Isles of Scilly - map
Isles of Scilly - map
Lying 30 miles off the tip of the Cornish coast, the Isles of Scilly are an island paradise providing stunning white sand beaches, azure waters and a wonderful climate where sub-tropical plants thrive in a truly unique environment. Whether you choose to travel by plane or take the passenger ferry, just getting to the Isles of Scilly is an experience with unique views of the western tip of the British Isles.
Once you arrive, there are five inhabited Islands (St Mary’s, Tresco, St Martins, St Agnes and Bryher) and over a hundred uninhabited islands waiting to be discovered and a wide range of things to do from hiring bikes, or horse riding to setting off on one of the many foot paths that cross the Islands, or taking one of the many boat trips to the other Islands or simply find one of the Islands café’s, pub or restaurants and enjoy the stunning views the Islands are famous for.
One of the best things you can do on the Isles of Scilly is discover your own favourite bay or stretch of sand, sit back, relax and enjoy the slower pace of life, unique landscape and the warm gulf-stream climate. And given that the Islands (apart from the capital St Mary’s) are virtually traffic free, apart from the odd tractor, the Isles of Scilly make not only make a fantastic getaway for people with children looking for life’s simple pleasures, but the peace and tranquillity also make a unique destination to discover. More recently, the Islands have become a destination for celebrities such as David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Jude Law – so celeb spotting is also an option.
What to Do?
Activities on the Isles of Scilly tend to revolve around the great outdoors. One of the best experiences is to simply explore the Islands on foot – whether that’s the main Island St Mary’s or by taking a short boat trip to one of the other inhabited Islands or one of the many uninhabited islands. With its shops, restaurants and pubs, there is plenty to see and do on St Mary’s. Give your feet a rest on a sight-seeing bus trip or take a leisurely stroll around the Garrison Walls.
Nature plays a major role in life on Scilly - during the big spring tides of the Equinox, the sea retreats from the channel between Tresco and Bryher enabling you to take a unique journey on foot from one island to the other. One of the Islands jewels is the internationally renowned Tresco Abbey Garden, a botanical paradise created around the ruins of a Benedictine Priory in 1834. The garden contains exotic plants that’s cannot survive outdoors in any other part of the UK, with 300 of the 20,000 subtropical species collected by Scillonian sea captains on their travels in New Zealand, South Africa, the Canary Islands Australia and South America. Dubbed Kew with the roof off, corridors of palms, topiary and a general blaze of colour reach up towards the sky. Whilst at the Abbey Gardens, head for the Valhalla museum to see the display of amazing figureheads, which formerly graced some of the ocean-going vessels that foundered upon Scilly’s unforgiving rocks.
One of the best ways to explore the Islands is by using the 60+ miles of coastal footpaths, providing some of the most fantastic views anywhere in the UK. Whether you want to explore on your own or have one of the Islands guides point out the features, history and places of interest, walking on Scilly is a wonderful experience. For a spot of sightseeing on the water, try one of the regular trips that head to the uninhabited Islands of Tean, St Helens and the Eastern Isles and Annet, where you can train your binoculars on the likes of puffins, guillemots and storm petrels. Launches leave St Mary’s harbour many times during the day starting at 9.45am and offer a variety of choices between direct sailings, circular tours and more specialised trips to look at historic sites, seals and seabirds or go fishing.
There is also a lot to see under the surface of Scilly, on glass-bottomed boats where you can peer at seals, star fish and sea sponges. Or for the more adventurous you can swim with the fish on a guided snorkelling tour, giving you the opportunity to see fantastic sea life up close including two spot and sand gobies, pipe fish, prawns, shore crabs, wrasse, and the occasional jellyfish! And if you are really lucky baby plaice – thanks to the wonderful clarity of the water. The snorkelling trips are a partnership between the IOS Wildlife Trust and St. Martin’s Diving School. Contact IOS Wildlife Trust 422153 www.ios-wildlifetrust.org.uk or Anna Cawthray at St. Martin’s Dive School www.scillydiving.com
To delve into the history of the Islands, head to the museum in Hugh Town (St Mary’s), where captivating displays include relics salvaged from sunken ships, the Iron Age Bryher Sword and an illustrated account of the islands’ role in the English Civil War can be seen. The Islands are also home to some of the best-preserved Bronze Age tombs and archaeological sites, such as the remains of an ancient village on Halangy Down and a chamber tomb at Bant’s Carn. For a chance to find your own bit of history, simply roll up your trouser legs and hunt for beads at Beady Pool on St. Agnes – where tiny terracotta and glass beads from a 17th century shipwreck that foundered on the Islands whilst en-route from Amsterdam to Lisbon can still be found. While doing so the shrimps are attracted to the heat radiated from your feet and dance on your toes. Shrimping season begins at the start of July and finishes at the end of September. The best time to go shrimping is on a low tide.
Aside from an abundance of natural and historical treasures, the Islands are also a hive of artistic activity, from paintings and pottery to stained glass and abstract art, bold seascapes and hand made silver jewellery – all produced and sold on the Islands. In early May the Islands biggest annual event takes place – the World Gig Championships, where teams from across the Islands, Cornwall, Devon and from around the world take place to race against each other across the inter-island waters – a truly wonderful spectacle.
Where to Eat
Tides Reach Restaurant, Atlantic Hotel, St Mary's
Fresh air, clean seas and long sunny days are the secret ingredient in making island produce so delicious and giving the chefs so many fantastic raw materials to work with. There are a wealth of places to enjoy food and drink across the Islands, that will suit all tastes and budgets, from fish and chip takeaways to fine dining. Mouth-watering local lobsters and crabs abound, together with fresh fish, local lamb, beef and vegetables, eggs, bread and butter, beer and wine, ice cream, jam and fudge, all make for perfect picnics and brilliant barbecues. To find out the wide array of café’s, restaurants, pubs and takeaway’s it’s best to visit www.simplycilly.co.uk/site/taste-scilly
The Off Islands
Bryher is the most untamed of the inhabited Scilly Isles. Its surface is covered in the most part by wild flora and fauna. It has a tiny population of around seventy people who are largely situated around the eastern quay. Despite this, it does have a fair amount of accommodation, pubs and shops. There is also plenty to do here; in the summer the place is animated by colour as the numerous flowerbeds come to life, in the autumn the migratory birds use Bryher as their resting place and during the winter Hell Bay is lashed by the Atlantic Ocean producing some magnificent scenes.
Water sports of all types are available for the visitor including; reef and wreck diving, launch hire for shark fishing or maybe just snorkelling in the lovely Rushy Bay, one of the safest and prettiest beaches on the island. Samson has been deserted since 1855. Most of the notorious gig races begin here at Nut Rock and end at St Mary’s Quay. Bryher is the smallest of the inhabited islands lying to the west of Tresco. Look out here for the dwarf Pansy, so small that you will have to go on your hands and knees to find it.
St Martin’s offers you an ideal location for family with secluded, clean beaches and breathtaking scenery, with stunning views; such as across the vast expanse of the great Bay to the secluded tranquillity of Old Quay. St Martin’s is the third largest of the islands located at the northeast corner of the Isles of Scilly archipelago. It is the first island that you see as you travel to the Isles of Scilly from the mainland. The character of the island is very much like its neighbour Tresco, with habitats ranging from the rugged, heather clad cliffs of the north shore – shaped over then centuries by the relentless action of the North Atlantic’s winter gales – to the more sheltered southern aspect characterised by small enclosed flower fields above sheltered sandy beaches and crystal clear waters.
St Agnes at one mile across, is one of the smaller of five inhabited islands in the Scilly archipelago, and has a community of only 72 people. Visitors wanting to get away from the stress of the mainland life find themselves surrounded by clear water and clean air straight off the vast sweep of the Atlantic. On a cloudless night the stars are bright in the purity of the unpolluted sky. The paths that wind around the deeply indented coastline provide a succession of light-filled views, from the curving white sand bar between St Agnes and Gugh, to the great weathered granite cairns on the Wingletang downs to the south.
St Agnes changes constantly with the seasons. From November to March many islanders are involved in flower farming – harvesting early narcissus in the frost-free climate – while the rest of the year is taken up with cultivation, fishing, the sale of bulbs, flowers and craft products and catering for guests. In the summer holidays the guest houses, campsite and self catering cottages fill up with families looking forward to the long sunny days on the beach, boating, exploring other islands and eating outside the pub or in Covean garden café. Friday night is ‘gig night’ when visitors and locals can take a trip on the Spirit of St Agnes to watch the islands six oared pilot gig, Shah, race against St Mary’s and other off island gigs, followed by a hot chocolate and brandy in the Turks Head. People of all ages love this island. It is safe, clean and very beautiful.
Tresco is the second largest of the islands and boasts a wide variety of scenery. The northern end of the island is wild and barren with the ruins of King Charles’ Castle and the 17th century Cromwell’s Castle. The middle section of the island has green pasture, cottage and farmland leading down through an avenue of densely packed trees to the famous Abbey Garden - laid on the site of a 10th century Benedictine Abbey. For complete seclusion from the world you would find the white sand of Pentle Bay on Tresco hard to beat.
What else can you see on Tresco? The Great Pool – a 12 acre haven for wildfowl and migratory birds, with observation hides available, Appletree Bay – a beautiful beach overlooking Bryher and Samson and near to the monument to Augustus Smith – self appointed Lord of the Isles in 1872. The ruins of King Charles’ Castle are on the hill above Cromwell’s Castle that was built in 1651 to protect the islands against possible attack by the Dutch. Across old Grimsby Bay is the Blockhouse, built to defend the harbour and the village. To see all that the Scillies has to offer in one trip is impossible but even a single day visit will leave you desperate to return – and you will be very welcome whether you come by sea, air, or cruise liner.
The unmistakable twin hills of Samson are subject to countless sunset photographs each year. Samson lies to the north west of St Mary’s and once gave shelter to many families. The ruins of the oldest Christian building on the islands is on St Helen’s and the remains of St Elidius, a British Bishop and the son of and English king is alleged to be buried on the island.The rocks and islands of the Western Rocks are famous for being the graveyard of countless shipwrecks through the centuries. Vessels such as Sir Cloudesley Shovell’s flagship HMS Association; the great German transatlantic liner Schiller and the American 7 masted schooner, the Thomas W. Lawson (the largest pure sailing vessel ever built) have all ended tragically amongst these grim rocks, often with huge loss of life. From Annet, the bird sanctuary, to the Bishop Rock Lighthouse, the untamed wildness and the cruel granite outcrops are home to colonies of sea birds and grey Atlantic seals. The Eastern Isles near St Martin’s have more grassy cover than the other uninhabited islands and important discoveries of habitation from around AD69 have been found on Nomour and may be seen in the museum on St Mary’s. Sea birds and seals live there in great numbers and may be seen at close quarters when cruising around here.
How to Get there
Getting to the Isles of Scilly is simpler than many people think, with direct daily flights (Except Sundays) to the Islands by fixed wing plane (Isles of Scilly Skybus – 0845 710 5555) from Southampton, Bristol, Exeter, Newquay and Lands End, and by Helicopter (British International Helicopters – 01736 363 781) from Penzance and passenger ferry on the Scillonian (Isles of Scilly Steamship Company – 0845 710 5555).
To find out more visit www.simplyscilly.co.uk or call 01720 422536.