While one of the major draws of Cornwall is the sea, there’s no stone table decreeing that all visitors must partake in surfing, fishing, swimming or other aquatic activities. It is, of course, fully acceptable to stay away from the beaches and the water altogether and visit more historic attractions instead.
If you’re one of those who are far more comfortable on dry land, this instalment of our Cornwall series is for you – it’s all about the castles you can discover and explore while holidaying in Kernow.
Where to become the King of a Cornish castle
St Michael’s Mount
Perhaps one of the most well-known historical buildings in Cornwall, describing St Michael’s Mount as a castle is selling the gem quite a bit short. Immerse yourself in a whole different world while exploring the castle itself, the gardens and the nearby harbour. It’s truly a sight to behold.
When you visit St Michael’s Mount, you’re not just visiting the site of an ancient structure, you’re exposing yourself to an immersive experience of life from the 17th century until the present day. Plan your visit in advance to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the best bits!
History of the St Aubyn family
As you walk through the corridors of the St Michael’s Mount castle, discover how the castle underwent quite a few transformations. From its beginnings as a priory to its most recent incarnation as the St Aubyn family home, the castle has also been a fort at some point in its rich history. Religion, conflict and aged treasures – everything you would expect from a centuries-old castle.
If you’re visiting with smalls, don’t forget to search out the artefacts most likely to pique their interest in historical events. How do the stone heart of a giant, samurai armour and a mummified cat sound for starters?
As is inevitable when a building has stood for several centuries, St Michael’s Mount has plenty of legends to go along with its genuine history.
During your visit, learn more about the pilgrims, soldiers, monks and more who once paced the corridors, not to mention the mermaids, Jack the Giant Killer and, of course, the giant himself.
St Michael’s Mount gardens
We shall shortly be publishing an article focusing solely on some of the stunning gardens dotted around Cornwall so won’t go into too much detail here, but suffice to say that the gardens at St Michael’s Mount should not be missed.
Visiting St Michael’s Mount
The castle is open from mid-March until the end of October, from 10.30am until 5.30pm every day except Saturday, while the gardens can be accessed between April and September.
Full details of opening dates and times, and admission prices, can be found on the St Michael’s Mount website.
If you’re curious about the famous myths and legends surrounding King Arthur, a visit to Tintagel Castle is a must. Apparently, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth anyway, this is the very place where the King was conceived.
Like St Michael’s Mount, Tintagel has quite a few gems up its sleeve, although there is considerably less intact castle to explore!
Instead of wandering through medieval corridors and following in the footsteps of ancient inhabitants, visitors to Tintagel Castle can explore artefacts, ruins, exhibitions and archaeological dig sites.
Some of the sights to be taken in include a 3D model of the headland, book sculptures telling the tale of the castle’s history, and an outdoor trail created to illustrate approximately 1,500 years of Tintagel. Not forgetting the life-size carving of King Arthur’s head in a rock on the beach – can you find it?
Open to visitors from 25th March until 30th September, full information on Tintagel Castle, opening times and admission prices can be found on the English Heritage website.
More historical places to visit
If St Michael’s Mount and Tintagel merely serve to whet your appetite for Cornish history, here are a few more places of interest you may wish to add to your holiday itinerary.
A recently renovated castle with gardens which have been described as a “national treasure”. The mausoleum can be accessed by those staying in the accommodation, or by members of the public on set open days.
Built in an unusual formation of a keep inside a keep, the very top of Launceston Castle’s turrets can be accessed by those willing to tackle a dark, rather aged, staircase. There’s also an exhibition currently running, depicting the one thousand years of Launceston Castle history, including some artefacts uncovered by digs on-site.
Originally one of Henry VIII’s fortresses, St Mawes Castle is particularly well preserved and incredibly intricately designed and decorated. The threats from France and Spain no longer exist, but the beautifully exquisite craftsmanship of the time certainly does.
A 13th century fortress on a mound, Restormel Castle offers panoramic views of the surrounding areas, gorgeous spring flowers and, if you’re lucky, sightings of the Black Pheasant. In fact, Restormel Castle is a haven for those with an interest in flora and fauna.
Built by Henry VIII, this Falmouth castle was one of the very last to fall during the English Civil War. Aside from the historic building itself, Pendennis is home to numerous activities and events, including jousting, pirate attacks and Fighting Knights. A full calendar can be found here.