By Seema Anand Chopra
Walking on the seabed path to Saint Michael’s Mount sounded quite a thrilling prospect so we planned to spend the second part of the day driving to it while in Saint Ives, England! From the car park of the nearby Marazion town we saw that the vast sea had receded at low-tide to reveal a manmade granite path leading to the island of Saint Michael’s Mount, a castle crowning the emerald mountain. We were soon walking on the path scattered with seaweeds and it was exhilarating to ‘see the sea’ trickling under my feet and as I experienced the ‘Sea walk’! We were asked to return before the High tide else the path would get submerged in sea water and we would have to look for a boat to transfer us on the mainland.
The name of the Mount is derived from Archangel Saint Michael who is believed to be not just a Saint but the leader of angels in God’s army against Satan in the Bible. Ancient stories are narrated of Fishermen guided to safety by a vision of Archangel Saint Michael in 495 AD! In the following period this drew monks and pilgrims to the island to pray and celebrate.
Historically Mount Saint Michael is a Cornish counterpart of the French Mont Michael in Normandy and so was a Norman Abbey between 8th to 11th centuries. The Monastery was destroyed by an earthquake and over the centuries the Mount was often a centre for Sieges till it was sold to Colonel St Aubyn in the 17th century. This family along with Britain’s National Trust manages it now.
I recalled reading that this Island Mount existed since pre-historic times known as the ‘Karrek Loos yn Koos’ in Cornish language that means ‘the Grey Rock in a Wood’. Folklore also links it to a Mount in the centre of a Wood that was flooded in about 1700 BC as proven by radio-carbon dating.
Reaching the island we started our walk up the cobbled path towards the summit. We stepped back in time to discover the New Stone age, the Middle Stone age and then the Medieval ages Settlers – the Monks, the Soldiers, and the Pilgrims. …. It was fascinating to realize that we were trekking the original Pilgrims Path discovered in 1950 and is now the main route to the Castle. Finally we got to the Castle that time had transformed from a Monastery to a Fort to a Family Home!
We crossed the threshold of the Castle through a medieval door into an Entrance Hall. The Coat of Arms of the St Aubyn family and the Travelling chest of Colonel St Aubyn caught our attention. After the Civil War he was appointed as the Governor of the Island for peace keeping. From here we stepped into Sir John’s Room – a well lit Sea view room now a Study with a Tidal Clock. No wonder this room was created here instead of the original Kitchen because the view helped planned trips to the mainland on low-tide.
Next we went to the leather bound books Library here since 1780 but part of the 12th century Monastery .The guide informed that besides reading it was used for games like Chess and Cards.
Now we were in the Great Dining Hall of the Castle – the Chevy Chase room whose highlights were the Hunting scenes in plaster frieze on its upper walls and the stained glass windows, some from the 16th century. Gazing at its grandeur it’s hard to imagine it once being a bare Monastery Dining hall!
The Smoking Room had a unique collection of snuff boxes and a Mother of Pearl chest from Zanzibar but its main attraction was a date etched on its window pane. It had been done by one of the St Aubyn’s daughter to check the genuineness of her diamond engagement ring!
Then we entered the 12th century Priory Church noticeable from outside the Castle- a silent observer to the years of transformation from a religious monastery to an area of conflicts. Additionally perceptible are the 500 years old alabaster carved scenes from the Bible and a 15th century Lantern Cross.
Next we were in the Blue Drawing rooms famous for Queen Victoria’s unannounced visit when the rest of the family was away! I imagined her sitting here having tea with the Housekeeper! We enjoyed viewing the Master Artists Gainsborough and Reynolds Paintings. We were also pointed out 4 Gothick Windsor style chairs made for a family wedding.
Then we moved into the Map room that held an intriguing 16th century Map that indicated the locations of the mythical Cornish Giant! We had previously read that stepping into Mount Michael was like treading on myths and legends. According to a Cornish legend the Mount was once home to a formidable Giant, eliminated by a local lad — Jack the Giant Killer. We were asked to look for his Stone heart amongst the cobblestones outside and try and listen to the its heartbeat!
The other highlights of the Map room are the accurate model of the Mount created by a family Butler in 1930 from champagne corks and a mummified cat from Egypt whose eyes seemed to follow the visitor.
GARDEN OF DISCOVERIES
We walked into the 1780’s gardens of the Castle enjoying the riot of colorful flowers and extraordinary plants, some clinging to the majestic granite cliffs. From the battlements of the Victorian Garden terraces going all the way down to the sea; we peeped over courageously. The panoramic views are breathtakingly beautiful. I thought to myself that the view from the bottom of the hill as well as the view from here at the top of Saint Michael’s was picture-perfect. We looked out for blackened ancient tree stumps, uncovered in a recent storm! We were informed of Bronze age artifacts being unearthed from here by the gardeners too. We witnessed few children follow clues to a free prize at the end of a Children’s quiz.
Once back at the base of the Mount we headed for the Island Café which was once the Castle laundry but now serves an appetizing menu. We chose to sit in the sunlit garden so that while enjoying the splendid sea view we had the famous Cornish ice-cream, letting go of the tea for once. We found out that there were more shops around that sold bespoke and artisan gifts designed by Cornish artists, handmade jewellery, preserves made on the Mount, Garden products… to list a few. Watching the very thin trickles of sea water commencing its flow over the sea bed we decided to walk back before the high tide approached. It was thrilling to walk over the seabed in comparison to an ordinary Boat ride!