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Isles of Scilly in General
Member Name: jammaker49
Isles of Scilly in General
Date: 10/11/01, updated on 12/07/02 (606 review reads)
Advantages: Peaceful, Beautiful
Disadvantages: Fairly expensive
Nearly 20 years ago, my husband took the 2 kids on a day trip to the Isles of Scilly. I, not being a sailor in any meaning of the word, stayed on terra firma. He returned enthusing about the place, and vowed that one day he would return to explore more. As I was not only a dreadful sailor, but an even worse flyer, I doubted this very much!
In 1997, the kids were off hand, and the subject was once more broached. The brochure was inviting. I agreed reluctantly, on the condition that we drove to Lands End and took the plane for the last 28 miles! No way was I setting foot on a ferry!
Booking was relatively easy. We picked a selection of self-catering holidays, picked up the phone....and booked a bed and breakfast!
Next came the airline booking. As the year was relatively advanced we had to take what was left, which was a flight on the Saturday at around 9.30a.m. The cost is quite high for this flight considering the distance, but then you have to weigh that up against the running costs. Skybus (Scilly) have to, by nature of the airstrip in Scilly, run 8 or 12 seater planes. Anything larger couldnt land there! If my memory serves me correctly I think a return flight in peak season was around the £85 in 1997.
As the flight was fairly early, we decided to book a night in Penzance to be sure of being there on time. A quick call to the Tourist Information in Penzance, and we were booked in a very reasonable B and B, which turned out to be extremely comfortable, and we have since used it 3 times more; The Holbein in Alexander Road.
With much trepidation on the day, I boarded this 8 seater plane and the propellers (yes, I said propellers) started whirring! We taxied down the grass runway! and took off....right over the clifftop!
However, once we were airborne I was too fascinated by the view to be nervous. There below us was Lands End, and in the water was a schoal of basking sharks! The plane flies at only 200 feet, so
all this is eminently visible.
Within a very few minutes, the Islands appear before you, and as you approach them, they are like jewels set in the most wonderful coloured sea. I have never seen a colour quite like that of the sea around the Isles of Scilly. I'd like to bottle it up and take it home with me!
The plane approaches the islands from the north east, so before it lands on St.Mary's, the largest in the arcapelago, you get the full beauty of all the others from the air. I will never tire of that first view of these magical islands.
Landing is somewhat nervewracking, as you approach the (uphill) runway over and between some rather vicious looking rocks! Incidentally, is this the only runway in the land with a level crossing at the cliff end of it? The round the island path on St. Mary's goes right across the end of the runway, and if the hooter hoots and the red light flashes, you aren't allowed to cross! For obvious reasons!
Landing over, a fleet of minibuses takes you to your destination, and books your return journey. Cost? Around £3 per person return.
Our lodgings, the Bylet in Church Street, proved to be very comfortable, friendly, and convenient. We used the same place 4 years running. Judy and Don Williams and family always made us feel welcome, and as they lived 3 doors away rather than in the guest house itself, we always felt we had the run of the place.
One thing that became clear to us on this first visit to the islands was the total lack of pace of life. The only thing that seemed to run by timetable was the fleet of water taxis that took you to the off islands at 10.15 and 2.00 and left the off islands at 4,30 and 5.30. Miss them and you were stuck!
There are over 100 islands and islets in this group, some of them being little more than a rock showing above the water line. However, only 5 of them are inhabited: St. Mary's, St. Agnes, Tresco, St Martin's and Bryhe
r. Each has their own unique character, and apart from St. Mary's, each can be explored pretty thoroughly in a single day.
St. Mary's, being the largest island, offers most in the way of things to do, although don't expect the London Palladium! During the day, the most common form of entertainment is walking, or sunbathing on one of the many beautiful beaches which never get crowded. At night, there is at least one pub on every island, and apart from St Mary's that is about all! But the Scillonians make their own entertainment, and many a night has been spent in the Scillonian club, listening to the Islanders singing, and indeed, joining in. My kind of heaven!
On St Mary's there are 2 late night discos for those who still have energy left after a days walking. In 4 years, we've never managed to get to one of these!
There are regular slide shows in the varying church halls during the evenings, and amateur theatre groups put on productions in the Town hall from time to time.
Each summer, the main Church in St. Mary's also houses a production of an outdoor Shakespeare company in the church gardens, which is great fun.
There are numerous boat trips to be taken, apart from simply island hopping. I managed to trip around the Eastern Isles to see the seals before landing on St Martin's, but I drew the line at visiting the Bishop Rock lighthouse, about 8 miles out into the Atlantic! Hubby did this one, and said the lighthouse was awesome! What a feat of engineering, to build this huge lighthouse on what is essentially a huge rock, and to see it still standing today. It is so huge, there is a helipad on its summit.
Each year, on the Sunday closest to 8th August, there is an annual pilgrimage to St Helen's, one of the uninhabited islands, for a church service (open air) at the ruins of an old monestary on the island. This is dedicated to St. Elihd. As there is no landing stage at St. Hel
en's, you either have to walk the plank, or be ferried by rubber dinghy from the water taxi to shore! Either way is hilarious, and someone always manages to fall in the water! Luckily it hasn't been me yet!
There are a number of eating places on St. Mary's for those only booking bed and breakfast, but not so much choice on the other islands. Our favourite was the Tolman, on Old Town Bay. Most of the others didn't open until 7.p.m., but we liked to eat after disembarking from whatever trip we had been on. The Tolman stayed open all day until 9 p.m. and we could sit outside in the open air. The food was all home cooked, and very reasonably priced. Hubby swore by the locally caught crab soup, whilst I would die for the coffee and walnut cake!
On Old Town Bay, is the Old Town church and cemetary. This is the only church actually built on the beach, and shows great insight into the history of the islands. It is here that bodies of those lost in shipwrecks off the coast are buried: sometimes scores at a time. It is here too that Sir Harold Wilson is also buried, having spent many a summer with his wife in their house on St Mary's. She still visits each summer. In fact their house was almost opposite the place where we stayed.
Another trip worth taking is a round the island tour on Fred's Bus. This only takes about 90 minutes, and includes a couple of stretch your legs stops, but is worth doing, especially on your first trip to the islands. Then you can get a good idea of where to go when you plan your walks for the duration of your stay.
The Isles of Scilly would not be a good choice of holiday destination for the very old, infirm of inactive person, due to the undulating and sometimes rugged nature of all the islands. But for anyone who enjoys walking, and is able to manage resonably demanding inclines, there could be no better place to unwind and chill out. We have sat on rocks before now and apart from a
fishing boat a few hundred yards offshore, haven't seen a soul for over two hours! Peaceful bliss!
For us, the highlight of our 4 trips to the islands was to witness the eclipse of the sun on August 11th 1999 from Peninis Head. Unlike the mainland, we had a perfect view of it, even though somewhat hazy. Of course, they can't lay that on every year, but to see that shadow racing across the Atlantic from the west was absolutely fantastic. It is something I will never forget.
For anyone wanting a quiet, restful, yet reasonably active holiday, you really couldn't choose better than these beautiful islands just off our Cornish coast. We went 4 years running, and I personally would go back year after year, but the other half wants to see more of the world!
But I SHALL return!