason, he killed the messenger and made a plan to take the fort!
His men were cunningly disguised as pilgrims so that they wouldn’t arouse suspicion.
They then infiltrated the island and held it as a fortress for several months. Safe to say, it didn’t end well.
When King Richard returned, Pomeray was so incensed with the thought of being executed, he bled himself to death.
8. Four miracles happened here which made it a huge religious & pilgrimage site
Did you know that a total of four miracles have been recorded as taking place on St Michaels Mount?
They were reported to have happened in the church in 1262 and 1263. These miracles came in the form of priests who miraculously recovered from fevers on their pilgrimage to the island!
Plus, there were visions of St Michael the Archangel who appeared to protect those trying to cross and live on the island.
When word spread about these miracles, it led to increasing numbers of pilgrims to make the tough journey to the priory on the island… and added more money in the monk’s coffers.
Over time, it then left the hands of the Benedictine Order and became a Syon Monastery. A Bridgettine Order founded by King Henry V.
9. St Michaels Mount Castle became a political chess piece in the War of The Roses…
Although the abbey was thriving with pilgrims and a peaceful place, it couldn’t completely avoid being embroiled in political battles.
Indeed, the War of the Roses between House York and House Lancaster was a major war that fought over the throne of England.
Henry VI of House Lancaster was deposed from his throne for incompetence and so he fled to France with his court. Meanwhile, Edward IV took the throne.
One of Henry’s major supporters was John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, who was involved in many attempts to overthrow Edward IV. Pretty much all of them failed and the Lancastrian cause was nearly lost.
As a last desperate attempt, he seized St Michaels Mount castle and fought off Edward’s men for months.
In the end, he was forced to surrender.
He was put in jail near Calais but managed to escape in exile! He then joined Henry Tudor’s army of House Lancaster to victory in the Battle of Bosworth Field.
Another funny story is that Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the throne, landed on the shores of Sennen and convinced the locals that he was Richard, Duke of York. One of the lost Princes of the Tower!
He gathered an army to join him to take the mount and then moved onto challenge Henry VII. It failed miserably.
They found out that he was lying and Perkin, with some of his conspirers, were then executed.
10. …and a religious one in the Dissolution of the Monasteries…
After the war was over and the Tudors were safely on the throne the mount and castle became peaceful once more…until Henry VIII decided to dissolve the monasteries!
If you’re not in the know, the Dissolution of the Monasteries was one of the most revolutionary events in English History. All because one man wanted a divorce to marry another woman.
King Henry VIII cut his ties with the Holy Roman Emperor and the Catholic Church as they wouldn’t allow him to get a divorce. He then made himself Supreme Head of the Church in England.
After he became appointed, there were new protestant prayer books given out across the land in English and Latin mass was banned.
The dissolution was a systematic shut down of Catholic religious places; monasteries, friaries and convents across England. They were essentially looted for their wealth, completely destroyed or sold off.
St Michaels Mount was not immune as an ‘Alien Priory’ established in the Norman Era. However, it was the ban on Latin Mass that hit a nerve.
The Cornish people with their Celtic background could read Latin much better than English and they were furious.
It incited a riot and in 1549, the mount was temporarily seized by rebels during a Cornish uprising.
11. The first sighting of the Spanish Armada was from the mount
The Spanish Armada was another major event in English History. It was an attempt to overthrow the protestant Queen Elizabeth I from the throne.
The armada was an army sent by King Philip II of Spain to attack England in 1588.
The army was made up of 130 ships, 8,000 sailors and 18,000 soldiers, it also had 1,500 brass guns and 1,000 iron guns.
These ships were first sighted sailing towards England from St Michaels Mount and a beacon was lit from it as a warning!
After that, many beacons were lit across the south coast to warn others of the invasion.
12. …and again, it was fought over in the Civil War!
The last major battle that St Michaels Mount castle was involved in was the English Civil War.
This time it was a fight between the crown and parliament.
For many years, St Michaels Mount was the Crowns property and Queen Elizabeth I gifted it to Sir Robert Cecil. His descendants then garrisoned the mount for the Royalists cause.
The Cavaliers, or Parliament, then managed to defeat the Royalist forces on the battlefield. They went on to take the South West and to besiege the mount.
They were successful and Colonel John St Aubyn was appointed as Captain of the Mount. His job was to keep the peace in the neighbouring areas.
13. Until, finally, Colonel John St Aubyn purchased St Michaels Mount!
John St Aubyn was stationed at the mount for twelve years and he was so taken with the island he decided to purchase the mount outright in 1659.
He saw the opportunity when the Bassett family found themselves in poverty after they had spent their money on defences during the Civil War.
After Charles II was restored to the throne just a year later, the crown (thankfully) allowed him to keep it. He then made a plan to make this his private residence.
It was rebuilt and romanticised in the 18th and 19th centuries and also made in the Anglo-Gothic style. It has remained in the St Aubyn family ever since and today his descendants call St Michaels Castle home.
14. It was fortified in the Napoleonic Wars
The canons that you can see at the top on the battery of St Michaels Mount Castle were created during the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century.
Although the mount was never seriously under threat during this time, a Napoleonic Ship was seen entering Marazion Bay.
Thankfully the cannons help stop the ship in its tracks and allowed British forces to capture it before they came ashore!
15. A royal visit here almost went wrong!
Queen Victoria was known for her unannounced visits of notable houses. On her tours of the UK, she would sometimes drop in, taking her subjects completely by surprise!
In her famous tour of Cornwall in 1846, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and some of their children boarded their royal ship ‘The Fairy’. They then sailed over to St. Michael’s Mount.
But, when they arrived on the shore and made their way up to the castle…none of the St Aubyn family were home!
So, Queen Victoria was then shown to the famous blue drawing-room where she took tea with the housemaid until they arrived.
Queen Victoria’s brass footstep
To commemorate her visit, the mount installed a series of permanent fixtures made of brass around the harbour.
One is her brass footprint with ‘VR’ which can be seen on the top step as you alight from the ferry point.
The other is a brass plaque that has copies of Victoria and Albert’s signatures and it reads that they ‘Visited this mount’ in 1846.
King Edward VII’s footstep can be found by the bowling green.
The mount has also been visited by The Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II, her husband the Duke of Edinburgh and her son the Prince of Wales.
16. It was once a community of over 300 villagers & there was a railway!
Although today the village in St Michaels Mount is a small one with just over 30 residents. In its heyday, it was a thriving island community!
There were 300 islanders, 53 houses and four streets. They had pubs that were built for the fisherman, a school, a police station, a black smith, bowling green and dairy.
In the Victorian Era, there were stables for the horses, a herd of cows, a pilchard press and even a Change House on the shore. It was built for those at the castle who wanted to change and take a dip!
As well as the village developments, there was a short underground railway that was built at the turn of the 20th century. It was used to bring goods up to the castle and take things away.
It’s still in use today, but isn’t open to the general public. However, if you were a cliff rail fanatic and were eager to take a look, a small piece can be seen from the harbour.
17. It was re-fortified with pillboxes in the Second World War
The Second World War saw big changes for many great families and most of the properties were all transformed to focus on the war effort.
On St Michaels Mount, a series of pillboxes were installed on the banks of the island on fear of German invasion.
A pillbox was a concrete or brick lookout which was used for soldiers as a base.
They would have a series of loopholes in order to shoot weapons out of.
Many of these pillboxes can still be seen today on the shores of St Michaels Mount in the tropical gardens!
18. The St Aubyn’s gifted St Michaels Mount to the National Trust in 1954
The descendants of Colonel John St Aubyn have lived on St Michaels Mount since he purchased in the 17th century.
In the 19th century, another John St Aubyn had enough funds to extend the castle and finally make into a mansion home.
He was an MP for 30 years and was made Lord St Levan in 1887 for his loyal service.
His grandson, the third Lord St Levan, was the man who gave St Michaels Mount to the National Trust.
But, he had a strict condition that the family should be allowed to reside at the castle for the next 999 years!
The mount, its upkeep and conservation has been a joint partnership ever since.
In 2003, James and Mary St Aubyn moved to the castle with their four children and are now the Lord and Lady St Levan.
19. St Michaels Mount castle is haunted
An island with a history THAT long is bound to have a few ghosts hanging about. There is reported to have been many sightings of spectres on this island over the centuries.
Even the Lord of the manor said that within the castle walls there was a four poster bed that no child was ever able to sleep in.
The bedstead is carved with Spanish armada ships and it caused an uneasy atmosphere.
There have also been some monks sighted wandering about the castle and a benign spirit of a Grey Lady.
The ghost is believed to be a nanny of the St Aubyn family in the 18th century.
The story goes that she became pregnant out of wedlock and her father was so dismayed he threw her from the top of the castle!
20. The island causeway only opens at low tide
Although the castle is closed off by the sea as if by magic, the tides part at certain times of the day and reveal a causeway to access the island.
Years ago, pilgrims would cross the sand causeway on foot and make their way up to the abbey at the top of the mount.
But, thankfully, nowadays there is a granite pathway making it that much easier.
How to visit St Michaels Mount Castle
Since St Michaels Mount was gifted to the National Trust, the castle and the gardens are now open to the public!
You can either cross over to the island at low tide on foot or take one of the ferry-boats over the causeway at high tide.
The low tide only happens at certain times of day, so if you did want to cross over to the island on foot you’ll need to check the tide times here. The ferry boats cost £2 one way for adults and £1 for children.
These only run when the attractions are open and the tide is high enough to safely cross.
What is inside St Michaels Mount Castle?
So now you know all of the castle’s secrets, you’re probably wondering what is actually inside this amazing castle today.
There are so many things that you can see and learn inside the castle walls.
From the garrison, map rooms, historic libraries, drawing rooms and hidden passages in ancient chapels.
It’s well worth taking a good amount of time to explore it… plus, you’ll need the time and energy to actually make the journey up here!
The Pilgrim’s Way
The castle is perched high on St Michaels Mount and there is no accessible way to get there except climbing up.
You’ll need to navigate the steep Pilgrims steps and climb up the winding cobbled pathway passed the Giant’s heart to the battery.
Then, it’s a climb up even more steps to the entrance of the castle! It’s a tough walk so make sure to bring good walking shoes.
There are some handrails to hold and I saw many people bring walking sticks.
However, the views from the top of the castle are totally worth the effort and will take even more of your breath away!
It’s good to note now that only those who have bought tickets for the castle can climb it and see the views from the top of the mount.
The many historic family rooms
From Sir John’s Room, the Map Room, the historic library, the Smoking Room and the Garrison, you’ll find plenty of treasures to admire.
Not only do these rooms have incredible views from the windows but inside there are some unique collections from the St Aubyn family over the years.
Keep a look out for a mummified cat, historical books, samurai swords and even a model of the mount made entirely of champagne corks!
There are snuff boxes, chests and antiques from all over the world.
This great room of the castle was once a refectory for the priory and later on, it became a mess room for the Captain and his soldiers stationed here.
Eventually, when the family moved in, the Chevy Chase room became their Great Hall.
The name Chevy Chase comes from the plaster frieze which plays out a scene from the hunting raids around the Scottish borders.
It’s often described as the “The Ballad of Chevy Chase”. It’s a gorgeous room with a long table and is encompassed by the most beautiful stained glass windows that were collected from historic priories.
They let lots of natural light in. I loved admiring the exposed beams on the rooftop too!
The famous blue drawing room
One of my favourite rooms in the whole castle was their impressive blue drawing room which has been kept in tact since the Victorian age.
Inside are portraits from Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds plus some Windsor chairs.
A sofa in here is where Queen Victoria was shown to when she arrived on her royal visit. As none of the family was home, she had tea with the housemaid!
The Chapel at St Michaels Mount
The church on St Michaels Mount is one of the original religious parts of the island.
It dates all the way back to the 12th century and was built for Bernard le Bec of the Benedictine Order. Amazingly, the chapel is still used for Sunday service today.
The church has undergone many reconstructions over the years. In the 14th century, 15th and then completely restored in the 19th century by the St Aubyn family.
It’s definitely one of the highlights of any visit and inside you can see more magnificent stained glass windows and alabaster carvings of biblical scenes. Look out for the granite cross here that dates back to the 15th century.
There is a hidden passageway that lies beneath the chapel which reveals a cell room underneath the floors! It’s thought to be a hiding place for the monks if they were under siege.
More things to see on St Michaels Mount
The Harbour & village
The Harbour is probably the first thing you’ll see as you arrive on the mount whether on foot or by boat.
Make sure to have a look around here and find the brass footprint of Queen Victoria. Or, take a look at the fabulous old painting of the mount on the village houses overlooking the bay.
It’s hard to believe that this village was once home to over 300 people being such a tiny area. Today, there are 30 lucky residents that all play a part in conserving the island.
If you were eager to learn more about this village you can take one of the special Village tours! These are run by the National Trust on select days.
On the tour, you will be guided around the village and your host will give you all the fascinating history.
There are plenty of stories to tell and some insight into what life is like for the residents today. Click here for more information.
The tropical coastal gardens
You’d think that with the island being so close to the sea that nothing significant would grow here. But, it may surprise you to know that there is a huge landscaped garden at the base of the castle on the shore!
The terraced gardens have a labyrinth of Victorian steps, walled areas, and terraces to explore and you could easily get lost here.
In amongst the gardens are lots of unusual and tropical plants. Lavender and rosemary will be mixed with Agave and Aloe! It’s an eclectic mix of colours.
It is quite steep to walk around the area but the views are SO worth it.
From the gardens, you’ll be able to see the Penzance, Land’s End, and even the Lizard!
The gardens are closed on select days of the week in order to protect them. Always check beforehand if they will be open.
The shops & cafés
In the village, there is the Island Shop that is open which sits in the old Smithy. You can get a beautiful range of St Michaels Mount souvenirs inside.
From hand made crafts, to magnets and portraits of the mount from local artists!
If you’re looking for where to eat on St Michael’s Mount, there are a number of cafés and food stalls to choose from!
- Sail Loft: An upscale restaurant on the mount that prides itself with fresh dishes made with local produce. You can get breakfast, light snacks, lunches of a catch of the day along with adult beverages here
- Island Cafe: serves up brunch, lunch, light snacks, soft drinks and tea and coffee! I had one of the nicest lemon drizzle cakes here with a coffee as a pick me up. You can sit outside on the benches to enjoy the views of the sea and Marazion
- Cornish Sausages: St Michael’s Mount even has its very own sausage wagon! Cornish Sausages provide many hotdog options including vegetarian and vegan. Which come with a load of toppings to choose
Where to stay near St Michaels Mount
There is currently no option to stay on St Michaels Mount. However, you can find accommodation close by the causeway in Marazion just opposite.
Many of the hotels are on the seafront and have fabulous views that overlook the island!
- The Godolphin Arms – is a popular pub with a restaurant overlooking the mount during the day. But, also has some chic sea view rooms that you can check into. This place is inches away from the causeway! Click to book.
- Mount Haven Hotel – is another spectacular hotel that has rooms overlooking the mount. Also, there is a beautiful terrace where you can enjoy dinner or a drink overlooking the view. Click to enquire.
- St Aubyn Estates Cottages – St Aubyn Estates have adopted historic homes and converted them into holiday cottages for rent! These bespoke properties are perfect for sleeping 1-8 people. These aren’t in Marazion, but are tucked away right in the heart of coastal walks on the South West Coast Paths. Giving you some privacy and quiet! Click for rates.