Tuesday, 24 January 2017


St Martin’s is the third largest inhabited island on the Isles of Scilly, and its three settlements are imaginatively named Higher Town, Middle Town and Lower Town.  The island houses the Scillies’ only Ordnance Survey triangulation station, and nearby is a striking red and white striped tower with a conical top known as the Daymark which, though erected in a relatively recent 1683, is a Scheduled Ancient Moument.  Being the most northerly island in the archipelago, the Daymark is the first thing passengers crossing from the mainland catch sight of when approaching the Scillies.  In spite of its diminutive size, St Martin’s manages to find room for a vineyard, the most south-westerly in England.  There are tours available in the summer months.  Another popular activity on the island is the seal snorkelling for those who want to get up close to these lovable creatures.  Other than that, there is a pub, a fish and chip restaurant and a scattering of accommodation options, but the main attraction here is the natural beauty and the wonderful views.

St Agnes includes the southernmost settlement in England, at Troy Town Farm.  A sandbar connects the island to another island called Gugh, so that at low tide they become one island, though the sandbar disappears at high tide, cutting off Gugh’s three residents.  St Agnes is the island to head for if you are a birdwatcher, with over one-third of its area designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  September and October are the busiest birdwatching months, jokingly referred to as the “Scilly Season”.  Many “firsts” have been spotted, including a number of ‘vagrant’ birds.  As for flora, Wingletang Down is the only place in Britain where the fern type ‘least adder’s-tongue’ can be found.  The area is also notable for its ancient sites: over forty Bronze Age cairns have been found there.  For overnighters, there are a small number of bed and breakfasts, and refreshments available from several outlets including the island’s only pub.

Bryher is the smallest of the inhabited islands in the Scillies archipelago, but in spite of its size there is a marked contrast between the wave-battered west coast and the tranquillity of the sheltered side facing Tresco and of Rushy Bay in the south.  The island is also big enough for a hill, Samson Hill, with its Bronze Age cairns.  Added to which it boasts a bar hailed as one of Britain’s best boozers by Jamie Oliver, and an award-winning hotel with the misleading name Hell Bay, which belies the luxurious offerings therein.  The name comes from the adjacent stretch of coastline which has received a battering over the years by waves crashing in from the Atlantic.  Bryher has even done a turn on the big screen, being the backdrop for the film Why The Whales Came, based on a book by regular visitor Michael Morpurgo.   

Map of the area. 

St Agnes from St Mary's, by Barbara Ashley

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Hell Bay, Bryher. Photo by Ian Davison, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 9 January 2017


In an archipelago known for its subtropical climate, Tresco is the most subtropical island of them all, largely courtesy of the TrescoAbbey Garden, a riot of palms and other exotica set alongside a ruined 12th century priory, and including a collection of ship figureheads in the Valhalla Museum.  The gardens were started by a Hertfordshire squire called Augustus Smith who leased the islands from the Duchy of Cornwall in 1834, and who built Tresco Abbey as his home beside the existing ruins. 

Tresco is  just two and a half miles long and a mile wide at its widest point and is one of just five inhabited islands out of the 200-odd islands which make up the archipelago. For such a small piece of land Tresco has seen a surprising amount of action in the past, with three English Heritage properties acting as reminders of the island’s history.   The Old Blockhouse, also known as Dover Fort, was built in the mid-16th century by the government of Edward VI as protection against attack by the French.  The fort was occupied by the Royalists following the English Civil War and was attacked by Parliamentary forces in 1651.  King Charles’s Castle was another initiative of Edward VI,  and was garrisoned by Royalists during the Civil War.  Following the attack in 1651 a third fort was built called Cromwell’s Castle.  This round tower overlooking the stretch of water between Tresco and Bryher is one of Britain’s few surviving Cromwellian fortifications.

Meanwhile, for nature lovers there are two fresh water pools near the Abbey Garden with several hides for watching birds such as dunlins and plovers.  The pools are visited by migratory birds during spring and autumn.  For those who can’t bear to leave this balmy paradise, there is accommodation on the island as well as a number of refreshment options.  Tresco can be reached via a short boat crossing from the main island in the archipelago, St Mary’s.

Map of the area. 

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Photo by Darren Smith, via Wikimedia Commons