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Cornwall’s Castle Club

michael's mount

Cornwall is the perfect county to explore beauty, history and myths behind our great castles. Take a day to discover and learn about the stories behind these magical buildings.

St Michael’s Mount

St Michael’s Mount is an astonishing castle, unlike any other landmark across the UK, and is one of the most famous features in our mythical lands.

Located in the crystal clear waters of Penzance’s Mounts Bay, the Mount is a picturesque paradise. Painted in rich folklore and legendary history, prior to the bay being flooded by the sea. The iconic castle once stood high above the forest lands. The Mount is accessible across a man-made causeway, which is viable between low tide and mid-waters. Yet the remains of the lost forest can still be seen with tarnished tree stumps peaking above the water at extreme spring low-tides.

St Michael’s is home to a rare medieval castle perched on the Mount’s crown alongside 35 permanent residents, boasting exquisite panoramic views from Lands End all the way to The Lizard. With walkways leading to the Mounts summit, whilst overlooking beautiful subtropical gardens that make it a great family adventure day out. There are short ferry trips available to the island at high tide, alongside cafés and gifts shops so you’ll be able to share your experience with others.

The Mount’s history depicts it as a trading post in ancient times, developing into a crucial port during the Iron Age. It is believed that the Mount became an important landmark for the Cornish to trade their tin with the Greeks. Cornish legend has it that the Mount was built by a giant called Cormoran, who would roam these lands stealing cattle and livestock from the local farmers. A bounty was placed on the giant’s head and up stood a brave young boy named Jack, who wadded out to the Mount’s water and dug a deep pit on the island. Waking the giant with his large horn, Jack managed to lure the giant into his trap before burying him, becoming a local hero.

One thing is for sure, that the nestled castle lies majestically overlooking Penzance. St Michael’s beauty cannot be compared, making the castle a worthy throne for histories finest kings and queens.

Pendennis Castle

Pendennis Castle rules over the high rocky headland that protects the Falmouth estuary and the waters connecting to the great Atlantic Ocean. Standing firm like an armed soldier outside the parliament, the castle is an intimidating site for invaders to drift upon when sailing through the river Fal’s battle waters. Perched on the south sided banks, Pendennis could loom over its lands with great vision of invading enemies, making it a difficult fortress to overcome. Like its smaller sister castle, Pendennis was built from 1539 to 1545, and battled against numerous invasions and attacks from Catholic Europe.

Pendennis’ grounds originally had six bastions that dropped into a deep ditch to protect the interior fort, with five of these surviving over the centuries. With the majority of the pentagonal perimeter survived, including the pivotal East bastion and Carrick Mount bastion that contained four 12-pound guns to destroy enemy ships. The Elizabethan fort added concrete stability in the early 1900’s to its wounded walls, preparing for yet another invasion in years to come.

At the edge of the land, looming over the ferocious water stands Little Dennis, a Tudor gun tower built around the time of the original forts. The tower was built as a vantage point that could scan out to sea where invaders would look to attack, alongside having a protective watch of both castles and St. Anthony battery on the opposite side. All of the buildings in this area were strategically located for the protection of Carrick Roads anchorage and the mouth of the River Fal.

With over 450 years of history, Pendennis castle remains a coastal landmark in Cornwall, as it did in its last military duty defending our lands as a secret second-world war base. Pendennis now offers guided tours to visitors through the underground magazine and tunnels used during an air raid. Whilst recreating the experience of an enemy invasion with the alert signs first warning them of the impeding attacks.

st mawes

St Mawes Castle

St Mawes Castle proudly stands overlooking Falmouth’s estuary with its larger sister, Pendennis Castle, in its sights sitting parallel across the other side of the water. St Mawes is among the most well preserved fortresses that was designed and built during Henry VIII’s reign over Great Britain.

There is no question that the castle was designed with Royalty in mind, being the most elaborately decorated of all the Tudor castles across the South West. The building itself represents the finest design and architectural work by the great Tudor military. Built between 1539 and 1545, St Mawes and its compatriot across the estuary were created to defend the Cornish lands against invading opposition, coming from Catholic France and Spain.

The castles interior beauty and design was seen as one of Henry VIII’s finer thrones during his reign, with a detailed Royal coat of arms chiselled above the castle doors - demonstrating the King’s loyalty to his position and the crown.

The granite design has remained in remarkable condition over the centuries due to the fact, unlike its twinned castle, St Mawes received few alterations and development once the original design had been implicated.

Another influential factor to the castle’s remaining infrastructure was that when the fort came under attack during the civil in 1946, the castle immediately surrendered before the battle started. As the enemy rallied surrounding the castle from its high land, defeat was inevitable, and the castle was defeated without a single shot being fired. Although it was designed with 19 artillery pieces, they were designed to defend the castle against enemies invading from the estuary.

Launceston Castle

Based on a large natural mound, Launceston castle commanded its neighbouring lands and was utilised by becoming the administration headquarters for the Cornish Earls. With its dominating presence looming high above its nearby towns, the castle was first built in the significant spot to ensure control over the amount of people crossing the Tamar River in and out of Cornwall. The Norman fort was historically named ‘Dunheved’, and feared opposition conquerors by looming in the sky.

The fortress remains an exquisite example of ancient Norman infrastructure, with a symbolic motte and bailey styled castle, with defensive tall walls built to protect the inner bailey. By utilising its dominant presence high above the surrounding lands, Launcestan Castle was built in a symbolic location so that it could protect its realm and spot invading armies from a distant.

In 1227, the Earl of Cornwall replaced some remaining Norman timber with a solid secure castle, building a circular tower amongst the castle walls. In later history, the Earl decided on building defensive walls enclosing the town of Launceston, and becoming the only town in Cornwall like it. But after the Earls death, the castles position and infrastructure was not exploited, with the buildings left to become derelict.

After centuries of dilapidation, the medieval castle was converted from its decaying state into a prison. The prison was in operation for approximately three hundred years, becoming the home of famous inmates George Fox and Cuthbert Mayne. Centuries later, Cornwall decided to rehome the prison to Bodmin, leaving the granite buildings to once again face the elements to rot and decay. The castle is now monitored by English Heritage, ensuring the remains are not damaged and unaltered from its ancient form.

Restormel Castle

Restormel Castle sits high on the river Fowey’s valley roughly one mile from the medieval town of Lostwithiel. Like Launceston castle, Restormel is one of four Norman castles across the duchy, with Tintagel and Trematon making up the family of ancient ruins. The castle was built around 1100, with the ruins remaining in such fantastic form that individual rooms can still be easily identified today. Making Restormel one of the oldest and by far, best preserved Norman Castle in the South West.

The castle was rebuilt in the 13th century by the earl of Cornwall, Edmund, for his own personal use. The stunning circular shape of the building remains remarkably intact, with the castle being built with a 17metre motte surrounding it, making the defence of the castle impenetrable. The motte banks were constructed and reshaped, making them much steeper and difficult to invade.  The defensive procedures were well implicated, with the only attack on Restormel occurring in 1644, when Charles I’s allegiance stormed out the parliamentarian garrison during the Civil war.

Restormel remains a beautiful location to enjoy a picnic in the sun with 360 panoramic views amongst Cornwall’s wildlife. Enjoy a relaxing walk around the river Fowey with sensational views of the castle through tress and across the countryside. The allocated walk is just over two miles long, but bring along you wellies and some farm areas may be a little muddy.

I's the perfect location to enjoy a picnic with 360 panoramic views of open scenery and Cornwall’s nature.

Guest writer: Stanley Morris

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