Five islands, five days: Muddy visits Scilly
I made the mistake of going on my summer holidays at the beginning of July before most of the schools broke out – I felt very smug at the time, but as I sit here shivering in my indoor hat (yes I have one) and my two pairs of socks, that seems an age ago and I am in dire need of something to look forward to.
If you’re needing some inspiration for 2017 too, voila mes braves, I’ve got it going on right here and you wont even need a passport. As Britain prepares to disentangle itself from the EU, why not take advantage of what’s on our doorstep, soak up the sunshine and celebrate the best of home – island hopping in the Scillies.
The islands themselves are relatively small. It’s a sure fire bet that you wont find a Waitrose or Pret but you will find an awesome range of small local restaurants that pride themselves on uber local produce and vistas rivalling the Caribbean. There are no cars on most of the islands, too – which makes for some unbroken natural beauty and clean fresh air.
If you’re coming from London or up country – best to get train from London Paddington to Penzance (for the ferry) or Exeter (where you can fly). Us locals can chose to fly from Newquay too.
However, Mr MC had been diving the night before and was decompressing, so instead of a 15 minute flight we had a nearly three hour ferry crossing (grr). But it wasn’t half bad – ok no free food and champers to scoff, but brilliant service, friendly staff and enough not to get lost (unless it was in a book). Our companions included a Shetland pony (yup), some tractor tyres and too many dogs to count. Those unfortunate enough to be travelling with kids might be glad of a tablet or two (ipad not tramadol), but there were activity books to keep younger ones occupied, and of course a shop to spend pocket money.
The opportunity to spot dolphins and humpback whales trumped a 15 minute flight. No dolphins but loads of jelly fish – a sign that the waters were warming up, so good news for us divers.
Food on board was nothing to shout about, but this is a ferry, not the Queen Mary, and you’re only on there for a few hours.
Once checked in for our transfer, we had half an hour to kill and spent our time wisely – at the Mermaid Inn. Heck it was mid day and totally acceptable to drink gin – especially as we were on holiday. Before long we were being called for our transfer boat to our first island.
We stayed on Tresco at the New Inn a great little pub with rooms as our base. Biking (or walking) is the only way to get around – you can grab yourself a bike as soon as you arrive. There are very few vehicles on the islands – we only saw the odd landy defender, tractor or rascal van pimped for deliveries or transfers (we were transferred from the doc by Tresco Boat Services to our hotel by tractor).
The sign posts around Tresco measure distance in minutes walk rather than miles which is a lovely touch. First trip was to the Abbey Gardens – touted as Kew with the roof off. You’ll find plants from South America, Africa and New Zealand. Within the garden is an interesting collection of salvaged figure heads and nautical memorabilia from the hundreds of wrecks around the Scilly shores.
We explored the island by bike and foot the rest of the afternoon, taking in Old Grimsby town, and a quick stop in Lucy-Tania shop selling super-cool shirtmakers Frangipani. After a dip in the pool, and dinner at the New Inn we headed back to our room, and did what all red blooded middle aged people sans children do – fell asleep watching TV.
Cromwell’s castle – the sign says its quite a crappy design for the times, but its quite spooky none-the-less. A 15 minute walk from New Grimsby Quay.
Tresco Boat Club Spa for some pampering (hey it wouldn’t be a holiday right?).
Some brilliant white sand beaches – super secluded, we were the only people on the beach most days, perfect for a romantic picnic.
Twitchers will like the bird hides around the lake.
The Ruin Beach Cafe is a great place for a family meal.
Mr MC calls this the camping island, which doesn’t really do it justice.
We caught the ‘Firethorn’ courtesy of Tresco Boat Services. We loved the village notice boards confirming not only the times of the boats, but also availability at restaurants on other islands – It gives the islands a totally villagey feel. Like most of the islands, honesty boxes everywhere.
Hire a kayak from Bennett Boat yard and spend a day paddling around the island. You’ll see way more wildlife that way too.
Hell Bay which is home to the more dramatic rockier side of the island and the Hell Bay hotel overlooking the Great Pool.
St Martin’s island has tide dependent landings. We were dropped at Lower Town, a 30 minute walk to High Town where we were being picked up. Filled with dazzling white sandy beaches and an enterprising community, this island is a beautiful place to spend a few hours.
We took the sandy path to Higher Town, past the campsite, shop and post office to Par Beach.
Though tempted by the gig racing on St Mary’s that evening, we opted for a picnic supper on the beach as sun went down supplies from the shop, salami, olives, fruit Cornish cheeses, fresh bread and a bottle of wine. We might not have fallen asleep watching TV that evening.
Churchtown farm (in Middle Town) we popped in and had a nose around on our way to the vineyard.
Snorkeling with seals at the Eastern Islands (and a dolphin run on the rib – yes we raced dolphins!).
St Martin’s Vineyard wine tasting and vineyard tour. Britain’s most southerly vineyard. The website is rubbish, but the tour well worth it.
Didn’t make St Agnes – you are truly are governed by tides and crossing in the morning and a return in the afternoon meant we wern’t able to with our schedule. I’m quite mad that we didn’t get to visit St Agnes as I was hoping to catch the Puffins before they headed up to Shetland for the summer. Its a great island to explore if you’re into wildlife.
We were recommended to pop in to the Turks head – Britains most south westerly pub, oh and Beady Pool to try our luck in finding beads from a 17th Century wreck that was washed just off-shore. That’s on the agenda for our next trip, along with Troytown farm dairy on the island, purveyours of the scrummy icecream served at the New Inn on Tresco.
St Mary’s, part deux
After checking in our bags (it took 3 seconds), we did what you’d expect – SHOP and EAT. I’d highly recommend Juliet’s Garden Restaurant and Bar. Its a just a 20 minute stroll (or 5 min taxi ride) to the village of Porthloo and grows its own veg – you can buy the surplus.
IOS – clothing shop stocking brands you’ll recognise, such as Joules, Fatface, Whitestuff. Two dresses and a new sunhat heavier, we popped into The Tanglewood Kitchen Company, selling all sorts of deli lovelies (and home made ready meals) from the old sorting office.
As things begin so the end, and we rounded of our trip back in The Mermaid Inn on the beach with some more gin and tonic. Perfect end to an amazing few days.
To do justice to all five islands, you’d easily need a week – we really weren’t ready to leave, but you know, parental responsibilities n all that (boo). So we have booked already for early summer 2017. This time a cottage avec kids.
The Scillies are so convenient and easy to get to, once you’ve found your island (and for me it was St Martin’s) its a perfect weekender and actually the autumn months are some of the best to visit Scilly. There’s never a better time to dip your toes in the crystal clear waters.
Good for: Persid meteor shower – with no light pollution, the Scillies are perfect place to catch a falling star; don’t miss the Regatta in August, and Scilly Wild week. Perfect for weekend picnics on the beach, wildlife watching, outdoor adventurers. Its just as good for romantic getaways as extended family get-to-gethers. Access is generally excellent – less mobile can hire a golf cart.
Not for: while access on the islands is great, getting on and off the boat can be hairy. Tide and time wait for no man, so planning essential – its not a place for impromptu off island jaunts – unless you have your own boat of course.
£££: high end luxury subtropical paradise on your doorstep. Can’t put a price on that.
How we got there: Aboard the Scillonian III from Penzance Quay. Relaxed and frazzle free check in and baggage hand over (it was tagged with our island and chucked into a container), but that might have been as much down to the fact my little darlings were staying with granny.
Flights from Lands End, Newquay and Exeter. To discover more about the Isles of Scilly, go to www.visitislesofscilly.com