Nestled in the Atlantic Ocean, 28 miles of the coast of Cornwall, the archipelago of 200 islands that makes up the Isles of Scilly are known for their dive sites of famous historical shipwrecks but there is so much more to see in these islands.
My first impression when our ferry docked on St Mary’s, the most inhabited of the islands, was how refreshingly rugged it was. Situated in the gulf stream and with their own little microclimate, endless stretches of white sandy beaches surrounded by crystal clear waters and breath-taking views, you can be forgiven for thinking that you’ve landed somewhere in the Mediterranean (except that the beaches are almost empty and the Atlantic ocean is far chillier!).
There are a few hotels that pick up from the air or ferry port but most visitors rent an apartment or cottage and walk there from the ferry (and for a mere £1.60 the lovely ferry company will deliver your luggage to your accommodation). With only 8 miles of road, the 1700 residents of St Mary’s rarely use their cars and although they do have two taxi firms, the Scillies are more a, ‘here’s a map, get on with it’, kind of place. And you very soon see why.
Only a handful of the islands are inhabited and St Mary’s, the hub, is only six and a half square kilometres in size so everything is close by. Most tourists stay in and around Hugh Town, where the ferry docks, and, if you can’t find what you are looking for, the friendly locals are only too happy to point you in the right direction.
There are hints of New Zealand and Scotland in the flora and fauna here. Kayaks and paddle boards weave through the yachts moored in the bay. The temperatures hover around twenty degrees and, with the soft breeze wafting in from the ocean, it felt pleasantly balmy as we relaxed into our holiday and the world slowed to a snail’s place.
A local Co-op in Hugh Town services St Mary’s. About the size of a One Stop Shop it aims to stock most essentials, however if you are self-catering, it’s useful to be flexible on dinner plans. One local advised us not to plan until we were actually in the supermarket with the food in our basket; it’s not unusual to find empty shelves when they are expecting a delivery from the mainland. That said, there is no shortage of wonderful eateries. Some of our favourites were The Beach Café with its wonderful seafood, the tapas selection at Dibble and Grub, and the Castle Hotel which is lovely if you are looking for something special.
There are an abundance of activities to keep the busiest of families occupied on St Mary’s. Aside from beaches, rockpools and water sports, climb up to Buzza Tower (it’s a short easy track and there are plenty of resting benches along the way if you are lazy like me) for incredible views across Porthcressa Beach, Hugh Town and Town Bay. Hire out a cart to explore the island – a bit like a golf cart they only reach around twelve miles an hour and present a lovely and fun way to see the back and beyond of St Mary’s. Take a boat trip to see the wildlife; we spotted several playful seals and even saw a few puffins.
A boat trip out to explore the other islands is also a wonderful way to while away the time. Tresco teems with a lush landscape and houses the beautiful Abbey and Gardens, well worth a visit, as well as Cromwell’s Tower and the ruins of Charles I castle. A short climb up to the peak of Bryher offers wonderful views over Hell’s Bay and its beautiful beaches. St Martins has its own vineyard and silversmith and, again, wonderful beaches. If you visit St Agnes, you can walk across to Ghu at low tide or drink in the The Turk’s Head, the southern-most pub in the UK, and the ice creamery at Troytown got the thumbs up from my ice cream connoisseurs!
People who visit the Scillies tend to go back and it’s not difficult to see why. We spoke to several holidaymakers who visit year after year. It’s not a budget holiday, one couple called it their ‘expensive addiction’ which sums it up nicely. Apart from the obvious home grown produce, most provisions are transported from the mainland on a freight ship, and therefore come at a premium. Meals out and food and drink are slightly more expensive. But, arguably, the pay-off to spend a week or so in this idyllic piece of paradise is well worth the indulgence.
I should also mention you can stay on the other islands too. Dogs are welcome on the ferry from the mainland and on the boats that taxi between the islands.