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The café by St Michael’s Mount dissolves my cynicism

At the Sail Loft, the National Trust for once behave as gentlemen

20 August 2016

9:00 AM

20 August 2016

9:00 AM

The Sail Loft is under a castle on a mountain on an island in the sea; for that, I could forgive it anything. It is on St Michael’s Mount in Marazion near Penzance, an island so charming and devoid of internet connection it almost strips me of words. If I lived here I would not write again; I would not need to. I would be happy, and who judges fish when they are happy and finds it not enough?

It is accessible along a granite causeway for four hours each day — then the path goes back to the sea and one must take a boat; it is more ruthless than magic. I wish I lived here, and could drown my neighbours, who are customers at the betting shop in Camden. We do flood them, but only with the shower, and grouting does not have the malevolent possibilities of the Celtic Sea.


I sit on the black rock in the bay eating Cornish pasties — a cushion of meat — and watch the tide flow in and out. It wets the tourists on the causeway; Harry Lime’s dots, but with swamped buggies. As if they cannot believe the sea would interfere with their leisure plans. (The primary cause of drowning in England is apparently the desire to retrieve inflatables. Some people will swim to the Isles of Scilly to rescue a plastic dolphin. If you know that the isles have twice killed 1,500 sailors in one night, this is admirable.) Watching the dots get wet is, by some margin, my favourite sport.

There is a restaurant called the Godolphin Arms opposite the castle. It used to be a pub, but it is now a restaurant that thinks it is in Peter Jones. (There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. I have often fantasised about getting blind drunk in Peter Jones even if the main pleasure — the response — would be muted because I would be too drunk to see it.) But it is wrong for Cornwall and the locals shun it; you cannot smoke on the terrace, which is ridiculous, and the terrace is lined with glass, which is disgusting, like riding a gondola holding an iPad up to your stupid face. So I get an early boat to the mountain and sit on the harbour wall, feeding scones to seagulls. Do you know that a seagull can swallow a scone in two mouthfuls and not die? Then I go to the Sail Loft for lunch. I rarely go up to the castle, because it reminds me of Surrey, the anti-Cornwall where I grew up. They have tarmacked the terrace, painted an ancient castle powder-blue and inserted spindly Georgian furniture and gloomy interwar portraiture, when I had hoped for something from The Vikings starring Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas as the world’s most Jewish Vikings. It is the second most inappropriate castle interior I have seen after Bran in Romania, which is Count Dracula meets Laura Ashley and Laura Ashley wins. Bran was owned by an English princess, and it is Windsor near the Carpathians. You can kill a vampire with florals.

The Sail Loft is off the harbour: a long bright room made of rock and wood. It is filled with happy, if wet, day-trippers. As if in reward for the boat trip, which is £2 each way, or the potential drowning on the causeway, which is free, the food is excellent and well-priced; the National Trust, who leave the castle in the care of the St Aubyn family, behave as gentlemen. A ploughman’s is dense and rich — good cheddar, thick ham, a fine salad; a brie-and-bacon sandwich is less horrid than usual — that is, more than edible. My cynicism ebbs with the sea.

The Sail Loft, The Harbour, St Michael’s Mount, Marazion TR17 0HT, tel: 01736 710748.

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