Saturday, 13 May 2017

St Michael's Mount 2

I'd had my St Michael's Mount harbour village tour. Now I wanted to see the house on the top on the hill.

Behind the 'village' on the island were gardens that extended most of the way up to the St Aubyn family's stately home at the top, which was once a priory. The ground was pretty steep most of the way. There was of course a discreet side road that vehicles could use, accessed through this gate:

But the visiting hoi polloi, such as myself, had to use the 'public' way in, which passed the National Trust booth. I flashed my revered and respected Life Membership card, and enjoyed six hours of free champagne and caviare. At least in my dreams. In reality I passed through, soon entering a world of lush lawns and palm trees:

That little building up ahead was the former diary house.

A leaflet I'd been given explained that it was awaiting comprehensive restoration, presumably to become the Trust's own Welcome Centre for visitors, rather than the canvas shelters they were presently using. Hidden behind was the old notice explaining its history.

Now the cobbled pathway got much steeper. This was the section of it that I most remembered from 1979, when I was no fitter than now. No place for heels, nor dodgy knees!

It wound its way up the side of the rocky hill. It was best taken slowly. Was I up for it? Of course!

As I climbed, I had in mind this shot of my younger brother Wayne on our 1979 visit. He was a great one for fun. Here he is, trying to frighten me:

Ah, this was something I'd forgotten. The Giant's Heart. My leaflet urged visitors to find his 'heart', which was a particular heart-shaped cobble. 

Was it this? didn't quite match the photo in the leaflet. Ah! Found it!

I'd consumed almost ten minutes looking for the thing, peering closely at the cobbles, and some of the people passing me had clearly been thinking 'That poor woman's lost her wedding ring!' or simply 'That poor woman must be gaga!' But now, successful and vindicated, it seemed like time well-spent. And in a way it was a clever idea, to give visitors something to do while they recovered their breath, halfway up the steep pathway. For there was more of it yet to climb:

And then I was out of the trees and into an upper world of bare rock, wind-swept grass, eye-blinding sunshine and enormous coastal views.

The house looked amazing against the blue sky. But surely this wasn't the main way in? I mean, up those rough stone steps, so very exposed to winter gales? For this was the seaward side of the house. I couldn't see visiting Royalty tackling that final ankle-turning climb up to the doorway. (And of course it wasn't really the Proper Front Door. Nor even the Servants' Entrance. It was just the Romantic Way In for National Trust visitors). 

Off to one side was an old gun battery. 

These 1979 photos must have been taken at this very spot. 

Dad had looked very jaunty in his nautical cap. My goodness, hadn't my petite girl friend Deborah looked absurdly young? Mind you, I hadn't been that old myself. It was, after all, thirty-eight years ago...

Now for the house. I got a nice welcome from the National Trust people, who must be very fit from walking up there and back on their duty days! One thing that struck immediately was how solid and weatherproof this house was. Parts of it were of course very old, erected in the days when walls of stone several feet thick were considered absolutely necessary for any edifice of importance. The effect was to hush the outside wind entirely. You looked out onto a silent world, benign or tempestuous as the case may be. One of the first rooms the visitor route took me to was an intimate study, a favourite room of the present fifth Baron St Levan's (that is, James St Aubyn's) grandfather. It was just the place to ponder Estate business in, or write an important letter in peace and quiet. And yet the views seaward were magnificent.

From this study he must have often watched the Atlantic waves pounding the island's granite. 

On into a cosy library. 

And then a hall of noble proportions, known as the Chevy Chase. A spacious place to hold a family dinner.

Obviously all of this was created from the mid sixteenth century onwards. The religious inhabitants of the former priory would have been comfortable, but wouldn't have enjoyed any fancy plaster-work nor anything suggestive of luxury. Officially not, anyway. 

It was difficult to keep one's bearings. The sea seemed hidden away, merely glimpsed through windows that you needed to get right up close to, so that you could look down. Otherwise you'd be aware of only sky. There were several alcoves, where the women of the house could sit and enjoy a little privacy with a view, and do their sewing, or have a whispered conversation without servants hearing it all. 

Then suddenly I was out on the roof, with stupendous views in every direction, except west.

Most impressive! And do you know, I couldn't remember any of this from that previous visit in 1979, certainly not the chapel, next on the NT's visitor route. A French film crew were in there, and I couldn't give it my usual slow and careful examination. This is about all I got:

But I did have a long chat with a youngish French woman who was the NT's chapel guide. When asked, she explained how being an NT volunteer chimed in so well with her own academic interest in history. I also got the impression that she was something of a free spirit, and the very kind to take on unusual and adventurous jobs, paid or unpaid, if they came her way. Good for her.

Next up, the Blue Parlour. This where the housekeeper famously served tea on her own initiative to an imperious Queen Victoria, who had made a surprise visit to the Mount, expecting Lord St Aubyn to be home. But he wasn't. And she was Not Amused. The housekeeper was equal to this potentially embarrassing situation, though, and the Queen was regally entertained with tea-time fare of the highest standard, thus saving the St Aubyns from social disgrace, and possible banishment from Court. It was a very pleasant room:

I did ask the pleasant NT lady who was stationed there whether she would take a picture of me sitting on that settee - where Queen Victoria herself must have sat, regally munching buttered crumpets and licking her dainty fingers. But she declined. You know, the rules. And what if anyone else saw me sitting there? 

So I told her about how, when visiting Melford Hall in Suffolk (another National Trust property) in 2010, I got chatting to one of the NT men in the big salon. And how, when he heard that my surname was Melford, he insisted on taking a picture of me seated on the settee there, with my 'ancestral portraits' looking on - and with ordinary members of the public passing by, too, and no doubt wondering what was going on! Here's the shot:

But she wouldn't relax and take a similarly sneaky shot for me. Well, hey ho. I wouldn't want to get her into trouble.

Then it was down the stairs, passing some nice St Aubyn portraits. I especially liked these:

A pity about the reflections obscuring the bottom shot. I tried changing my position, to eliminate them, but the best result necessarily had to include me too:

Hasn't she got especially fine eyes?    

That was almost it. The visitor route went through a gallery-museum, then I was once more out in the sunshine, although I did get persuaded to buy some NT prize draw tickets at the exit. The prizes, I need hardly say, will be major. The chances of winning one, I need hardly say, will be minor. Never mind. The gods will either smile on me, or sneer at me, later this year when the draw takes place.

I made my way down to the harbour again, getting one or two nice late-afternoon shots. 

The tide was now fully in. Ferry boats were plying to and fro. But I decided to look at the free St Aubyn exhibition first, a swish high-tech affair, inside one of the harbourside buildings. It was worth a look, just to appreciate what went on behind the scenes, and to see some knockout shots of the Mount. 

Time to go. A queue of sorts was forming. Best to be in it. 

They crammed quite a lot of us in! But I could still get some decent shots of our departure.

Goodbye, St Michael's Mount! As with Lundy last autumn, I wonder if I'll ever visit you again in my lifetime? Who knows.

Marazion quickly approached, then we were all disembarked.

It was almost an anti-climax to be on the mainland again. I faced it. A couple more shots, then back to Fiona, a quick snack, and 'home' to Carnon Downs. At least I had secured plenty of shots to look at. Many, many more than in 1979. 

Back at the caravan, eating a good meal was a serious priority. I was starving. 

I'd had this for breakfast:

It had carried me through to mid-afternoon. I had devoured some fruit and chicken when I was back on dry land, and snug inside Fiona. But I badly needed a hot meal. I'd defrosted some salmon for my evening meal, and this was how it cooked up:

Believe me, I was ready for this! It had been a long day. 

But although on holiday, I did not neglect my Slimming World Food Diary, kept on one of my spreadsheets. What a good girl. 

I assure you, it does match what I actually ate. Click on it to check against the photos.

St Michael's Mount is always compared to Le Mont Saint-Michel off the coast of Normany. And indeed there is a real-life historical connection, and they do look similar from a distance - as in these 2002 shots of mine. But close up, the Normandy version is revealed as twice the size, grander, but far more like a small town, and most definitely a tourist trap:

For me, St Michael's Mount in Cornwall has a charm and romantic mystique totally denied to that noisy and crowded French honeypot. 


  1. The French have now kept the cars far away to preserve some semblance of isolation, though still very crowded. Glad that I visited35 years ago when it seemed much quieter.

    How do you buy so many kidneys? Here t is rare to even see two! Proper genetic engineering would work on getting at least eight per beast.

  2. My favourite butcher in Henfield seems to have an endless supply of fresh lambs kidneys. They halve and decore them for me too.


  3. I had my butcher trained to save me a kidney almost before I could walk. I quite like doing all the dissection myself, miss them arriving in a lump of fat which the garden birds loved to eat...

  4. Well, guess what's on my lunchtime menu!


  5. Kidneys, m'dear, not a lump of fat.


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