Thursday, 30 November 2017

Cornish Adventures Part Five: St Michael's Mount

On the last day of our holiday, we awoke to blue skies and sunshine, and decided to make the most of it with a trip down to St. Michael's Mount.

In all the years we've been holidaying in Cornwall, none of us had ever visited St. Michael's Mount before, but it had been high on my Cornish bucket list for most of my adult life. It always looked so beautiful in the travel guides and photos I saw, and I couldn't wait to finally see it.

We bundled in to the car around ten am, and drove the twenty-five miles south-west from Perranporth to Marazion in South Cornwall. When we arrived half an hour later, we parked at Marazion Beach, which was already packed with cars and tourists, and headed over to the beach where there was a phenomenal view of the island crowned with a castle just out to sea.

St. Michael's Mount is a small tidal island located just off the coast of Marazion in Mount's Bay, three miles east of Penzance. It can be accessed by causeway from Marazion beach at low tide, but at high tide it floods and becomes cut off from the mainland and the only way to get in or out of the island is by boat, which run regularly for a small fee.

We arrived at low tide, so we were able to make our entrance by causeway, like we'd hoped. To get there, we chose to walk along the beach, a stretch of golden sand dotted with rocks and swathes of slimy brown seaweed, and met up with the beginning of the path further down the sand. You can also access it from a path running along the seafront, but where's the fun in that?

The causeway turned out to be made of raised granite setts, so it was quite tiring walking along it, and it gave the legs a real work out; my calves with aching the whole way! (Though, to be fair, they've barely been used in the last six years). I'd chosen to wear flats sandals, which definitely weren't the best choice for the uneven terrain, and I wished I'd gone in boots or trainers instead. What ever you do, don't go in heels!

Even though it was a tiring walk, I really enjoyed walking the causeway. It felt like I was following the yellow brick road to Oz, except I wasn't skipping along in a pair of ruby red slippers with a scarecrow, a tin man, and a cowardly lion. I was short one scarecrow. It took all I had not to break out in to song (#we're off to see the wizard...#), but luckily for everybody else, I didn't. I sound like a cat's choir being run over by a lawn mower.

The skies were blue, the sun was blazing down, it was scorching hot, and the view was amazing. On either side of the path were tons of rocks, tidal pools, and a carpet of sea weed (so much sea weed), with the sea just ahead, and the sand beach stretching out beside us. Ahead of us we could see stone cottages and people on the island, boats in a semi-enclosed stone harbour, huge stone walls, and the castle surrounded by dozens of lush green trees drawing closer with every step. It was so beautiful, and like nowhere I'd ever seen before. It felt like we were heading in to the past.

The view behind us.

What I hadn't appreciated before hand was just how long the walk to the island would be. In the photos the causeway didn't look far at all, but I'd say it was about a mile walk (from / to the car park) each way. It shouldn't be a problem if you're fit and in good health, but I'm not going to lie, it wasn't an easy walk with chronic pain and joint stiffness; I was exhausted before I'd even made it on to the causeway! Still, I kept putting one foot in front of the other in determination to make it there, and not let my health stop me from enjoying myself, which was my mind-frame for the week. 'Fuck the pain, I'm powering through!' Giving up and admitting defeat isn't in my nature.

When we finally made it on to the island, the first thing we did was stop for a rest on a stone wall. The walk was knackering! We just sat and took everything in for a few minutes, and acknowledged how far we'd just walked. I was impressed with myself for making it so far; it was the furthest I'd walked since I'd developed chronic pain!

I was surprised to find there was a little village on the island, made up of a handful of houses, a church with a small cemetery, gardens, tea rooms, gift shops, and a small harbour. Before our trip, I was only aware of the castle on top of the island, and didn't consider that anybody actually lived there. Apparently around thirty residents live on the island today, but back in the 1800s there were around three hundred.

The population might have dwindled in the last two hundred years, but the number of tourists certainly made up for it. The island was swarming with tourists, which was surprising for a Friday lunchtime in early June, but unsurprising considering how beautiful the island was, and that the weather was so good after a week of rain. It was a little hectic, but at the same time, it had a really lovely atmosphere as we wandered around.

There was a gift shop a few feet from where we'd sat, so we began there, but didn't make our purchases until after we'd walked around the island. It sold some really gorgeous but over-priced gifts and souvenirs; there were so many pretty things I wanted to buy but couldn't afford, but I did make a few smaller purchases later on.

As we walked around, we discovered The Priory Church, a 12th century church with a small cemetery, just metres from the first gift shop. We didn't go inside- I'm not even sure if you can- but I would've liked to have explored the cute little graveyard, which unfortunately isn't open to the public. I managed to take a couple of photos of the headstones through a closed wrought iron gate, though; the ones I saw dated back as far as the 1200s! Surprisingly, the church is still used for Sunday services to this day.

The headstone at the front reads 'To the memory of W. Howard of Jersey who died May 12 1781 aged 22. Also Stephen Cortal of D. who died May 20 1781 Aged 20'. I can't make out everything on the headstone to the back left, but what I can says 'Sacred. To the memory of Henry C. Harvey. Son of Henry & Mary U. Harvey of the parish of (possibly Bruage or Bruagm) ----- departed this life the 1- January 1835 aged 8 years & 2 months. The -----. Grave receives his dust.' And I can't make out the bottom four lines because my photos didn't come out sharp enough.

Beside the cemetery, there was a series of gardens with a long line of people queueing to go in. It was another section I would've liked to have taken a peek at, but it was £7 to go inside, and nobody else wanted to pay that to look at a few flowers, so we didn't. I've since read that The Walled Gardens date back to 1780, and contain a wide variety of plants from all over the world, with tropical plants kept alive by the island's unique warm climate that rarely sees frosts.

We walked around the little cobbled streets at the base of the island in the sunshine, along paths lined with tall stone walls bordered with flowers and succulents, with the magnificent castle looming over us from above. We wandered past cute terraced cottages that are home to the island's thirty villagers, and stumbled up on another gift shop where we all picked up some souvenirs.

Although the gift shops on the island were expensive and over-priced, there were so many gorgeous things I wanted to buy, but it was the last day of the holiday, and I was almost out of money, so I stuck to a few smaller purchases instead. I came away from the two gift shops with some beautiful Cornish postcards, a leather St. Michael's Mount bookmark (because it reminded me of the ones I used to buy on primary school trips and I got all nostalgic), some sea salt milk chocolate (that was expensive and tasted like crap), a bottle of delicious local apple juice, and the most amazing strawberry shortbread I would later wish I'd bought more of and in more flavours. It was some of the best shortbread I've ever tasted.

After making our purchases, we headed back along towards the harbour where we sat for a while, enjoying the view of the sea, and the boats marooned in the dry harbour. The view was beautiful. 

In the end, we only explored the base of the island, and didn't climb higher to visit the castle or see more of what the place had to offer, mostly because I didn't have enough strength to go any further, and neither did Marie, who had a broken toe. I was a little disappointed we didn't make it, but I was happy to have seen it from a short distance, and will just have to return in the future and try again.

After about an hour on the island, we'd explored everything we wanted to at the summit (besides the cemetery and gardens, anyway), and were ready to start heading back. Obviously, we would have spent much longer at St Michael's Mount if we had explored the gardens stopped for a bite to eat, and climbed up to the castle, but it's a small island and doesn't take long to explore if you're just wandering around the summit. Short and sweet visits suit me best these days, anyhow.

As we walked down on to the causeway, I was suddenly hit with an overwhelming wave of pain, and hit my wall. It always happens when I've pushed myself too much, and should've stopped and returned to bed half an hour earlier. It's difficult to explain, but when it hits, it's agonisingly uncomfortable, like a stitch but a million times more painful and intense, and all over my body. The pain was so overwhelming I felt like I was going to be sick and pass out, and when I moved my legs in front of the other it felt like I was trying to wade through treacle. I needed to stop for the day, but we were about a mile from the car on a causeway, and it would be hours before the tide was in and the boats started ferrying people back to the mainland. I had no choice but to push myself through it and keep moving. I could've cried.

Instead of following the path all the way along, we cut across on to the sand just a short distance on to the causeway, and slowly strolled across the beach, which made for a much easier walk. Who walks along a path when you can walk along a sandy beach, anyway? Nobody I want to know. I did my best to distract myself from the pain by taking photos of everything I saw- the sand, the sea, the seagulls, shells, seaweed, even a dead crab we found. It helped me to keep going.

The sun was blazing down on us and the heat was swelteringly hot, so the walk back was gorgeous, in spite of the pain. Being the idiot I am, I forgot to bring my sun tan lotion, but instead of getting burnt to a crisp, like I would usually, for the first time in my life, I actually caught a tan on my face and arms! I never catch the sun. I'm so pale, I usually burn in the moonlight, and just watch my freckles multiply in the sun. (And boy, did they!) Marie was shocked because she'd never seen me with a tan in my life! I barely even recognised myself in the mirror later that day. (Side note: A Louise tan is probably what most people would call pale and sickly, but it was a tan to me!)

By the time we made it near the car park, I was really struggling to move any further, so Steve went ahead to drive the car closer for me. I don't think I would've made it if he hadn't. I was so exhausted, my eyes were falling shut in the car every two seconds on the way back to Perranporth (it was 1pm)- and I've never been able to sleep when I'm travelling. Ever. According to Marie's pedometer, we'd walked about three miles.

Our trip to Marazion was definitely worth the pain and exhaustion, though. I really enjoyed our visit to St. Michael's Mount, and the long walk to and from the island; it was one of my favourite parts of the entire holiday! The walk along the beach and the causeway alone was so gorgeous it was worth the trip without even stepping foot on the island. The whole area was so beautiful. I'm so glad we finally made it there after a lifetime of never getting around to it, and I can't wait to go back and explore it further. If you're ever in Cornwall, you have to pay this place a visit! I promise you won't regret it!

After a detour for pasties, fresh scones, and sticks of rock in Perranporth on the way back to the holiday park, we packed up later that afternoon, and regretfully left Perranporth around 5pm. I'd had such a lovely time in Cornwall that I didn't want to leave, and was sad to go. I loved being back in my second home after all those years away, and if it wasn't for the lack of phone / Internet signal (seriously, it was like being back in the stone age!), I would've happily stayed there forever. It's my favourite place in the country, if not the world.

I'm so glad I decided to go on holiday to Cornwall with Marie and Steve, and powered through the pain to get there, and enjoy myself. It did my mental and emotional health some good. I was able to return to some of my favourite places and explore a couple of new ones, and even managed to get out and about for a couple of hours every day, which was amazing. I might not have been able to holiday on the same scale as when I was healthy, and spent more time relaxing in the caravan than anything else, but it was a lovely week away, and sure beat spending another week in bed at home, resting but in pain, anyway. I'd choose a week in Cornwall over a week at home in bed any day of the week!

The week away reaffirmed my love of Cornwall; even after a life time of Cornish holidays, I still love the place as much as ever, and enjoyed every moment I was there. It never loses its charm. It's one of the most beautiful areas in the country, and without a doubt, the best place for a holiday on this little island. Everybody needs to take a holiday there at least once. I've been countless times, but I can't wait to go back, and experience it all over again. Now I know I can manage a gentle week away in Cornwall, I know I'll be back sooner rather than later. Just you try to keep me away!

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1 comment

  1. I am so glad to see these beautiful pictures. I went there when I was alittle girl and I have very little memories of it really. Many of our early family holidays were spent in Cornwall- my name comes from there and my Mum loves it! I am so glad you had this holiday and were able to enjoy it even if you did have awful pain on the way back- well done for getting through it!


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