travel · U.K.

The Cornish Coast: St. Michael’s Mount and Marazion

On the road to St. Ives, we made a stop at St. Michael’s Mount. The rain was coming down with gusto and the wind was making the water out to the island quite choppy. Not choppy enough to cancel boats out but choppy.

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I assured my tourmates I’d had worse on the way to the Isle of Inishmore in Ireland. There, I thought the boat would capsize. These were baby waves. A tease just licking their way up the sides of little boats. “It’s not so cold,” those little waves demured. “Wouldn’t you rather be swimming?”

As everyone fussed about the rain, I walked along the little streets of Marazion and down to the docks to pay my two pounds to the boatman. I popped the hood of my yellow raincoat over my now well-frizzed hair, looking like the Gordon’s Fisherman. It seemed fitting.

Our little boat bobbed against the dock with two middle aged surly Germans at the helm. I stepped down the miniature stairs, one foot in, one foot on the dock. The boat teetered toward me as I took my next step. My foot crumpled beneath me. I crumpled onto my foot. A loud crack resonated from my toes through my ankle. “Hnnnnnnngg. Hrrrrm,” I said, avoiding choicer words. My fingers trembled. I leaned back into the corner of the boat, taking deep breaths as the tour assistant flailed about me like a mama bird.

“You’ll have to move, please, you’re up against the lever,” the unsympathetic boatman said. He pointed to what may have been the engine controls. I ignored him briefly, choosing instead to rotate my ankle with great care before hoisting myself up and hobbling a few feet over. It wasn’t broken, at least not in a part that would stop me from walking. I gritted my teeth for the blustery, misty ride over. A heavy fog began to roll in, closing off the town behind us.

The dock was a simple stone staircase jutting from the shallow sea. Our tour guide’s assistant (why does a tour guide of 10 need an assistant?), a man in his late 70s who was smaller and likely frailer than I, insisted on “doing the gentlemanly thing” and helping me out. The boat tottered and clanked against the stone. “Really, I’m alright – I’m probably more likely to fall again with the help out,” I protested.

“No, no, I insist,” he said, offering me a soft hand and a feeble lift out. I struggled to keep my balance but managed just. I’ll say this: The tiny island of St. Michael’s Mount is much, much more attractive when one isn’t in excruciating pain. Honey limestone buildings rose up from the well-rounded cobblestone pavement (again, excruciating). Calla lilies grew in clumps under the windows of little row house cottages, their waxy white trumpet flowers like beacons in the gloomy fog. I wandered off to the disappearing coastline. Couples gathered in the doorframes of small cafes to escape the rain and the enshrouding billowing mist. An old millstone sat repurposed as a garden table.

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I meandered through a small cemetery before beginning the excessively steep, meandering climb up the mount to the fortress and chapel overlooking the bay and Marazion. Happy German families stopped to photograph the Giant’s well and heart, the fiery hot pink rhododendrons and lavender azaleas. And while I too stopped to look at these things, I couldn’t help but feel a little conspicuous with my ever more pronounced limp and deepening grimace. It was a sharp, searing pain – sometimes present, sometimes not – stealthy enough to make me think I was alright until the next faltering step, the next over-rounded cobbled arch to catch me as I went. My peculiar gait was now seemingly causing other joints to grind so that my overcompensating was now resonating in the opposite knee and hip. I was miserable. And so with each little sojourn up the mount, I cursed my bad luck, my lack of grace, these stupid stones, this stupid mount, and whoever decided to put it here.

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Again, hindsight is often rosier and objectively, the walk was gorgeous. The views were vast (when clouds had cleared), the fortress charming, and its contents beautiful. Even in the misty rain.

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The house itself was sparse stone with hewn beams. Little key hole windows overlooked the towns across the sea. Trinkets graced the tables. Diminutive miniatures of former inhabitants beamed from their little frames, quirky and lovely.

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But the best of all was in the chapel. The organist was practicing with his tutor and a gaggle of local elderly women had come by to heckle and cajole. As he practiced a few notes with stops and starts, one shouted up, “Oh, get on with it, will you? We want a song!”

“Alright, now, Agnes!” the man shouted back before launching into a full song for them to sing to. Somehow, I found myself getting teary eyed. I’m not particularly religious but the familiarity and sentimentality got to me and I remembered all the cheery Easter songs and my mother and grandmother singing next to me.

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I managed to slowly make my way down the Mount, stopping to beach comb (rather unsuccessfully) before making my way across the dry bar. The low tide allowed for a limited window of crossing by foot so I scuttled along the sandy granite path to Marazion.

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Marazion, strangely, shuts down in the rain. But I managed to pop into a pharmacy for pain killers and wraps and decided to push my luck by walking around the town. After all, I had emailed my boss who reassured me that it probably wasn’t broken and even if it was, there wasn’t anything to do about it. “Just rest and keep it elevated,” she wrote. I laughed and limped around town. In a local artists’ collective, I hit jackpot. Stocking up pottery, little broaches, and baubles, I loaded myself down for the increasing winds and rains, looking forward to my warm bed and a pot of tea.

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