If you’re looking for somewhere to unwind and “get away from it all” this summer, Britain’s Isles of Scilly might be the perfect place for you. This archipelago, 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall, is beautiful, wild and unspoilt. In summer azure water laps at white sand beaches but, the waves of the wild Atlantic are never far away. Life ticks by slowly surrounded by dolphins, seals and puffins. There are 5 inhabited islands, each one has its own flavour.
The islands are accessible by flight from Exeter (1hr), Newquay (30 mins) and Land’s End (20 mins). There is also a ferry that runs from Penzance (2hrs + 45 mins). Tickets and information here. From Spring 2020 a helicopter service will be available from Penzance. Flights and the ferry go to the main island St Mary’s. To get between islands, each island has its own boat service and there are also private operators and boats for hire. Timetables and routes are posted on blackboards on the quays. Trips between islands are short so you could base yourself on one island and visit the others as day trips. Or pack light and spend a day or 2 on each.
My Aussie and I spent 10 utterly relaxing days there last August. We sailed there from Concarneau, France (where we live) aboard our sailing boat Lazy Kingfisher. We were able to anchor all over the place and visited all 5 inhabited islands as well as some uninhabited ones. Here is my essential guide on where to stay, what to do and where to eat:
St Mary’s is the biggest and busiest of the Isles of Scilly. Hugh Town, the archipelago’s capital, is down in the south with Town Beach on one side and Porthcressa Beach on the other. The greatest choice in accommodation and eating options are here.
See + Do
The rest of St Mary’s is less visited but there are the remains of an Iron Age village and burial mound in the northwest corner which yield stunning views. The islands feel so remote it’s strange to imagine they were inhabited so long ago. We caught a small bus there from Hugh Town but walked back (a couple of miles) and found some small artists studios. On the way back you could stop for lunch at Juliet’s Garden (see below). Of course, going out on the water is a major activity. The Sailing Centre offers the hire of kayaks, SUP’s and day boats as well as organised dolphin, seal and porpoise watching tours. Pilot Gig Racing is the islands main sport so try to catch a race whilst you are there.
Wining + Dining
For drinks with a feel of the isles try The Mermaid (€-€€). Once the haunt of smugglers and pirates, today the traditional bar is decorated with an eclectic mix of artefacts. We ate here as well but is wasn’t that great. So instead try The Atlantic Inn (€€), a few doors down, for well done pub fare. This also looks like a good option for a place to stay in town. Juliet’s Garden (€€) a 15 minute walk from Hugh Town, is hard to beat with its fabulous views and tasty food. Choose the seafood platter with St Mary’s crab and a crisp bottle of white wine. Heaven. Candlelit dinners in the evening.
Tresco is the second largest island, it is still only about 2 miles long by 1 mile wide though, to put that in perspective. The island is family owned with a lot of timeshare properties on it. It has a more manicured, well heeled feel than the other islands. Most of the action in Tresco is in New Grimsby Harbour, on the western side. There are clean fresh rooms at The New Inn and for larger groups the Flying Boat cottages look very chic, New England style. Other self catering accommodation cottages are scattered around. We spent a few nights anchored in Old Grimsby on the eastern side and that was very pleasant. Bike hire is available.
See + Do
Thanks to the isles own microclimate, the sub-tropical Abbey Garden (£15/£5) is home to thousands of exotic plants from around the world. Planted in the 19th century, the garden is in the grounds of a ruined abbey. Don’t miss the Valhalla shipwrecked figurehead collection. Look out for red squirrels and the beautiful golden pheasant. Tresco Gallery in New Grimsby showcases some of Cornwalls top artists. Contact Tresco Sailing Centre, in Old Grimsby, for your water based needs. The island is lovely to stroll around with deserted beaches and some 16th century monuments that were used to defend Britain. If you need further relaxation, I had a lovely back massage at Tresco Island Spa.
Wining + Dining
The New Inn (€€) is the central hub of the island. It also attracts staff working on other islands and so has a nice blend of people. Tasty pub food with good roasts on Sunday. Ruin Beach Cafe (€€), filled with driftwood, stone and patterned cushions, has got the relaxed eco vibe sorted. The secluded location and wood fired pizzas is great at anytime of day. Go to the Flying Boat Bar and Bistro (€€-€€€) for, slightly, finer dining.
See, Do, Stay, Eat + Drink
Bryher is the smallest of the inhabited islands. To the north of the island the coastline is rugged and to the south are white sand beaches. Stay at Hell Bay Hotel in one of their light, breezy, country luxe rooms with terraces overlooking the sea. The restaurant (€€-€€€) serves good food and has 3 AA rosettes. They also operate the Crab Shack, which just serves local, freshly caught crab, mussels and scallops rustic style. That is only open sometimes so call ahead to book. Fraggle Rock Bar is a lively place, with a menu featuring fresh local produce. Go for their fish and chips on Fridays.
Probably my favourite island….well certainly in my top 2. St Martin’s has a little bit of an alternative vibe. All of the Scilly isles are extremely laid back but St Martin feels even more so. Having said that, the island seems to attract people following their own ventures.
See, Do + Stay
There is the vineyard which offers tours, unfortunately it was closed both times we attempted to visit but we did sample a bottle of their rosé in the pub. Then there is the jewellers Fay Page, whose silver jewellery is inspired by the surroundings, sustainable, handmade shoes at Little Arthur and a flower farm. But for the tourists there are calm waters, pristine beaches, a walk to the Daymark and snorkelling with the seals. Like the other islands there are self-catering options and a campsite, as well as the 4* Karma Hotel + Spa located on the beach at Tean Sound. The setting for this hotel is incredible, the rooms are maybe a little bit plain, make sure you book one with a sea view.
Wining + Dining
The Seven Stones Inn (€) is one of my 2 top fave pubs in the Scillies. Good pub grub, local wines and amazing views from the terrace. Highly recommended, but it gets busy. Tiny inside, looks like it would be fun in a storm. I had a Thai style fish dish that was very tasty. The Aussie had a burger, also good. A more upmarket option is the, 2AA rosette, Sir Cloudesley Shovell Restaurant (€€-€€€) at the Karma Hotel. The seasonal modern menu regularly features crab and lobster. There is an alfresco terrace. We did not get to eat there as we had fresh fish caught by the Aussie while we were at St Martin’s.
St Agnes is the other contender for my favourite island. Separated from the other inhabited islands by a deep channel, this is the island to really, really get away from it all. It is England’s last outpost before the Americas and makes St Mary’s feel like mainland Cornwall. We anchored in turquoise waters of The Cove between St Agnes and Gugh, which are connected by a sandbar. There are some self catering cottages and a campsite on St Agnes but no hotels. The tranquility is amazing.
See + Do
After a walk around the uninhabited Gugh we crossed the sandbar to St Agnes. Heading off to the western side of the island (16 minute walk) we passed the Post Office where we grabbed a couple of delicious, hearty pasties. Close by is Pot Buoys Gallery with artworks and homewares by local artists.
Troytown Farm and Campsite are on the western side of the island and, even if you are not camping, I would advise that you go to try their ice-cream made from milk from their own cows. This ice-cream is not sold outside the Isles of Scilly and it is lush. Super creamy and some unusual flavours. Geranium anyone? Walk that off by coming back along the coast passing the St Warna’s Well, the cairns on Wingleton Dean and beach combing at Beady Pool. 400 years ago a Dutch cargo ship was wrecked on the rocks nearby, ever since ceramic and glass beads have been found at Beady Pool. Although less so in recent times. We didn’t find anything 😄
Wining + Dining
Coastguards Cafe (€) has fantastic views and is a great spot to grab a cream tea or mackerel sandwich. In the evening it hosts High Tide seafood restaurant (€€€), run by Kiwi chef Mark Eberlein and his wife Emma, who owns Potbuoys Gallery. The sophisticated menu changes depending on the daily catch, reservations essential. The Turks Head pub overlooks Porth Conger on the other side of the sandbar. There are many tables outside in addition to a couple of rooms inside. We had some leisurely drinks in the afternoon and when we went back around 8.30pm for dinner, we were surprised to find it absolutely rammed. Where had all those people come from? The atmosphere was very jovial and despite them being extremely busy, my Crab Linguini was really tasty. This is Britain’s most southerly pub and is full of marine memorabilia.
So are you in need of some r + r? Have you visited the Isles of Scilly before? Which is your favourite island? XO