Thursday, June 11, 2009

St. Michael's Mount

To get to St. Michael's Mount from St. Ives you must first take a train to St. Erth, change for the train to Penzance, take a bus from Penzance to Marazion, and if the tide is in, get on a ferry from Marazion to the island. Those are a lot of forms of transportation (and, for some reason, a lot of saints) for one day trip, but the trouble is worthwhile.

St. Michael's Mount has been inhabited for thousands of years. The Romans used it as a port, the Saxons made pilgrimages to it, Norman Benedictines built a priory on it, the same Norman Benedictines suffered an earthquake and a plague and died all over it, it was captured in the name of kings and pretenders several times, and the pesky Spanish repeatedly tried to land there while at war with England under Elizabeth I. It is currently the residence of the St. Aubyn family, who have owned it since 1659. As a matter of fact, the guidebook from which I am taking and probably misrepresenting its history was written by John St. Aubyn, Lord St. Leven. Which again brings me to the question, why so many saints? Having two in your name seems like overkill. Hey, wouldn't it be funny if they'd named him St. John? That's a little Jane Eyre humor for you, ha ha ha.

Boy, I wish I could still blame everything on jet lag.

The island is so close to shore that you can walk to it when the tide is out, as we were able to do. In spite of being a small island, in terms of other islands, such as the whole of England, it's quite imposing when you approach it this way.

Yes, that's scaffolding on one side. There's always scaffolding on whatever you want to see you when you travel any great distance to see it. There's still scaffolding on York Minster, six years since I was last in York. All these buildings are so old, I don't think they bother to take it down anymore.

Not far from the harbor, someone has painted a lovely mural on the side of this building. It looks like it's modeled after the sixteenth-century map shown in the guidebook.

What confuses me about this is that the compass contradicts the fact that St. Michael's Mount is south of the mainland. I have never been great with maps and I don't trust my own judgment, but I still don't recommend you orient yourself using this.

The inside of the priory/fortress isn't overwhelmingly exciting. Most of it isn't open to the public since it's still being lived in. However, I was very entertained by two things. The first is a mummified cat. (Sorry, no pictures were allowed.) (It wasn't much to look at, believe me.) I quote from the brochure: "Over the fireplace is a curio which perhaps surprisingly is not that unusual to see in an European castle - a mummified cat! They were brought back as souvenirs by visitors to Egypt when the pyramids started to be opened up." Perhaps surprisingly? What a gross souvenir. The closest I came to bringing home a dead cat is wanting dearly to take home a fake grumpy rabbit.

But who knows. If it had been four thousand years old, wrapped in nasty old cloth, and made totally indistinguishable from a mummified salami, maybe I wouldn't have been able to pass it up.

The second thing was a truly impressive model of the Mount carved out of champagne corks by the second Lord St. Leven's butler, Henry Lee, in 1932. It was incredibly detailed, right down to the pattern of the brick in some places. I sort of wonder if Mr. Lee didn't miss his calling. I also sort of wonder whether he did any work, because it would have taken me the length of a career to make something like that.

There are some other interesting things inside, but let's move on to what I have pictures of: the view.

This is the town of Marazion from the top of the Mount. You can see the submerged causeway and the harbor where the ferries dock.

These trees are Cordyline australis, also known as Cornish palms or Torbay palms (apparently wrongly because they are not palms). I gather they're native to New Zealand but all I can find on them for sure is that they are not native to California. Very helpful. Anyway, this picture justifies the term "English riviera" to me. Before I saw this I would have snorted at the pairing of those words.

This is the remarkable hillside garden, with the castle (the Victorian bit, I think) sitting at the top. It looked very steep from the bottom.

And less steep from the top, but it's still not something you'd want to fall off of.
There are a lot of odd stories and legends involving the Mount, the absolute stupidest of which (I humbly suggest) is the one about Jack the Giant Killer. Jack is meant to have killed Cormoran the giant by digging a hole and tricking him into falling into it. And here is the very hole!

At first I was annoyed that this guy wouldn't get out of my picture. But now that I look at it, I am happy to have him there illustrating what I was thinking as I was taking it. As you can see from his hands, he is saying to the person he's with, "But it's only this big!" I suppose the well probably once took up the entire area, not just that little door. For marketing purposes, I think they should have made a wooden cover to go across the whole thing. Much more believable.

Speaking of things that are unbelievable, I believe Queen Victoria visited here. (She seems to have left a trail of plaques all over the country.) And I am willing to believe that some loyal subject made a brass replica of her footmark and stuck it in the place where she first stepped. But I am unable to believe the size of her shoe!

Holy cow! That poor woman! Let us hope these shoes either had very skinny platforms on the soles or were meant for royal functions only, and the rest of the time she had on some big, fuzzy slippers. (Please see the comments for small-foot jokes aimed at me. They will be graciously provided by Ivan.)

I would like to end with a picture of my Cornish cheddar sandwich (two slices of bread, one centimeter-thick slice of magnificent cheese, aaahhhhh) but I hadn't started taking pictures in restaurants at that point. So here's another picture of freakishly good weather in Cornwall.



Katya said...

the rabbit disapproves of your trip, even though I love the photographs as a travel fanatic.

Ivan said...

I think I have come to terms with the fact that our feet are the same size. Your mother's on the other hand: freakishly small. Paris Hilton's, on a third hand prone to tangents: HUGE.

Katie said...

How large are Paris Hilton's feet? I want to try and figure out how large mine are on this strange scale of yours, Ivan.

Mum said...

Simon's mother asks, "Freakishly?" She prefers daintily.