A Look at Cornwall (6): Saint Michael’s Mount Part 2: The Terrace Gardens


The Terrace Gardens at St Michael’s Mount adorn the steep granite slopes on the south-eastern side of the island. Today the gardens attract 65 thousand visitors a year from April to September – the number of days they’re open being restricted to safeguard them from too much erosion. The gardens are carefully and lovingly tended by the head gardener, Lottie Allen and her team of three.

To many visitors, it may seem strange that these beautiful gardens exist at all in such a location. The steep granite cliffs, with the sea thrashing against the shore beneath and the brisk, salty winds and harsher gales – make it an unlikely place for any type of garden. Yet that is far from the truth. Gardens cover 12 of the island’s 21 acres.

The waters of the Gulf Stream moderate the climate so that frosts are rare and the granite rocks of the cliffs act like a great radiator, absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night:

Bare granite cliffs of the isle

This creates a micro climate in which a variety of plants flourish. Abundant blooms and exotic plants have thrived here since 1780: aloes, agapanthus, puya, agave, rosemary, cornilla and lavender – amongst a whole host of others – fill the gardens with texture, shape and colour. Winding paths and stone steps lead visitors on a wonderful journey of exploration along which cameras continuously click. As did ours.

So how did these unusual gardens come about?

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post yesterday, the castle has been owned by the St Aubyn family since 1659. It is thought that, in 1780, the four Misses St Aubyn of that time initiated the building of the Walled Garden, a delightful and relatively sheltered space for the family to enjoy. Today it is positioned between the East and West Terraces, which were created during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. The gardens as we see them today were designed in 1987 by Michael Paul Harvey along with Lord St Levan, who died in 2013. (Lord Levan was grandfather to the current castle resident, James St Aubyn.) The development of the gardens are still under the guidance of Michael Paul Harvey.

These are a few more of the dozens of photos we took that day.

Naturally, all visitors are advised regarding the safety aspects of visiting the gardens. As it says on the leaflet, ‘A guide to the Gardens‘:

There are steep drops from the lawns down to the rocks below as well as significant drops within the garden. The paths and steps are steep, rocky and uneven and in some places there are no handrails…. Sensible footwear is essential…. Please see that children are supervised at all times… Please do not handle the plants or pick the flowers as some may be hazardous to health… Dogs are not allowed in the garden… People with limited mobility or significant health problems will find the terrain challenging…

Much of that information may seem like common sense to most people, but I think the warnings are excellent and an important reminder to those about to embark on a walk round these wonderful gardens.

There is so much more I could have said about Saint Michael’s Mount, as even two posts haven’t really done it justice. All I can say is that we enjoyed our visit immensely and learned a lot about this lovely isle.

A Look at Cornwall (6): Saint Michael’s Mount Part 1

On the third day of our week in Cornwall in June 2o16 we decided to visit Saint Michael’s Mount, which has been described as ‘the most famous of Cornwall’s landmarks’ (National Trust). I have to admit it’s a great place to visit. It’s a lovely walk up to the castle and there’s plenty to see inside it once you get there, with fabulous views out across Mount’s Bay from the roof terraces. The Church of St Michael and All Angels, built in 1135, also stands on the North Terrace. For visitors more interested in gardens, the terrace gardens that adorn the steep island slopes are a delight and full of colourful and exotic blooms.

From Newlyn (near Penzance) where we were staying we had a relatively short drive, compared to our drive up to Tintagel the previous day. That meant we could get there nice and early.

Wikipedia tells us that the Cornish name for St Michael’s Mount is Karrek Loos yn Koos, which means hoar rock in woodland, or literally the grey rock in a wood – an appropriate description for a granite crag that rises 221 feet above sea level (not including the buildings at the summit).Wikipedia also tells us that St Michael’s Mount is one of 43, unbridged, tidal islands that people can walk to around mainland Britain.

Located in Mount’s Bay, the isle is just 500 metres from the mainland and linked to the town of Marazion by a causeway which is passable between mid-tide and low-water. It is managed by the National Trust and the castle and chapel have been the home of the St Aubyn family since around 1650. The island also had a population of 35 in 2011. Part of the island was designated a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) in 1995 because of its geology.

We left the car at the car park in Marazion and headed along the beach path towards the causeway:

We had planned to walk across to the island, but if the tide had been in we’d have taken the boat. As it was, the tide was on the ebb, so we just had a short wait on the causeway until it went out. As to be expected, some people couldn’t resist paddling as the water became shallower but, not wanting to spend the rest of the morning in soggy jeans, we waited.

People wading across the Causeway before the tide was completely out.

Eventually, the tide ebbed and we approached the island.


The granite cobblestones/setts of the causeway continue along the pathway onto the island and up to the castle:

To greet visitors on the island are a number of buildings, including the Island Café…

… a couple of shops and of course, the loos. There is also a picnic area. This is a plan of the island, which can be enlarged by clicking on it: The black line from Point 9 (Ticket Office) is the pathway leading up to the castle:

There’s a lot of history to find out about on the island – from Neolithic and Bronze age times to the more recent medieval period, the Civil War in the mid 17th century and through Victorian times to the present day. It is possible that the isle may have been the site of a monastery in the 8th century, but we know that by the time of the Norman Conquest of 1066 it was in the possession of the monks of its sister isle in Normandy, Mont Saint Michel: another tidal island with a conical shape, similar, though smaller, to Mount Saint Michael:

Mont Saint Michel in Normandy. Public Domain

The church and priory at St Michael’s Mount were built in the 12th century but the priory was destroyed by an earthquake of 1275 and rebuilt in the late 14th century. The priory’s association with the abbey at Mont St Michel ended in the 15th century during the war in France in the reign of Henry V. The priory was later given to the Abbess and Convent of Syon in Middlesex and the building still forms the heart of the castle today.

There is also some fascinating folklore and legend connected to the island, including that of an 18 foot giant called Cormoran who lived in a cave at the top of the rock with his ill-gotten treasures and terrorised the people.

The Giant Cormoran circa 1820, Source: Victorian chapbook. Author unknown. Public Domain

The first building we came to after leaving the ticket office at the start of our trek uphill was the Victorian Dairy:

The next few photos were taken at various points on our way up to the top:

Inside the house there are several rooms to view, all with lots of history behind them. The Wars of the Roses and the Civil War feature strongly but there are pieces of furniture and a whole host of artefacts from various periods. I can’t possibly do justice to the many interesting pieces or the different rooms here so I’ll just share a few of the photos. The coat of arms is in the Entrance Hall.

I’ll finish this part of the post with a few photos taken on the North Terrace as we came out of the castle…

… and these from inside the Church of St Michael and All Angels:

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I’ll share some photos of the exotic terrace gardens in another post later on.

A Look at Cornwall (3): As I was going to St Ives…

st-ives-beach-3

 As I was going to St. Ives,
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits,
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives.
How many were going to St. Ives?

Perhaps the main thing most people know about this Cornish seaside town is the old poem/nursery rhyme/riddle As I was going to St Ives. This anonymous poem was originally printed around 1730 – but in that version there were nine wives. The modern version, with seven wives, appeared in 1825. Although there are a number of St Ives in England and elsewhere, the poem is generally thought to refer to the one in Cornwall.

The answer to the question in the last line is usually assumed to be that only one person is heading towards St Ives while the others – wives, cats or kits – are heading away from the town. But the poem gives us no indication of the direction in which the others are heading. It has been suggested that the person going to St Ives could even have overtaken the party as they were also heading to St Ives!

This little video was uploaded to YouTube by Appuseries. I have to admit, I’ve never heard the poem sung before but it’s very sweet.

We visited St Ives in June 2016 on the first whole day of our stay in Cornwall. It was the third site we visited that day, and we didn’t spend too long there, but we managed to take a few photos. For this post I’ve used several images from Wikipedia to illustrate places we didn’t get to see.

To start with here’s a location map…

cornwall-map-to-show-st-ives-and-penzance

St Ives is one of Cornwall’s most famous destinations. It is situated to the north of Penzance on St Ives Bay at the edge of the Celtic Sea. The name of St Ives is attributed to the Irish Saint Ia the Virgin in the 5th century, and the old town is clustered around the parish church of St Ia, built in the 15th century. The church can be seen clearly in this nighttime photo:

stives_spring_night
St Ives, spring night. Author: Dave Taskis, 11th April 2007. Creative Commons

Since medieval times fishing has been of great importance to St Ives and the town became one of most important fishing ports on the north coast of Cornwall. The Sloop Inn on the Wharf dates from 1312 and is one of the oldest in Cornwall. It was a fisherman’s pub for many centuries, a reminder of the town’s importance – and former dependence – on fishing:

St Ives. The Sloop Inn, serving traditional food, is located here. From geograph.org.uk Author: Kenneth Allen Creative Commons
St Ives. The Sloop Inn, serving traditional food, is located here. From geograph.org.uk Author: Kenneth Allen Creative Commons

Commercial fishing is very reduced today but the harbour is still in use, often for recreational boating and tourist fishing, and since 1930, people have been taking boat trips out to Seal Island, 3.5 miles/6km to the west of St. Ives. The island is home to over 40 seals.

The Carracks, a group of offshore rocky islands, known locally as Seal Island. The boat is probably one of the regular tourist trips from St. Ives. From geograph.org.uk. Author: Tony Atkin Creative Commons
The Carracks, a group of offshore rocky islands, known locally as Seal Island. The boat is probably one of the regular tourist trips from St. Ives. From geograph.org.uk. Author: Tony Atkin Creative Commons

Today, St Ives has become primarily a seaside resort, renowned for its working harbour surrounded by beautiful beaches. The irregular coastline ensures sunlight on the different beaches throughout the day. There are four main beaches, two on either side of ‘The Island’ which is also known as Pendinas. It is not an island at all but a promontory. On the photo below, taken from above Porthmeor Beach, the small Chapel of St Nicholas can be seen sitting on top of Pendinas. The one-roomed granite building was an ancient fort and has become a birdwatchers’ paradise. Of the four beaches, we  managed to visit two of them, one on either side of Pendinas: Porthmeor Beach and the Harbour Beach.

the-island-st-ives-showing-st-nicholas-chapel

The town boasts art galleries, cafes, restaurants pubs and shops and is known for its quaint streets and alleys. There are also many old fishermen’s cottages we didn’t have time to see, as well and one of the four Tate Galleries in the world.  After we’d spent time at Carn Euny and Land’s End, our visit to St Ives was pitifully short, but it was enough for us to get the general feel of the place.

These few images from Wikipedia give more of an overview of St Ives than we were able to get:

We headed into St Ives along the northern coast and parked on a road up on the hillside looking down on Porthmeor Beach. These photos were taken as we walked towards the town centre. To the right in the first photo is the lifeguard station:

We then turned into the town centre and took a few photos of the streets and shops:

Then we headed across to the lovely harbour where lots of people were enjoying the June sunshine and the ever-present seagulls.

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On our second day in Cornwall we visited two more of the county’s most famous sites: Tintagel and the Gardens of Heligan. So my next post will be about Tintagel.

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A Look at Cornwall (1): Carn Euny Village

carn-euny-iron-age-village-plan

In June last year (2016) Nick and I, accompanied by our blogging daughter Louise (afairymind) at thestorytellersabode, headed down to Cornwall for a week.

Cornwall is very beautiful, with stunning scenery both along the coast and inland (as fellow blogger draliman, who lives there will affirm. I’ve linked to a post here in which Ali shares a few photos of his beloved Cornwall. We had the great pleasure of meeting up with him during the week). Culturally, Cornwall is closer to our Celtic neighbours in Wales than to other English counties, as the many place-names suggest. I wrote a brief, introductory post about Cornwall while we were still down there last June but, as often happens with me, I didn’t get round to doing the rest once we got home. We visited many great sites and I intend to write up several over the next few weeks.

We rented a cottage for the week in the little fishing village of Newlyn on the south coast of the Penwith peninsula in the far south-west of Cornwall. Newlyn is only a few minutes drive from the bigger fishing town of Penzance (yes, Cornwall is renowned for its fishing industry and Penzance for that wonderful opera!). The photo below is of Newlyn harbour.

newlyn-1

The first site we visited the day after our arrival wasn’t a long drive from Newlyn, as it was also located in the Penwith peninsula. The site was Carn Euny (approximate location marked with the red x on the map of Cornwall below).

approximate-location-of-carn-euny-in-sw-cornwall

Carn Euny is an Iron-Age-Romano-British village, established in 400 BC and occupied until the 4th century AD. Formerly known as Chapel Euny, this ancient village is located in the Penwith peninsula, in granite uplands rich in antiquities.

To reach the village from the car park we followed Route 1, one of the two possible lanes. It was dry and sunny the week we were there so we had a lovely walk, but it can be very muddy underfoot after rain. Here’s a plan from the site – a terrible photo, which I hadn’t intended to use, but it shows the two paths (just!):

two-paths-to-carn-euny-village

These are a mixture of views along Route 1 on our walk to the village and back. The abandoned van was an interesting and intriguing surprise:

Arriving at Carn Euny village, we had a look at a couple of information boards and site plans. This one mentions another ancient site which we also visited during that week (Chysauster).

general-info-about-carn-euny-village-2

The following is a plan of the different houses at Carn Euny, as well as the fogou and ruins of a cottage dated approximately 1750.

plan-of-carn-euny

The site includes the foundations of stone houses from the 2nd-4th centuries AD, with evidence of timber and turf houses from much earlier settlement, as well as a fogou (which I’ll describe a little further on). The following photos give an ‘overview’ of the stone houses of the site, the foundations of which have walls up to a metre high in places:

In the middle of these stone houses is a fascinating Iron-Age structure known as a fogou – a feature found only in the far west of Cornwall. The name comes from a late Cornish word meaning cave – an underground, or partly underground, structure. The fogou at Carn Euny is, according to the guide book, “unique  in having a round chamber as well as the long passage characteristic of most fogous”.

These are a few of the photos we took of the fogou:

Fogous basically consist of a main passage, often aligned east-west or north-east to south-west. The passage is built of dry stone walls, which can be seen in the photos, and roofed with giant capstones – in evidence at the entrances and sketched into the diagram above. Subsidiary chambers and small narrow side passages are also features. Theories for the purpose of fogous range from hideouts in time of trouble to cellars for storing goods and livestock. At Carn Euny, there is evidence that the fogou could have been for religious purposes – “the parish church of ancient times” (according to the guide book again). There is also evidence that the round chamber here could have been a cult centre before the long passage was built. As for dating, most fogous seem to have been built in the later Iron Age (i.e. 400 BC – AD 43).

Nothing seems to have been known about the fogou or settlement at Carn Euny before the first half of the 19th century when it was discovered by miners excavating for tin. Cornish antiquary, William Copeland Borlase excavated the fogou between 1863 and 68, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that any of the houses were examined.

The Carn Euny Fogou from an 1869 drawing by J.T.Blight and W.C Borlase. Public Domain
The Carn Euny Fogou from an 1869 drawing by J.T.Blight and W.C Borlase. Public Domain

As with many ancient sites, including Hadrian’s Wall and the monasteries and abbeys ordered to be pulled down in the dissolution of the monasteries of 1536-39, Carn Euny suffered extensive damage over the years from stone robbing for local buildings, field walls, stock shelters, gate posts and so on. The cultivation of fields for potatoes and daffodils – for which Cornwall is famous – caused further damage to the site, as did miners prospecting for tin. All in all the original form of the houses isn’t at all clear. Nevertheless, ten houses from the Romano-British period have been excavated (house numbers on the plan relate to the order of excavation).

Houses seem to be interlocking, courtyard-style structures, arranged haphazardly across the site (unlike at Chysauster, a later village, where houses are along a central street). Courtyard-style houses are usually oval, enclosed by a thick outer wall with a paved entrance facing away from the prevailing SW winds. The entrance leads into the courtyard, around which several rooms are built into the thickness of the outer wall. A large oval or circular room opposite the entrance is thought to have been the main living room, with the other rooms serving as stables and storage areas. Thatch roofing is thought to have covered the rooms, leaving the courtyard open to the elements. Stone capped drains for bringing water in and out of the houses are also a feature.

This is  an impression of what the village may have looked like in the 4th century AD from a notice board at the site. Unfortunately it’s very faint, so not very clear.

carn-euny-in-the-romano-british-period

Lastly, here are a few photos of the remains of the cottage (the presence of which which with its accompanying cultivation of fields etc. would have also contributed to damage at the site.)

Carn Euny is a wonderful site to visit, especially on a sunny day. There are no facilities or information centre there, so it was a quiet experiences for us on a school day in June. There are plenty of information boards for visitors to understand the layout of the village and make their own way round. We bought a guide book later in the week when we went to Chysauster, where there’s a small information centre. I suppose the best idea would be to go to Chysauster first… But we didn’t know that at the time.

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