A taste of island life on the Scillies


For a few moments I caught a magnificent Northern Gannet in the black circle of my binocular vision and followed it as it soared higher into a clear blue sky above St Martin in the Isles of Scilly.

Its long, snow-white wings with their coal-black tips flickered as the bird suddenly folded them up and plunged headlong into the sea, an unsuspecting fish caught in its high-resolution vision.

I watched the splash as the bird hit the first water spout at 60mph and with that lovely spell now broken I passed the ‘trash’ to my wife Jenny as we sat in the middle. of a riot of yellow vetch and pink sea spares on the edge of a dazzling white sand bay with no one!

It was the first afternoon of our May week vacation amidst these amazingly beautiful islands enclosed in their own semi-subtropical microclimate just twenty-eight miles from Land’s End.

What a busy day it had been, first of all on our two and a half hour trip from Penzance to the main island of St Marys on the rugged MS Scillonian, which has now commuted the equivalent of more than three once to the moon and back over the past forty-three years.

Then we transferred to one of the sturdy rowboats that connect St Marys to the islands of St Martins, Tresco, Bryher and St Agnes.

We were at the Karma Hotel in St Martins, built as an inconspicuous row of granite cottages, just up from the lower town landing quay and overlooking a dazzling white sand beach.

I often ask people if they’ve ever thought about visiting Scilly and the usual answer is no, but this was a place they always intended to go and the truth is they probably never will.

But those who do make it to these five enchanted, almost subtropical islands invariably fall under their spell, like me, and often return again and again.

So what makes Scilly so special, other than its mild and surprisingly temperate climate, sparkling blue sea, deserted beaches, and wildflowers everywhere?

For me it’s sailing above the waves, often with seabirds flicking the wing, to one of those enchanting little islands.

Here you and your fellow travelers from St Marys are then thrown back for a few hours to wander, along pristine beaches or around quiet lanes and sandy tracks, for besides you and a hundred islanders and a lucky few in limited vacation accommodation, no one else.

The popular subtropical island of Tresco is an exception due to its famous Abbey Gardens which are a must to visit, but even here one can escape the crazy crowds.

Scilly also has an unusual charm with lots of surprises around the corner like the little wooden stalls full of small items put up for sale by children from St Martins and Tresco schools.

The first tourists arrived in Scilly in the 1760s, during the reign of George 111, when an enterprising captain, Frank Tregarthen, had a bright idea.

He opened a hotel for people wishing to visit the islands and they traveled on his ship which brought supplies.

These early Georgian visitors were taken care of by his wife and daughters and stayed until the good captain needed to return to Penzance for more supplies, or so it is rumored.

Today’s visitors arriving at Hugh Town St Marys, as we did, and turning the corner at the end of the quay, will see the Tregarthens Hotel still standing on the hill above them.

Although I have touted the virtues of the offshore islands, most people stay on the main island of St Marys, where the magnificent Elizabethan Star Castle Hotel, located at the top of Garrison Hill, overlooks the sea and town.

At two and a half miles long by a mile and three-quarters wide and surrounded by sandy beaches, St Marys still has a lot to offer for those who decide not to embark on one of the morning and afternoon launches. -midday towards the offshore islands.

A popular anytime walk follows the promontory past the Castle of the Star to follow the Napoleonic-era garrison walls overlooking the strait to the Isle of St. Agnes.

The end of the promenade leads back perfectly to bustling Porthcressa beach, at the end of the busy bustling street.

From the end of the beach, a beautiful promenade circles another magnificent and giant rock-strewn promontory to the old town with its quieter beach and its century-old church where the former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who had a bungalow on the island, was buried from the rest.

Those wishing to take a tour of the island can start from here, pass the end of the island trail and head to Pelistry Beach, which is much more secluded and quite magical, with its beautiful views of the islands. Orientals of Scilly, a paradise for seabirds and seals.

From there it will probably take a few hours to complete the tour and stop for a well-earned cup of tea in the now hugely popular Juliette’s tea garden and restaurant overlooking the sea.

A walk inside the island with its wildlife reserve, secluded gardens and lake is also worth it for those spending the day in St Marys which I can honestly say has changed little since I started to visit more than fifty years ago.

And those who want a special souvenir to take home may want to visit one of the many small galleries dotted around the islands where artists capture the magic of Scilly with its dazzling white sand beaches and coastal paths awash in wildflowers.

Information sheet

We enjoyed the excellent facilities at Karma St Martin’s Hotel, tel 01720 422 368 [email protected]; and The Star Castle, St Marys tel 01720 422317 email [email protected]

For passage to Scilly call Isles of Scilly Travel 01736 334 220 or visit www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk/plan-your-trip

Travel writer and avid walker Nigel Heath from Monmouthshire kept his adventures in the UK last year due to travel restrictions in place due to the Covid pandemic. Today he shares his life sampling experience on The Scillies

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