St Mary's is the largest of a group of Islands called the Isles of Scilly. They are located 25 miles south west of land's end and If you haven't been before you should really go! I've been holidaying in these islands all my life and they're a hidden gem. The sea is an incredible clean, blue colour and is host to the same amount of fish species as the Carribean making snorkelling and scuba diving incredible. The islands also have a number of well known ship wreckages that make scuba diving even more exciting. There's also several colonies of seals for a bit of bigger wildlife, plus the odd dolphin or basking shark. All of the Islands but St Mary's in particular boast incredible plant life and great walks. St Mary's can be walked around in 3 or 4 hours and you never lose sight of the sea. It is the most historically wealthy of the islands due to ship building during the victorian times and it has a lovely victorian church waiting to be discovered. The Island also has a castle from the civil war period and a garrison to go with it. There's some great bed and breakfasts or small hotels on the island and regular boat services to other islands. The islands airport is also located here. Perhaps the only negative is that St Mary's and the rest of the Isles of Scilly is beginning to out price itself. Many people want guarenteed sun for the price you have to pay to travel to the island and people are beginning to seek this elsewhere in Spain at a cheaper price. It's unfortunate because I believe it's worth the money but others may not agree.
While the main pastime of visitors to the Isles of Scilly is walking, there are in fact, lots of other things to do and see, especially on St. Mary's. Museum A visit to the museum is a good way to pass an hour or two if the weather is against you. Here you can discover the history of the islands, learn about the kelp industry, the development of the flower growing, the hardships experienced by the islanders, and of course, all about the numerous shipwrecks that have occurred around the shores. Many artefacts from these wrecks are displayed here, and there is a full sized replica of one of the Scilly Gigs, the special type of boats used in rescues before the arrival of lifeboats. There is a comprehensive bookshop within the museum, and a special rack to store the inevitable backpacks to make your visit more comfortable. You do not have to worry that they will not be there when you return. They always are! Heritage centre At the Heritage centre, which can be found in the centre of the island, there is a pictorial display of the bulb industry on the islands. Tee shirts, tea towels, mugs, key rings etc are all for sale at very reasonable prices. For a small fee, visit the newspaper archives. New articles from original newspapers regarding the islands are pasted up on the walls, and many an hour can be spent browsing these. The history is fascinating. Shipwrecks, smugglers, royal visits, in fact anything that has happened in and around the islands can all be read about here. See the pictures of the Torrey Canyon disaster. This happened only 7 miles away from the shores of the islands, and could have been an absolute disaster had the oil reached the shores, but luckily the prevailing winds and tides were in the opposite direction. Enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and a wonderful home made scone with jam and cream, before going outside and enjoying a 9 hole pitch and putt game, then wander up to the farm s
hop, where you can purchase many unusual varieties of bulbs at very reasonable prices. Star Castle. This was originally built in the reign of Queen Elizabeth 1 as a defence post for the islands, and is now a 5 star hotel. It is built in the shape of a star, with wonderful views out over the harbour. Enjoy a coffee whilst sitting on the battlements, or a pint down in the dungeons! If you feel energetic, you can hire the tennis court for a quick game. The narrow road leading to the castle is pretty steep, and transport sometimes has a job getting through the gatehouse at the foot of the hill, but it is well worth the effort. We have spent many an hour just sitting on the benches just drinking in the view. Phoenix Glass Shop. This can be found just out of "town" almost next door to the fire station. The glassware is made on the premises, and each afternoon there is a workshop, where you can try your hand at making a 'roundel' or designing a tee shirt. The stained glass goods are unusual, and Oriel will also make things to order. We asked her to do a stained glass eclipse, which she produced for us within three days. Potteries. There are several small potteries dotted about on St. Mary's, all producing articles on the premises. Some unusual items can be spotted, and because they are all hand made, and not mass produced, every item is unique. Often artists' studios can be found adjacent to the potteries. As well as original paintings, prints of many of these in varying sizes can be purchased, providing a visual reminder of many popular views of and from the islands. Gig Racing Gigs are the small boats which were used before the days of lifeboats to gain quick access to ships which were being wrecked around the islands. They were used to plunder, as well as to save many lives, and were powered by oar across the dangerous seas. They were also light enough for the crews to carry then across land.
These days they are used by the islanders for competitions. On a Wednesday night, the ladies race the gigs, and on Friday nights it is the turn of the men. You can either stand on the quay at St Mary's or take a trip in one of the many boats which follow the races, each boat cheering for its favourite gig. The world gig racing championship has also been held in the Islands. A mobile fish and chip shop is sited on the quay on race nights, and you would go a long way to taste better fish and chips. Scillonian Club This can be found in the centre of Hugh Town, and is the place where the islanders gather each evening for a variety of activities, including karaoke, bingo, quiz nights, and regular musical entertainment. For £1 per person, visitors can get temporary membership for the duration of their stay. Meals can be purchased both at lunchtime and in the evenings, and drink is cheap! For me, the highlight of a visit is not the organised entertainment, but I night when the Islanders get together for an impromptu 'choir' practice! Everyone joins in with regular favourites, like Sloop John B, and other lesser known Cornish and local songs. Like most of the inns and pubs, all closes at 11, but after an energetic day perhaps that is just as well. All in all, there is a great deal to do and see on St. Mary's, besides the walking and sight seeing. Try a drive around the island in Don's vintage car, a trip around the coastline on Fred's bus, one of the numerous slide shows, usually shown in one of the churches on various weekday evenings, an open-air theatre production in the grounds of the Parish Church. Visit the Foredeck Sale in the town hall and pick up a bargain in sweaters, sweatshirts or tee shirts. Play a round of golf high on Telegraph Hill. Incidentally, the first 'runway' shared the ninth green with the golfers until the current airport was built! Visit the Scillonian 111 as she sits on the quayside, waitin
g for 4.30 p.m. when she carries the day-trippers back to Penzance. There is never any excuse for being bored or having nothing to do if the weather chooses to be unkind.