News and views from north Bristol's urban village

Thursday, 24 April 2008

St Michael's Mount - Island of Legend

Continuing an occasional series of places worth visiting not that far from Bristol, we turn today to St Michael's Mount.

First the facts:

St Michael's Mount is a small tidal island less than half a mile from the coast of Mount's Bay, near Marazion in Cornwall. Its distinctive C15 castle and chapel bear a similarity to its counterpart island of the same name off the coast of Normandy in Northern France.

Owned by the St Aubyn family, the island contains a small number of houses and access is managed by the National Trust. The island can be visited by boat or, at low tide on foot via a natural causeway.

Now the fun part - the folklore and legends. The island's Cornish language name means, "the grey rock in the wood" - a rather striking name for an offshore island. Local folklore relates that in an earlier era, the area was a forest and that the island and beyond were an integral part of the mainland. St Michael's was, according to this view, a granite mountain in the middle of a woodland. Remains of stumps of trees have been seen at very low tides off the coast, supporting this traditional view.

Less certain is the Cornish legend of Lyonesse, an ancient kingdom which sank to the depths of the sea following a cataclysmic event in the C6 or before. Some have seen St Michael's as part of this kingdom, possibly extending as far west as the Isles of Scilly. The Lyonesse legend appears in both Cornish and Celtic mythology and features strongly in the legends of King Arthur.

The postcard image is from the late 19th or early 20th century.

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