Textile Lover's Travel Guide: St. Michael's Mount, Cornwall
Today we are headed back to Penzance to explore some of the fun things to do in the area after you have visited all the textile related shops in town. One place you should not miss while you are staying in Penzance is St. Michael’s Mount. It’s a fairy tale-like castle on an island accessed by a magical causeway that appears and disappears with the tide. It also happens to be the place where, according to local lore, Jack defeated the giant and this folklorist could not resist that combination!
St. Michael’s Mount is actually closest to the next town up the coast from Penzance, called Marazion. There are regular buses that run between the two towns but for a truly great adventure I recommend walking to St. Michael’s Mount via the South West Coast Path. The South West Coast Path is the longest national trail in the UK and covers 630 miles of coastline all around Cornwall. From Penzance to Marazion is 2.5 meters of the trail along gorgeous coastlines with fantastic views. If you are at all up for taking a longish walk I highly recommend it.
You pick up the Coast Path at the Penzance bus and train station at the far end of the bus platform by the sea. There are actually two entrances here. The one that is closest to the sea dead ends so you want to take the entrance closer to the bus station. You’ll walk between the walls and the fenced off train tracks at first but then the trail will rise up to run alongside the sea.
Before you start out you will want to check the times for high tide and low tide and plan your walk accordingly. You want to reach St. Michael’s Mount while the causeway is still open. If you miss it you can always take a boat over but you don’t want to miss the experience of walking across this disappearing bridge. I stayed at the Blue Seas Hotel while I was in Penzance and they had a sign by the front door that indicated the times for high and low tide. You can also look the tide times up online.
I started my walk early so it was still cool and made sure to pack plenty of water and slather on the sunscreen. A good hat wouldn’t go amiss either. Good hiking shoes or tennis shoes are needed for St. Michael’s Mount and you’ll also want to pack a towel in case you decide to take off your shoes and socks to walk in the sea along the way.
The Coast Path from Penzance to Marazion runs along a few different beaches. The first beach was rocky and had lots of folks playing with their dogs. It was fun to see so many happy dogs chasing balls and barking and swimming as their owners walked along the beach or went swimming themselves. With the tide out you can either drop down and walk closer to the sea or stay up on the coastal path. I did a little of both.
As you get close to Marazion the beaches have more sand than rocks so I took off my shoes and socks and walked through the edge of the water. I got very lucky and while the tide was low I pretty much had this beach to myself, so I stopped frequently to take in the views and just enjoy the calming sounds of the waves. With all of these pauses the walk took me about an hour and a half. As I got closer to St. Michael’s Mount I dried off my feet and slipped by shoes and socks back on. I reached the causeway just a little before the tide came in and as the beach filled up with surfers and swimmers behind me.
A crowd of people were going to and from and island and the ocean was just starting to creep over the middle of the causeway as I arrived. Before you cross the causeway there is a large pile of rocks with steps that you can climb up if you want a great view. When the tide comes in that rock is fully surrounded by water so take advantage while you can.
Once you walk across the causeway and arrive on the island you’ll find yourself in a small village, with shops, a restaurant, entrances to see the castle and gardens, and the houses for the people who live and work on the island.
After a long walk my first stop was to get scones with clotted cream and jam and a pot of tea at the restaurant. I sat outside at the picnic benches and watched the tide come in and cover the causeway. A number of people braved crossing as the tide quickly came in and soon no one was able to cross back to the mainland at all.
The island is part of the National Trust in the United Kingdom. It has a long recorded history that dates back to the 8th century and archaeological evidence of inhabitance that dates back even further. Today the castle is the home of the St. Aubyn family but large portions of the castle are open to visitors and the gardens are open on specific days of the week. I unfortunately visited on a day that the gardens were closed but I was still able to visit the castle.
Once you have paid your entrance fee you are let into the castle grounds and are free to explore. It’s a long climb up to the top of the island with rocky paths that can be a bit slippery and stone steps that are worn from the passing of many feet. Be aware that this isn’t really a place where you can take strollers or wheelchairs, though the village part of the island is flat and much more accessible.
On your hike up to the castle be sure to keep an eye out for The Giant’s Heart, a heart shaped stone set into the rock path up to the castle. Local folklore holds that it is the heart of Cormoran the Giant who was defeated by Jack. Jack tricked the Giant into falling into a deep hole, now called the Giant’s Well, another point of interest on the walk to the top. Jack killed the Giant and cut out his heart, throwing it as far away as he could and it landed in the path where you can see it today.
It’s a long walk to the top of the island but the views once you get there are spectacular!
With your ticket you can take a tour of the public parts of the castle. It is full of beautiful architecture, interesting historical pieces, and wonderful guides willing to answer your questions. Personally I’d love to just live in the castle’s library room! Recessed reading nooks full of book shelves? Yes please! It would be a great place to stitch as well!
From the top of the castle you can also look down to take a peek at the beautiful gardens, even when they aren’t open for you to walk through. The gardens are actually designed to be viewed from above and from the ground so you’ll want to take a look.
It was a clear day with calm waters which meant you could also clearly see the causeway from the top of the castle, despite it being fully under water. When the tide is in the causeway is far enough under the ocean for boats to safely travel over it!
Once you have looked your fill it is time to walk back down to the village. There are lots of great shops selling local art and local books to peruse. I picked up a beautifully illustrated children’s book, some locally made glass coasters, and some local snacks to remember my trip.
After wandering through some of the exhibitions about the history of the island I was ready to return to the mainland. As the tide was in, I took one of the many boats that ferry visitors back and forth when the causeway is underwater. There is a queue down by the docks to catch a boat and a small fee to pay to the boat’s captain. The ride back to the mainland is quick and drops you off a short walk away from the center of Marazion.
After a long walk in and hiking up the mount I was ready for an easy trip back to Penzance so I caught the local bus. The bus picks up just outside of the Godolphin Arms and drops you off at the bus station in Penzance.
Then it was back to my B&B to find some dinner and work on some of those textile projects I had picked up while shopping the day before!
I hope you enjoyed this tour of one of my favorite spots near Penzance and that you’ll check out St. Michael’s Mount if you are ever in the area. Stay tuned for a few more posts on Penzance exploring where to stay and eat and other fun things to do!
Disclosure: No aspect of this post was sponsored. This was a vacation I planned and paid for on my own.
Photo credit: All photos by author.