St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall: The monastery that became a castle that became a home

Few spots on the coast of Britain are as romantic and storied as St Michael's Mount in Cornwall.

A castle clings to the top of a granite rock just off the coast of Cornwall: obviously, a good defensive position and the sort of place that would appeal to holy men. A church was first built here in 495AD, and a monastery followed a few hundred years later, both dedicated to St Michael the Archangel, the patron saint of fishermen. It is England’s answer to Mont Saint Michel, just off the Normandy coast of France; it has also been suggested that it was the island of Ictis mentioned by the Greek traveller Posidonius in the 1st century BC.

More prosaically, the Mount, as locals call it, seems to have entered history for straightforwardly commercial reasons, before either Christianity or castles reached Britain: it was a pre-historic trading centre to which skilfully worked tin was brought from Cornish mines to be sold to foreign merchants.

St Michael’s Mount was an important trading post for hundreds of years. (Photo by: Hedelin F/Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

In the 19th century, Sir John St Aubyn — whose family had owned the island for two centuries — turned a Gothic summer house into a dwelling fit for a Wagnerian hero, amplifying the natural romance of the castle’s situation.

The family gave most of the island to the National Trust last century, but have a 999-year lease to live in the castle and run the visitor business: as well as the castle, there is a harbour, gardens, shops and cafés.

Recommended videos for you

The latest incumbents are James and Mary St Aubyn, aka Lord and Lady St Levan, who live on the island with their children. That 999-year lease must have sounded all-but-endless when it was signed in 1954; yet the 1,500-year history of this island suggests that St Michael’s Mount will see us all out.

The castle and some of the other buildings at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall.

How to visit St Michael’s Mount

The mount is a tidal island — in other words, accessible via land at low tide — just off the coast at Marazion, on the south coast of Cornwall, a ten-minute drive east from Penzance. If you’re driving from there, Marazion and St Michael’s Mount have a long-stay car park at Folly Field, just as you enter the town. You can also catch a bus or walk the coast path from Penzance.

Once on the beach in Marazion, it’s a 15-minute walk across the causeway — but you’ll have to time it with the tides. The website at has opening-and-closing times listed for the causeway. From April to October there are also boats across.

There is no charge to visit St Michael’s Mount during the off-season, though you’ll need to pay to visit the castle (National Trust members are free). You will have to pay to visit the island from May to September, however: a charge was introduced during Covid to ease visitor numbers, and it’s been retained. There have been some changes to the charges (particularly for Cornwall residents) so it’s worth checking the latest on the website before you travel.

Additional writing by Clive Aslet

The Uffington White Horse, Oxfordshire

Thousands of years ago, ancient Britons created a vast and spectacular stylised portrayal of a horse in the hills of

The Japanese Garden at Cowden: An iconic Oriental garden in the heart of Clackmannanshire

Described in 1925 as the most important Japanese garden in the West, the Japanese Garden at Cowden in Clackmannanshire —