Thursday, December 08, 2011

St. Michael's Mount: Castles, Cockles, and More

We joined forces with Mike's friend Keeble who I had the pleasure of meeting back in the Ashikaga, Japan days. And then it was road trip time.

Jammie Dodgers really are Jamtastic.

For Mike, St. Michael's Mount was one of those tourist locations that you live close to but never get around to checking out. Basically it is a castle sitting atop a little island. It has a great view and a lot of good history.

There was a beach, but the wind was cold enough that people set up these little shelters while they laid in the sand. I'm so glad we decided not to go surfing. Hehe

On a couple of occasions I tried to do that thing where you take a picture mid jump and it looks super cool. Mike managed to always take the picture too early though, so I have several of these "me taking a dump" shots in lovely settings.

One thing that was really cool about this place was the walk to the castle. There was a man-made stone walkway that was barely above water. I had a bit of a walking on the ocean feeling after getting a little ways from shore.

This was low tide, so now it just looks like a big mud pit.

There were lots of weird plants around that really looked out of place on dry land.

Mike and Keeble exploring up a storm.

The black field with the white cross is the flag of Cornwall.

While the outside of the place looked awesome, the inside was less compelling at times. Coats of arms, sets of armor, and other pretty standard fare covered many of the interior walls.

The history of St. Michael's Mount was way cooler. According to the website, in 1588 the mount was where the first "beacon was lit to warn of the arrival of the Spanish Armada".

Even earlier than that, the fortress was under siege during the Wars of the Roses. I recently watched the crap out of The Tudors on Netflix and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It gave me a deeper understanding of British history than I had accumulated in my life previously(although it's probably a bit embellished for TV). Some completely awesome characters belonged to the Tudor dynasty such as Henry VIII, Mary I(aka Bloody Mary), and Elizabeth I. In summary the Wars of the Roses were fought between the houses of Lancaster and York over the throne. Their symbols were the red and white rose, respectively. When Henry Tudor scratched his way to the top and married Elizabeth of York from the opposing house, he created the House of Tudor which ruled for 117 years. Because of this the badge for the house became a double rose, combining the symbols of the two previous houses. Pretty cool.

The Tudor rose has been used as the "traditional floral heraldic emblem of England" ever since. Bang.

Former Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop is rumored to having wished to retire at St. Michael's Mount after wrapping up world domination, and the castle can be seen in 1983 James Bond film Never Say Never Again. What the heck else could you ask for?

There were some interesting pieces of art here and there as well.

Drinking enough wine to then make a scale model of your own house from the corks is the sort of multi-layered accomplishment that really impresses people.

A little chapel in the compound had a couple of my favorite pieces.

I'd like to entitle this work either: "St. Michael says "BOOM"" or "Demons be Trippin'".

I'm not sure this picture does it justice, but this was my favorite thing in the whole place.

The Lantern Cross

This fifteenth-century cross is believed to have been made for the Mount. The good condition of the carvings suggest it was kept indoors, perhaps in the Lady Chapel(now the Blue Drawing Room). It was moved to the balustrade outside the Church door in the nineteenth century, where it stood until 2008.

It is carved from a single piece of stone, probably from Padstow. The pinnacles date from a nineteenth century restoration.

A king, probably Edward the Confessor, who is said to have founded the monastery here (before it was given to Mont St. Michel). He is wearing a crown, and holds a staff and charter or book.

We were finishing up a very thorough tour of this great place, and I'm thinking it's time to check out the gift shops we ignored on the way in, or take a little rest and do some people watching. One of my gallant guides asks a random employee what time it is, and we all started jogging to the exit. Why I couldn't tell you.

Well that awesome walk way we used to cross the bay the first time is above a mud pit at low tide, and completely under the damn ocean at high tide. And the ocean clock was ticking. There were other ways to get back to shore, but they all cost money. And money is for beer. The water wasn't such a big problem when we began our return trip, but before it was over I had to take off my shoes and socks and roll up my pant legs to avoid a squishy afternoon. It's amazing to me how fast the water rises.

The whole thing turned into this epic tourist evacuation, with parents carrying children. Towards the end the waves made keeping my feet on the slippery stones much more difficult. Once we were safely ashore, we turned and watched people deal with the rising water. The last stragglers pretty much had to swim.

Even the damn roof moss here was cool. Bright orange!

View michales mount in a larger map
Next we drove across the thin tip of the island and walked along the pier in touristy St. Ives.

There were lots of seafoods available, and I saw cockles for sale, which I had to try. Not much different than really tiny clams. They seemed to be about half sand though. They were so sandy I was forced to donate them to Keeble, who didn't seem to mind one bit.

Here's a better understanding of the wide range of pasty flavors available.

We ended the night at this super old school pub back in Callington. It was a lot like I imagined a neighborhood pub would be like. Everyone seemed real familiar with each other, and we were the only two under probably mid-fifties. The owner of the places was serving us drinks, and it seemed half the reason he opened the place was so that he would have people to drink with. He was really slurry, but he would constantly refer to the both of us as "my sons" which I can't relate how much I loved. There was a lot of old school Cornish accent happening here which I hadn't heard much of previously. If there's ever been a form of English that I understood less clearly than Japanese, this was it.

So we were having a few and talking about something that I'm sure was profound when closing time approached. Rather than announce "last call" or do something else to induce us to leave, they simply turned most of the lights out and locked the doors, continuing in pretty much the same fashion otherwise. Mike explained that this was pretty standard in small towns, that at official closing time they would have a little "lock in", and that was enough to satisfy the local authorities that they were closed. Closed or not, sitting in close to darkness with a bunch of drunk old locals was plenty uncomfortable, and we soon walked on home.