Scintillating Scilly: One visit is never enough
Breath-taking views, white sandy beaches, miles of footpaths and a tea shop never far away make every day out on the Isles of Scilly a delight. But it’s on the water you’ll have the most fun.
28 miles from Land’s End lie the tiny and beautiful Isles of Scilly. From the coast path on St Mary’s – the largest of the islands – tantalising glimpses of the off islands hint at adventures to come. From the sweeping beaches of St Martin’s to Bryher’s rocky coves, the sub-tropical skyline of Tresco to wild and windy St Agnes. Each island has a character all its own.
The best way to explore Scilly is on foot, but the water is always close-by. The St Mary’s Boatmen’s Association runs the daily inter-island boat service from Hugh Town, as well as sea life excursions to the smaller rocks and islands. Departure times depend on the tide.
The shallow water between the islands is more suited to dinghies than keelboats. Nonetheless, yachts are welcome in Scilly. ‘You do have to be confident and plan your passage to come this far,’ says Pete Hicks, Coxswain and Mechanic at St Mary’s Lifeboat Station. ‘If the wind picks up and there’s a bit of sea swell, conditions can get pretty uncomfortable.’
The summer racing calendar includes a 3-day Penzance Around Scilly and Back yacht race run by Penzance Sailing Club, and a Round The Island Race organised by the Scillonian Sailing Club.
Adventure Scilly runs yoga, sea swimming and trail running events, and a leg of the prestigious ÖTILLÖ swim run world series is held here too. When swimming, you won’t encounter any dumping surf, so it’s mainly chilly water and tide that you’ll need to contend with. When wind is against tide, it can get quite rough in places.
Abi Wrigley is the St Mary’s lifeboat deputy press officer. ‘My favourite places to swim are Porth Mellon, Old Town Beach and Porth Hellick. ‘If you’re a beginner, it’s best to swim across the bay rather than heading out to open water. I’d recommend swimming on a high tide, taking a float with you and not going on your own.’’
‘Annet has the only breeding colony of storm petrels in England,’ says Julie Love, local wildlife expert and the RNLI’s Community Safety Officer for the islands. ‘On Bryher there are beautiful dwarf pansies, so small that you have to get on your hands and knees to see them.’
At the other extreme, Scilly is home to the Atlantic grey seal. The best place to find them is around Ganilly and the Eastern Isles. Hop on a Scilly Seal Snorkelling boat trip, which takes around 3 hours.
With its crystal-clear water, numerous wrecks and rainbow reefs, there are dive sites for all abilities on Scilly. For more information contact Dive Scilly, St Martin’s Dive School, Isles of Scilly Underwater Centre or Island Underwater Safaris.
To get the best of both worlds – views both above and below the water – reserve a place onboard Sea Quest, Scilly’s only commercially run glass-bottomed boat.
‘Scilly has some fantastic kitesurfing,’ says Pete, a devotee of the sport for 12 years. ‘My favourite spots are Samson Flats and St Martin’s Flats. The whole area to the south of St Martin’s pretty much dries out at low water.’
The flat, knee-deep water between the main islands provides perfect conditions for sports like kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Boats and boards can be hired at Par Beach on St Martin’s and the boatyard on Bryher. ‘Be aware of wind against tide,’ says Pete. ‘If the tide’s going out and the wind’s blowing against it, it can get choppy.’
The Isles of Scilly are a dream for hikers, with well-trodden paths on all five inhabited islands and wide, gently sloping beaches. You can stroll right round St Mary’s in 4–5 hours, passing Bronze Age burial chambers on the way. The main channel between Bryher and Tresco dries out completely on the biggest spring tides, allowing you to walk safely between the two. Rangers from the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust run guided walks out across the sea bed.
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