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on your doorstep ■ the isles of scilly

Tucked 28 miles off the south-west corner of Cornwall, the tiny Isles of Scilly offer visitors the chance to experience a sub-tropical slice of England very much in the slow lane – and that’s just how Jane Anderson likes it

■ St Martins

rowsing through the Daily Telegraph recently, a little headline caught my fancy. “Scilly speed trap on just six miles of road”. It transpires that police have just introduced the first speed trap on the Isles of Scilly… on an island with only six miles of road. Officers on the main island of St Mary’s, population 1,600, have taken delivery of a radar gun. The island has a 60mph speed limit but police admit that its roads contain so many bends it is virtually impossible to drive that fast. Since the radar gun was introduced the fastest vehicle has been a moped travelling at 34mph. Such is the pace of life on these diminutive islands, as seen in the hugely-popular BBC2 documentary series An Island Parish. St Mary’s, 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall, has no traffic lights and the Scillies’ four other inhabited islands have no formal roads. In fact a parallel can be drawn between these beautiful islands and many a castaway archipelago. They

www.simplyscilly.com/Jamie Large

B May/June 2010

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on your doorstep ■ the isles of scilly

www.simplyscilly.com

■ Gig racing

festivals and events on scilly ● Walk Scilly:This seven-day walking festival from the end of March to the beginning of April features an array of themed, guided walks on topics such as archaeology and photography, flora and fauna, castles and cliffs, beaches and birds, bats and boats. www.walkscilly.co.uk ● World Pilot Gig Championships:The islands’ biggest annual event takes place the first Bank Holiday weekend in May.This four-day extravaganza sees more than 1,000 gig rowers form all over the globe powering long wooden boats across the seas. www.worldgigs.co.uk ● Arts Scilly:This new festival began in May this year. ● The Round the Island Race:This annual event takes place on August 1, but gig races are held weekly on Wednesday and Friday evenings.

may lack the overwater chalets and underwater spas of the Maldives, but they share much tropical DNA. A splatter of around 150 low lying islands, they’re caressed by the Gulf Stream, spawning palm trees, cacti and aloe to go with the bleached and eye-popping azure water. Add to that a range of activities from diving to sub-tropical gardens, a very affable island masseuse and some of the most stylish hotels and beach cottages you’ll care to encounter, and this is one destination that makes it to any self-respecting island hot list. Boarding the Skybus from mainland UK to St Mary’s, your Twin Otter 16-seater has the feel of a private plane, especially when you touch down on St Mary’s lofty runway with the island spread out below, bathed in a painterly light. There’s none of the usual airport fuss, just friendly faces and an island taxi. In town there are cute boutiques and yachty shops. You can pick up some local delicacies at Woodcock & Mumford deli and some scented narcissus bulbs from Tideline. The Isles of Scilly Museum (www.iosmuseum.org) covers everything from archaeology to zoology. For island exploring, hire a bike from St Mary’s Bike Hire (0779 6638506).

Tesco. It’s one of the most beautiful supermarkets I’ve ever seen, like a mini Fortnum & Mason and not a plastic bag in sight. There are beautiful bikes for hire next door; as on Bryher, there are no cars, just service vehicles such as tractors and Mini Mokes. Just down the road is the wonderful Gallery Tresco, stuffed with paintings and sculptures from local artists. There are houses by the harbour with front gardens that stretch down like a Monet canvas. And you’ll see many groups of happy divers heading off for the day. Through a little gate with The Therapy Shed (www.therapyshed.co.uk) posted on it, is the home of local masseuse Joan, who will give you a great soft tissue manipulation. Of course what people travel here to see is Tresco Abbey Garden. Established in 1834, it has been lovingly

Tresco is just a short ferry ride from St Mary’s. Privately owned by the Dorrien-Smiths, it’s highly manicured, like a mini utopia, where everything works like clockwork. All the stone houses look like something out of Country Living with idyllic names like Reading Room Cottage and Dolphin House. The main “town” of New Grimsby has its Tresco Store, a million miles from

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The Flying Boat Club

exotic gardens

■ The Flying Boat Club, Tresco

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on your doorstep ■ the isles of scilly

■ St Agnes

The waterfront site where flying boats based at Royal Naval Air Station Tresco flew raids against German submarines in World War I is now home to the new Flying Boat Club resort. Guests renting one of its 12 beachfront houses can enjoy the on-site pool, gym and steam room as well as free tennis, a round at nearby Isles of Scilly Golf Club and entry to Abbey Garden. Just a five-minute ferry ride away from Tresco is Bryher, so tiny it makes you feel like a conquering

May/June 2010

“This is one destination that makes it to any selfrespecting island hot list”

The Scilly Isles’ maritime microclimate makes it a haven for unusual flora and fauna. Frost and snow occur so seldom that gardeners are able to grow exotic species from around the world.You’ll see bright pink South African proteas in May, wild flowers on parade from June and stunning agapanthuses (Lily of the Nile) around each corner. October brings the scented narcissi with fields turning to gold and white. Scented narcissi are grown by around 40 family growers who coax these fragrant blooms from Lilliputian fields scattered around the Scillonian archipelago. Churchtown Farm on St Martin’s sends scented narcissi in winter and show pinks in summer by first class post. Other famous flower growers are Trenoweth Flower Farm on St Mary’s and Scillonian Bulbs and Flowers on St Agnes.

tlm ■ the travel & leisure magazine

www.simplyscilly.com

magical

exotic plants and gardens

www.simplyscilly.com

maintained and developed by five generations of the Dorrien-Smith family. Augustus John Smith chose Tresco for his garden due to its central position among the islands, protected from the Atlantic Ocean. Tresco had very little vegetation above the height of a gorse bush and the harsh salt gales were prime enemy to any garden, so Smith laid out a wall, 12 ft high to the west and a little lower to the south around a ruined priory. Subsequent generations brought plants from around the globe back to the gardens, which are now some of the most spectacular botanical collections you’re likely to see. Walking down to the main entrance, you pass giant bromeliads and the Dorrien Smith’s turreted family home. Don’t miss a cream tea in the cafe and the sight of the huge twin-rotor helicopter that lands next to the gardens every few hours, ferrying locals and supplies between the islands. Tresco Abbey Garden also contains the Valhalla collection of 30 figureheads plus name-boards and carvings from sail and steam ships wrecked on the islands.

www.simplyscilly.com

www.simplyscilly.com

■ Tresco Abbey Garden

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on your doorstep ■ the isles of scilly

scilly isles facts

■ Yachts at Tresco

wrecking

adventurer as you stride across it in just a couple of hours from swish Hell Bay hotel, where Ralph Lauren meets chic Cornwall-style, to Fraggle Rock Bar Cafe (a Jamie Oliver “Best British Boozer”), with outdoor tables overlooking a pretty natural harbour. St Martin’s is the third-largest island and a great place to come and dive the Scillies. If you’re more of a land lover, take a conducted tour round St Martin’s Vineyard and sample the white, red and rose wines or pop into Fay Page Silver and treat yourself to a beautifully-made silver and gold shell charm bracelet. If you want to get truly remote, St Agnes is known as the Wild West, being the UK’s most south-westerly outpost. Home to a whitewashed lighthouse, it beguiles visitors who can take a walk to Troytown Farm (the Scillies’ one and only dairy farm) to see the cows before sampling delicious home-made ice cream. All in all, the Scillies is a magical place to visit. Who needs the Maldives, I say? Or is it more a cross between Cape Cod, Corfu and the Caribbean? Another visit is in

With its clear water, abundant wildlife and many shipwrecks ranging from the mid-1600s to more recent years, the Scillies has some of the finest diving in the world.There are more than 155 dive sites, making it a great place to learn, novice divers to test out their new skills

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By air, British International Helicopters (www.islesofscillyhelicopter.com) runs a regular service from Penzance directly to St. Mary’s and Tresco. Isles of Scilly Travel (www.ios-travel.co.uk) operates scheduled Skybus flights to St. Mary’s from Southampton, Bristol, Exeter, Newquay and Land’s End (with a shuttle to and from Penzance train station). By water, Isles of Scilly Travel operates the passenger ferry, Scillonian III, which sails six days a week from March to October.

getting around To appreciate everything that the Scillies have to offer, you must take to the water.With so many boats to choose from, there’s a wide variety of routes and destinations, not forgetting the uninhabited islands. Drop into the Tourist Information Centre (01720 424031) for advice on routes and times. As for getting around the islands, walking and cycling are by far the best options.

www.simplyscilly.com

Notorious are the number of ships and lives lost off these shores. As local artist Richard Pearce (www.rpearce.net) says: “The shout of a ship gone down could bring everyone to the heart of the most mountainous seas. Lives were saved, goods were stowed – that was the Scillonian way.The wrecker’s prayer says ‘Oh please Lord, let us pray for all on the sea. But if there’s go to be wrecks, please send them to we’.When the Isabo went down in 1927, 32 Italian sailors were saved.The men of Bryher launched the gig, Czar, and rowed into the walls of the storm. I still have my grandfather’s medal, signed by Mussolini and awarded to all the islanders who saved those onboard.”

dive scilly

www.simplyscilly.com

getting there

accommodation and information From converted barns to castles, four-star hotels to two-star selfcatering and stunning campsites, there are plenty of places to stay.The island’s tourist information website (www.simplyscilly.co.uk) has details of accredited accommodation across the islands, including deals. You can email providers direct and also search online for a variety of criteria. For up-to-date vacancies, call the Tourist Information Centre.

attractions ● Island Sea Safaris (01720 422732) offer Shipwrecks, Seals and Seabirds safaris on rigid inflatable craft around the islands with friendly and informative commentary. ● Scilly Fishing (www.scillyfishing.co.uk) takes you on marine adventures aboard the Kingfisher, including reef fishing, shark fishing, bird-watching and wreck fishing. ● St Mary’s Boatman Association (www.scillyboating.co.uk) offers wildlife and sightseeing trips across the islands. ● Windsurfing, sailing and kayaking equipment can be hired from the Sailing Centre on Porthmellon Beach, St Mary’s and from Raven’s Porth on Tresco during July and August.

Jane Anderson has been globetrotting for over 15 years specialising in honeymoons and family travel. Islands are a passion and the Scillies comes high on her list, not least for the naughty seagulls who made off with one of her daughter’s sandals on their last visit.

and experienced divers to explore. Around canyons, stepped reefs and sheer 50m walls, you’ll spot jewel anemones, corals, “Dead Man’s Fingers”, plumose anemones and sponges. Grey seals also thrive in the local waters and are often curious and playful with divers. St Martin’s Diving School (www.scillydiving.com) offers everything

from a five-day BSAC Ocean Diver Course to snorkelling with seals. Children from age eight and up can snorkel with no experience necessary. Non-divers can enjoy the marine environment by going on glass-bottomed boat trips to explore the shallows and secluded caves.You can also cruise out to Bishop Rock, the most south-westerly lighthouse in the UK.

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on your doorstep the Scilly Isles