Devon LivingIssue #07
Escape to the islands
Discovering the enchanting archipelago of the Isles of Scilly.
For those with busy lives trying to arrange a weekend away and find a date that suits family, work and animals can be a challenge. Add to the mix the unpredictable nature of the great British weather and the challenge becomes very real. Had someone told me we could make this happen, with hotter weather than the Mediterranean, I’d have answered: “Yeah right! And England will win their quarter-final against Sweden in the World Cup!” They did and so did we, but for us that was only the start of an amazing adventure. With the stars aligned and all children, dogs, cats and horses accounted for we set off in the early part of this summer on an amazing Scilly adventure.
“a private oasis, set in an idyllic cove overlooking the Atlantic Ocean”
Flying to the Scillies on the Skybus from Land’s End is, in my view, the only way to travel to the islands. As you leave the mainland behind, with the Longships lighthouse in the distance, each passing second of the short 15 minute flight sees your worries and stresses just slip away. Shoulders drop, frowns disappear and a sense of peace and tranquillity takes hold as St Mary’s approaches. As if by magic the whole world changes and becomes a much better place.
On arrival we are collected from the airport by the Tresco Shuttle team who transfer us to St Mary’s quay and our boat transfer to Bryher. There’s nothing quite like the sights, sounds and smell of the quayside to make you feel ‘at home’ on Scilly – salty air, azure blue skies reflected in clear waters and the bustle of boatmen helping visitors board the off-island launches.
After a short trip across the water we arrive at our home for the weekend – the award-winning Hell Bay Hotel, a private oasis, set in an idyllic cove overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. We are shown to a lovely suite, with our own secluded patio on which to relax and soak up Scilly. Once unpacked, with tummies rumbling, we set of in search of lunch. We have heard that Bryher-based Island Fish not only serves the freshest catch but that proprietor, and Scillonian, Amanda Pender has a great story to tell.
Meeting Amanda, and listening to her reflections on her life on Scilly really resonates with me. A self-confessed, mid-life crisis saw her leave Islands Partnership, Scilly’s dedicated marketing and PR organisation and, with brother Mark, start Island Fish from the conservatory in her house. It’s a compelling story of passion and perseverance involving a Scillonian family who, for three generations, have followed in the footsteps of their ancestors’ proud fishing tradition. For visitors, life on Scilly appears idyllic, but there’s a certain resilience required to survive island living and the Pender’s story depicts this perfectly.
Amanda tells us that fishing has always been part of family life. Her father Mike, brother Mark and now her own 18 year old son Shamus bring the catch of the day back to Bryher, where it is cleaned and prepared for customers at the newly built shop and fish-works that opened in April this year. Island Fish can be found just up the track from the quay and, like everything on the island, is easy to find as Bryher has an area of just 330 acres.
Offering an eat in or takeaway menu, my choice of lobster, served with potato wedges and coleslaw lunch is a steal at only £10 and both this and my wife’s crab quiche are to die for. Both dishes are part of an extensive selection of fish, and it’s award-winning to boot! A stroll around the island follows, much needed to work off our splendid lunch.
As often happens with childfree weekend getaways our time mostly revolves around food and so, after an afternoon exploring, we end our first day on Bryher with a fish and chip supper at the Fraggle Rock Bar.
After a wonderful night’s sleep, induced by all that fresh air and the sound of the ocean, we breakfast in the hotel (I wasn’t joking about the food!) before heading out for a day on Tresco. We have always wanted to visit the Tresco Abbey Garden and were intrigued as to what we would find. We weren’t disappointed – the garden is stunning, a sub-tropical gem, home to thousands of exotic plants from around the world. Built in the 19th century around the ruins of a Benedictine abbey, a meander around the garden reveals David Wynne’s magnificent ‘Children’ sculpture that rises majestically behind a border of vibrant Agapanthus. The Abbey Garden just keeps on giving at every turn and the unique Valhalla museum, with its 30 figureheads from Scillies’ shipwrecks honour the final century of sailing tradition dating back some 3,000 years, is a fitting end to our garden tour.
And you guessed… it’s lunchtime again! And what a lunch it is, declared to be: “one of the best ever” by my wife. Ruin Beach Café has quite possibly one of the most idyllic locations – the sand is golden and the water is the clearest blue. Our vegetarian sharing platter and succulent pan-fried fish are enjoyed overlooking this exquisitely beautiful and peaceful bay. Walking off lunch takes us to the north end of Tresco and a visit to the ruins of King Charles’ Castle before completing the six-mile walk that circumvents the entire island.
After a happy day exploring we return to Hell Bay Hotel sun kissed and happy. The weather has been amazing for our trip and has transformed Scilly into what could easily be mistaken for tropical islands. It’s warm enough for us to dine outside and we are blessed with a romantic sunset to accompany our delicious supper.
Sunday sees us divide and conquer. My wife heads off to enjoy a relaxing treatment at the hotel while I pay a visit to Bryher’s shop and Post Office – packed full of produce they offer an invaluable delivery service for self-catering visitors, bringing everything you need for your stay direct to your holiday home door.
Next stop for me is Hillside Farm where I am warmly greeted by owners Ruth and Graham who take me on a tour of their working farm. The spring and summer months see them harvesting vegetable, salad and soft fruit crops that are sold from their roadside stall. They also raise a herd of North Devon cattle and British Saddleback pigs that supply the island with rare breed, free-range pork and beef, and are another example of the entrepreneurial spirit that makes the island’s businesses unique.
As our final day draws to a close, and we prepare for our return to the mainland in the morning, we both comment on how our visit has been one of sheer relaxation. The Scilly way of life has a different pace to the mainland – one that perhaps we should all adopt in order to take in the finer in things in life and all that Cornwall and its unique islands have to offer. If you’ve never visited, book soon – you won’t regret it!
The Islands Partnership is a non-profit making organisation, funded entirely by membership subscription together with some corporate sponsorship. It is responsible for marketing the Isles of Scilly as a destination and for managing the Visit Isles of Scilly brand in all its facets including the management of the Tourism Information Centre on St. Maryís. It is the only dedicated destination marketing and PR organisation on the islands for the islands.
Walk Scilly Long Weekend
11th – 15th October
Autumn is the perfect time of year to experience the islands. The fifth Walk Scilly Weekend is bigger and better than ever, with 24 walks taking place across eight islands, including, for the first time, some special walks with walking artists. Tickets are now on sale.
FIND OUT MORE
Isles of Scilly Travel 01736 334220
Isles of Scilly Tourist
Information Centre 01720 620600