With luxurious sandy beaches, archaeological sites, cetacean spotting and shark fishing, the Isles of Scilly are the UK's own tropical paradise. Don't just stay in one place, though, use the excellent boat service to explore all the islands, several of which are uninhabited. You'll find rare birds, seal colonies, pre-historic remains and the UK's most south-westerly lighthouse, Bishop Rock.
Nature walking tours:
Walks start in late March and finish mid October, numbers and weather permitting.
Katharine Sawyer leads archaeologial and historic walks round the islands between April and September
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I’ve been to 63 countries, but the Scillies are the place I have visited most often. They have drawn me back since I camped aged 16 at the Garrison Farm on St Mary’s, waking at dawn in a vine-draped greenhouse after a storm destroyed the tent. In contrast my most recent stay was at Star Castle, an Elizabethan fortress in the shape of a star - where you can sleep in a thick-walled guard room overlooking the harbour.
The Scillies are the farthest you can get from the UK, while travelling the shortest distance. Bird watching, walking, prehistoric cairns, silky, white-sand beaches and coves, any number of prodigious shipwrecks and famously exotic vegetation, they have it all - including trendy modern hotels and fine dining (if that’s what you want). More important: the turquoise sea all around acts as a soothing invitation to unwind, as you explore between the five inhabited and umpteen mini islands.
Even in August there is seclusion if you are prepared to walk away from the harbour landings. I went skinny dipping one August day on St Martins, with only birds and rabbits for company. The wonky circle of St Mary’s cliff path is a day’s leisurely stroll, and if you plan it properly it’s possible to fit in two, if not three, superlative cream teas en route. Then back to Star Castle for a five-course meal followed by an evening in the Dungeon Bar. Nothing can beat the atmosphere of this place. You won't get jetlag, you don’t need jabs, and you’re more likely to get bother from a ghost hanging around a megalith than from an undesirable lurking on a street corner. Fortunate Islands indeed.
In the Isles of Scilly life is governed by the tides. Low tide, on a fine sunny day, is so picturesque as to take your breath away – deep beaches of white sand, green sea over shallow sandbanks, each tiny island stretching out to meet another. Take a motor launch trip (scillyboating.co.uk) from St Mary’s to Tresco or Bryher in the morning when the tide is high but just turning; if you get your timing right, by late afternoon the water will be too low for the 20-minute direct trip back, and your skipper will take you on a fantastic voyage ‘around the back’ of Bryher and Samson, out between the shipwreck-strewn Northern Rocks, with waves and wash even on calm days, with seals and lobster-pot buoys bobbing - exhilerating. On your return to St. Mary's, go for a fine dinner with the best sunset view ever at The Boat Shed (the-boatshed.co.uk) in Porthmellon.
uk, scilly isles
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For a day or a stay the island of St Martin's in the Scilly Isles is a treat. The walking is delightful; coastal paths give ever-changing breathtaking views or you can criss-cross the island through heather-laden moorland. Great Bay hosts a stunning beach with clear waters and soft white sands. On a hot day you could almost be in the Caribbean until you test the chill of the water! Stick with it for a swim and your body will tingle. For adventure try St Mary's Dive School (scillydiving.com) for snorkelling with seals There is a choice of places to stay including a campsite and self-caterers can buy home-ground veg from a roadside stalls complete with an honesty box. Unwind with a bottle of wine from St Martin's Vineyard (stmartinsvineyard.co.uk).
Isles of Scilly, St Martin's
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