The Isles of Scilly comprise some 144 islands and rocks lying in the Atlantic Ocean some 28 miles south-west from Land's End on the Cornish mainland. The name 'Scilly' comes from SULLY meaning the Sun Isles which describe its climate with an excellent sunshine record. The temperature is remarkably constant throughout the year with only a 9° variation between the average of the hottest and coldest months. There are five inhabited islands: St Mary's, St Martin's, St Agnes', Tresco and Bryher, and about 50 others which could be classed as islands, as well as hundreds of rocks. The islands are comprised of granite, which has broken down to form a stony, sandy or gritty soil, as well as bright sandy beaches. In places the granite forms block cliffs and tors, rounded boulders or tilted slabs. The rocks around the islands became a graveyard for numerous shipping over the years, although many lighhouses were built towards the end of the 19th century, including the Bishop Rock which is the most westerly in the UK. The islands were inhabited during the Bronze age, and this is marked by a number of standing stones and burial chambers. During the Roman occupation trade was conducted on the islands as roman coins have been recovered. In later centuries, early Christian hermits were attracted to the islands, as were pirates. It appears to have passed unnoticed in the Domesday survey of 1087. A Benedictine priory was founded on Tresco in the 12th century and Henry I granted the islands to Tavistock Abbey. By the 14th century the islands formed part of the Duchy of Cornwall, and Edward III gave them to the Black Prince who was made Duke of Cornwall. In the 16th century Queen Elizabeth I granted the lease of the islands to Francis Godolphin. Godolphin built the eight-pointed Star Castle over the harbour of St Mary's, and Prince Charles (later Charles II) stayed there for a period during the English Civil War. The islan
d of Tresco is the second largest of the Isles of Scilly, and only one of the five inhabited islands in the group. Tresco, has often been described as “Europe’s best kept secret”. It is the only privately owned island amongst the Scillies, the remainder of the group belonging to the Duchy of Cornwall. HOW TO GET THERE The only direct way of reaching Tresco is via the Helicopter service from Penzance. There is a helipad in the grounds of the old abbey (now the Tropical Gardens), and regular flights by Zikorsky helicopters, carrying around 30 passengers at a time, fly over the islands and land directly on the island. The only other ways of reaching the island is by boat from St Mary’s, the main island in the group. This can be reached by helicopter, by 8 seater Skybus airplanes from Land's End, or by the islands’ own ferry, The Scillonian III, which sails from Penzance, once a day during the summer months, and twice a day on Saturdays. Having reached St. Mary’s, you then take a local ferry across the straits to Tresco. No flights, either by helicopter or plane, and no ferries run on a Sunday! During the winter months, the ferry does not run at all. WHERE TO STAY There are two main hotels on Tresco, a time-share complex, and a few guest houses. It is also possible to rent a holiday cottage. The Island Hotel is a spacious, low-slung hotel, with comfort that matches its location. King-size beds in suite-sized rooms, most with their own balconies or patios, look through large picture-window eyes towards an ivory beach or past a shoal of desert islets to neighbouring St Martins. Lunch on the terrace, and dinner in the restaurant are events, showcases for fresh West Country ingredients that have won accolades like the RAC Gold Ribbon. They are served by staff who offer a personal level of service that reaches far beyond bar and restaurant, to find a buggy for an elderly couple, f
or example, or a video for a bunch of teenagers. It has been a winner of the Southwest Hotel of the Year Crown in the Excellence in England awards. Prices are not cheap, but then, prices on all the islands are somewhat more expensive than on the mainland, bearing in mind that all supplies have to be shipped in. The New Inn is the island's social centre, a natural interface between islanders and guests. Upstairs are 15 en-suite double bedrooms, with ample space for children. Guests can relax in the laid-back atmosphere of the main, pavilion, or private resident's bars, then in the evening, enjoy a more formal menu in the award-winning restaurant. The New Inn stays open all year, giving guests the opportunity to see migrant birds and fields of narcissi flowering while the mainland shivers - or share the warmth of an island Christmas and the experience of the community coming together to see in the New Year. Again, not cheap, although not quite as expensive as the Island Hotel. There are several timeshare cottages, situated in an estate near the beach at Old Grimsby. These, although relatively small, are fitted out luxuriously. At present, however, there are no timeshare properties left, and there is a long waiting list of would-be purchasers. There are also several holiday cottages, which are not part of the timeshare estate, which can be rented for the duration of your stay. The holiday cottages are part of old Tresco - traditionally built years ago of granite and slate and brought comfortably up to date. Every one is different; some are in rural positions, others are on the beach. They sleep from two to 12 people. All have a well-maintained sub-tropical garden in which to relax. The few guest houses on Tresco are often booked years in advance, and waiting lists are long. To be honest, it would be easier to book accommodation on nearby St. Mary’s and take the boat across to Tresco daily. INFORMATION ABO
UT TRESCO The island of Tresco is one of five inhabited islands of the Isles of Scilly, found 29 miles south west of Lands End. Due to the prevailing effects of the Gulf Stream, climate is mild, with sunshine hours generally greater than the UK average, rainfall less, and winter frost and snow unexpected. A wealthy merchant banker, Augustus Smith purchased the islands from the Duchy of Cornwall in the mid-1830’s, the other islands have subsequently been ceded back to the Duchy, but Tresco remains in the ownership of the family, with the present owners being Robert and Lucy Dorrien Smith. Augustus Smith is reputed to have been the first person in Britain to introduce compulsory schooling for the children of the islands. When he was in ownership, he charged parents one penny a week for their children’s education, but two pence if they failed to send them to school! Needless to say, the vast majority of children attended school! Augustus Smith was a plant collector and botanist, who recognised the climatic advantages of the island, and began the creation of now world-famous Tresco Abbey Garden, based on sub-tropical and temperate climate plants collected from around the world. Subsequent generations have continued the development of the Garden, which is today a major attraction of the islands. Tresco has evolved as a small community of just over 150 residents, who largely work for the holiday industry, either for the Island Hotel, New Inn, or holiday cottages. This is based on the natural beauty of the islands, supported by the Abbey Garden, the farm and woodlands. Once each year the island hosts the Tresco Marathon, in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, run on the same date as the London Marathon, and particularly each spring and autumn, the island is a bird-watchers mecca, when migration is active. THE ABBEY GARDEN Set aside your preconceptions about what can and cannot be
grown in frost-cursed, rain-soaked Britain. These Abbey Gardens are a glorious exception - a perennial Kew without the glass - shrugging off salt spray and Atlantic gales to host 20,000 exotic plants. Many would stand no chance on the Cornish mainland, less than 30 miles away. Yet even at the winter equinox more than 300 plants will be in flower. All in all, the garden is home to species from 80 countries, ranging from Brazil to New Zealand and Burma to South Africa By building tall wind-breaks, Augustus Smith channelled the weather up and over the network of walled enclosures he built around the Priory ruins, and the three terraces he carved from the rocky, south facing slope looking towards St Mary's. The hotter, drier terraces at the top suit South African and Australian plants; those at the bottom provide the humidity that favours flora from New Zealand and South America. The diversity is greater even than the Southern Mediterranean. Fringing the lush grid of paths criss-crossing the gardens are cacti, date-palms and giant, lipstick-red flame trees; rarities like Lobster Claw; great white spires of Echia; brilliant Furcraea, Strelitzia and shocking-pink drifts of Pelargonium. Statues, symbolic of natural forces punctuate the gardens. The shipwrecked figureheads in Valhalla museum remind you of the storms they have survived. Fittingly, the layout begins with the original plantings around the Priory and ends with the new, terraced Mediterranean Garden, a horticultural world tour condensed into just 17 acres. LET US TOUR TRESCO We will begin our tour of Tresco at the quay at Carne Near, the point where the boat from St. Mary’s lands at high tide. When the tide is out, it is not possible to land here, and the boat continues along the island for a further 10 minutes, to land at Old Grimsby. From the quay, we can take the 10 minute walk, mostly uphill, towards the Abbey Gardens, stopping on the wa
y at the level crossing guarding the helipad! Take a break at Valhalla. This is an eminently interesting museum, housing a collection of figureheads and other wreckage, most of which has been either salvaged from the numerous wrecks around these coasts, or washed up on shore. Many of these can be identified and dated, but there are also a number, which have come from unknown wrecks. After visiting Valhalla, if we continue along the pathway, we will arrive at the Abbey Gardens. By now, we will probably be ready for a cuppa and cake in the Abbey café, a mooch around the gift shop, and of course, a wander in the gardens themselves. The sheer size of some of the tropical plants will amaze you, and you can easily forget that you are still in England! There are a number of places where you can sit and enjoy the quiet peacefulness of the gardens, and plenty of shade on a hot day! After leaving the Abbey, depending on weather conditions, it is a short step to Pentle Beach. This is a stretch of the most beautiful white, soft sand that stretches along the coast for about 400 yards. If there are 20 people on this beach at any one time, it is considered crowded! At one end of this beach, you will be able to find the Tresco Sailing Club, but apart from this, there is absolutely nothing on this beach. If you want a drink or the loo, then it’s back to the Gardens! Swimming is safe from this beach, but be warned, the water is mighty cold! Hubby will only go in if he is wearing a wet suit! Wimp! Leaving the beach behind, a 15 minute walk along the avenue, past the Great Pool, will take us past the Timeshare properties, to the Port of New Grimsby. Bear in mind that motorised traffic, apart from tractors, is not allowed on the island, and apart from walking, the only mode of transport is cycling! This avenue is long and straight, and you will need to keep an eye out for the odd mad devil on a bike who can sneak up on you unawares!
From New Grimsby, we now have the option of cutting across the centre of the island towards New Grimsby, taking in the island’s art gallery, post office and Island Stores (the only store on the island!) If we take this option, we can call in for refreshments at the New Inn, and also spend some time browsing around St Nicholas’ Church and its graveyard. The graveyards on the islands are fascinating, containing whole generations of Scillonians as well as many plots dedicated to those who lost their lives in shipwrecks around the coastlines. If we take this option, we will arrive at Old Grimsby, close to the Island Hotel, which is open to the public for meals and refreshments, as well as for residents. The other option from New Grimsby, is to continue along the coast to the furthest points on the northern parts of the island. One thing to bear in mind is that there are absolutely no facilities once we have left the harbour. The last loo and watering place is on the quayside at New Grimsby, so we will need to carry water at least, as there is a fair amount of strenuous walking and climbing to do. So let us take this option. From this point on, there are no roads, just grassy pathways, well worn down with the tread of hundreds of ramblers. The path is narrow, but the views are worth the sore feet! As we make our way northwards, the Island of Bryher can be seen to our left. Bryher is much smaller than Tresco, and has a rugged charm about it, compared to the somewhat sheltered Tresco. After walking for about 15 minutes, we will notice a small island, just off the coast of Bryher. This is Hangman’s Island, and a wooden scaffold sits proudly on its peak, marking the place where, in years gone by, those sentenced to hang for crimes committed, would be taken and hung. Continue along the coast, and we will soon catch sight of a stone tower, built right on the edge of the cliff. This is Cromwell’s Cast
le, or what is left of it. When we reach it, we can still climb up to the top, where we will soon see the strategic significance of its position. It overlooks the whole bay between Bryher and Tresco, and could be used for both defence and offence. Rumour has it that it has also been used for smuggling, but the locals keep quiet about that! By now, we will be feeling somewhat weary, but despair not. We will be turning homeward soon, and hoping that the tide is out so that we only have to return as far as New Grimsby to catch the boat back to St. Mary’s! Before we turn however, it is well worth the climb up to the ruins that we can see above us from Cromwell’s Castle. Take the “quick” route up, which is somewhat steep and requires much puff, or continue to the most northerly point of the island and take the gentler route. (No guesses for which route I took!) These are the ruins of King Charles' Castle, and you can take a respite here, resting against the thick stone walls that remain standing, and enjoy the view in all directions. This castle was built as defence, but after it was built, it was found to be in a position that was not really useful, and allowed to fall into disrepair, until it was finally ousted completely by Cromwell’s Castle. Having rested, we are now faced with a dilemma. Do we cross the few hundred yards to the other side of the island and make the return hike down the opposite coast, or do we take the easier stroll right down the middle of the island on the soft moorland grass? The former takes us past a Piper’s Hole, where water can be seen squirting at very high tides, and an old blockhouse, which has been used as a jail. The latter takes us along the top of the island, from where we can see across the archipelago, and is very peaceful. Whichever way we choose, we will need to be back at the quayside before the last boat leaves at 5.30pm. And if it is high tide, bea
r in mind that we have to get right back to the extreme south to Carne Near. MY FEELINGS I have been to the Isles of Scilly four times now, so I guess you could say that I love them! I’d go back every year if Hubby would! I have written this report as though you would do the whole island of Tresco in a day. Of course, you could do that, but not only would you be exhausted, but you really wouldn’t have time to do anything properly. We have visited Tresco at least half a dozen times, and still haven’t quite made it to Piper’s Hole. We also made sure that on the occasion that we visited the castles, we only had to return to New Grimsby, which halved our return ramble! All the islands of Scilly have their own distinct charm, and Tresco is no exception. Its beaches especially, are among the best in the group, and are more sheltered than some of the outlying beaches. Tresco is very green too, due to the Abbey Gardens and the plants found there. I think it’s the sheer peacefulness of no traffic, and the way you can completely isolate yourself on these islands that appeals to me. After the hurry-scurry of life in the fast lane, being on an island like Tresco is like being in an oasis in the middle of a desert. Time stands still, and apart from the boat timetable, time really doesn’t seem to matter here. It is indeed a tropical paradise that is so close to home.
Palm trees, a white sandy beach and turquoise sea - oh, it was glorious! A sunny climate and sub tropical vegetation completed the picture. Where was I? Why, the UK of course! We have just spent a short break in Tresco, one of the Isles of Scilly, 28 miles west of Land's End. We had a brilliant time, and I'm going to tell you all about it. Travelling to Tresco from the mainland involves going over on a boat, flying in a plane or by helicopter from Penzance (which is what we did). The helicopters are 30-seaters, with luggage limited to 15kgs, and the flight is a very exciting 20 minutes, at around 500 feet. Flying in low to land, we had an amazing bird's eye view of the whole of the island, all one mile by two miles of it, with turquoise sea, through which the sea bed showed clearly. I learned later that the landing area doubles up as the island's cricket pitch! We waited at Immigration Control (a wooden hut which clearly doubled up as the fire station as there were rows of uniforms and helmets hanging up on hooks) for our luggage, and then set off on our transit bus to the hotel. The transit bus was actually a tractor with a trailer containing wooden benches. There are no cars on Tresco, just tractors, bikes and a few golf buggies. We stayed at the Island Hotel, a 48 room hotel, which is one of the three finalists in the Large Hotel category of the "England for Excellence 2002" awards (28/4/02 update - it won!). We have stayed in many hotels, many of which had beautiful surroundings, and some of which were luxuriously appointed, but I don't think we have ever stayed in any that combined the two so well. Our room overlooked palm fringed garden lawns down to a sandy beach, only a couple of hundred yards away. Our five course dinners were sumptuous, and the service was friendly and professional. Bathed in the Gulf Stream, the Scilly Isles have the sunniest, warmest climate of
anywhere in the UK, with largely frost-free winters. The Isles comprise a group of fifty-five islands, only five of which are inhabited. In 1834 the Duchy of Cornwall granted a lease for the Isles of Scilly to Augustus Smith, and his descendant, Robert Dorrien Smith, is still the lessee for Tresco today, the lease for the rest of the islands having been given back to the Duchy in 1920. Tresco is the middle one of the inhabited islands, and thus is relatively sheltered. The winters are mild and frost-free, and although there is normally a wind blowing from somewhere, it is easy to find a warm spot on a leeward shore. The scenery is amazing, with seven miles of coastline, unspoilt beaches and vistas wherever you look. It is a very peaceful place. Originally, there would have been few, if any, trees on Tresco, but when Augustus Smith decided to settle on the island he built a garden around the site of an old abbey, planting trees as a windbreak. This produced a microclimate such that he was able to plant exotic and sub-tropical plants from all over the world, many of which cannot be grown anywhere else in the UK. His descendants have expanded on the gardens so that now the Abbey Gardens of Tresco are internationally famous. They are certainly worth visiting, especially if, like me, you prefer a "controlled chaos" jungly type of garden. You won't find many plant labels here, but they have dedicated helpful staff, and the guided tours are fascinating. They set the world record in 1978 for the world's fastest growing flowering plant, which grew twelve feet in fourteen days! Every year they hold a New Year's Day Flower Count. This year 238 different species were in flower. Because the winters are so mild, the Abbey Gardens are never really dormant, and there is always something interesting to see. The Valhalla Figurehead Museum, near the grounds of the Abbey Gardens, contains figureheads and other relics from t
he 800 or so shipwrecks around the Scillies. The waters around the Scillies are among the most dangerous in the world. Boat trips to the other islands are plentiful, well-organised and reasonably priced. We took a seal and bird watching boat trip, with a stop at one of the other islands, St Agnes, for £10.50 each. The trip lasted around four hours. You can hire bikes, or just use shank's pony. The island is so small you can walk round it in half a day. But you will find that time just floats away. I had bought a bag of books, but managed only two pages during my stay! Every time I settled down to read, I found myself gazing over the landscape in a daydream. If you are planning a trip, I have a few tips for things to pack. A waterproof anorak is essential. If you have waterproof trousers bring those as well. Although the weather is mild, it can get very windy and showery. Boat trips can entail an occasional drenching by sea spray. Bring a bottle of high factor sun protection. The atmosphere is clear and pollution-free, and the Isles have a record for a high number of hours of sunshine. You can burn easily without noticing, especially if there's a breeze. Natural history books of birds, shells, and flowers will add to your enjoyment. Binoculars will enable you to delight in the wide variety of birds, both sea birds and the garden birds that seem to be so scarce now on the mainland. Garden birds are particularly tame and will hop right onto your table in the hope of a crumb or two. There is so little artificial light at night, and the sky is so clear, that the stars are amazing. I really wished I had a map of the stars to be able to look them all up. The island pub, the New Inn, serves an excellent pint (there are several ales locally brewed on the Scillies), but you will need a torch to walk home, as there is no street lighting. Somebody in the pub has a sense of humour, I think. There is a notice in t
he loos "Don't Drink and Drive". Well, not only are you unable to drive on account of there being no cars, but there isn't even a police officer to catch you! Apparently there is no crime on Tresco. There are two police officers nearby on St Mary's, but I was told the police station is only open one hour a week! For the residents, life on the island is very different to that on the mainland. Because there are so few of them, most residents have several jobs. An air traffic controller is very likely also to be a fire officer, as well as perhaps being part of a lifeboat crew, and a qualified first aider. The mild climate enables flowers to be grown throughout the winter, with the first blooms being picked in October, and gives work to the islanders when tourist numbers are low. Life for children in Tresco sounds idyllic with there being virtually no crime, a healthy lifestyle, a close community, and small numbers in the classrooms. But there are disadvantages. To continue their education beyond GCSE, the children have to go to the mainland as boarders. Whilst walking round the island, you will come across a couple of ruined monuments, King Charles' Castle, the scene of the last battle of the English Civil War, and Cromwell's Castle, in which we were amused to see graffiti dating from the 1700s. If you stay for any length of time on the Scillies, you will come across the most popular sport there, that of gig racing. A gig is a six-oared racing boat, originally used to carry Scillonian pilots to approaching ships. Some of them are over one hundred years old. There are men's and women's teams, and races take place every week, with many cheering onlookers. A holiday in Tresco is never going to be cheap. There are only about 160 permanent residents, and there has been careful planning to ensure that they are not swamped by visitors. Accommodation on the island is limited, with room for aro
und 400 visitors only, although there are many more day trippers in the summer season. Dinner, bed and breakfast for one night at the Island Hotel starts at just under £100 per person. The rates are slightly cheaper at the pub, the New Inn. Holiday cottages are available for rental through the Tresco Estate, but get booked up quickly, and again are pricey. Details are available through the Tresco website, www.tresco.co.uk. A cheaper option might be to consider staying on St Mary's, the largest island of the Scillies, and taking a day trip over to Tresco on the boat. Packaged short breaks are available, and you seem to get more for your money. We booked our holiday through Brightwater Holidays, and would certainly consider using them again, www.brightwaterholidays.com. Our short break cost £595 each, with all transport from London included, three nights dinner, bed and breakfast in a superior (luxurious actually!) room at the Island Hotel, one night dinner, bed and breakfast in a Newquay hotel, and three garden tours (Tresco, Heligan and Eden) thrown in. Another operator I have discovered is Langdale Holidays, www.langdaleholidays.co.uk. They seem to concentrate on walking holidays. Another possibility to consider is using the new Ryanair route from Stansted to Newquay. The Scilly Islands' own Skybus route flies to St Mary's (the largest island on the Scillies) from Exeter, Plymouth, and Newquay (connecting up with the Ryanair flights). There are are regular boat connections between Penzance and St Mary's. These take 2 to 3 hours. It is then a short further boat trip to Tresco. There are contact numbers on the www.tresco.co.uk website. Don't forget to take out full travel insurance. Flights can be delayed, or even cancelled, especially during the colder months. Finally, let me tell you story I heard from one of the residents. He had taken his family to London for a holiday. His young daughter was
thrilled to be on a red London bus. "It's the first time I've been on a bus" she said excitedly to the lady sitting next to her. "Really, dear, isn't that nice?" responded the lady kindly. "Yes," said the little girl, "We usually use helicopters or boats."