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
Google map: bit.ly/AlTA1D
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.
Not that I’m biased; but there is only one possible way to enjoy a cream tea. It has to be a Cornish cream tea, in Cornwall, and within sight and sound of the sea. Walk the circular coastal path of St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, take all day, and it’s possible to fit in at least three. With the ambience right, attention can then be turned to the secondary requirements: yes, you will be sat outside in tranquil gardens where “peace comes dropping slow,” yes there is enough thick yellow Cornish clotted to make you feel nauseous (after your third loaded scone), real jam, pretty crockery, and unlimited refills of tea with no stinting on the milk. I first did this cream tea crawl on my honeymoon in 1983 and I’ve been taking my husbands along ever since. Juliet’s Garden and Carn Vean Tea Gardens are highly recommended; but once back in Hugh Town, the crème of cream teas can be enjoyed on the ramparts of Star Castle Hotel, an Elizabethan castle in the shape of an eight pointed star, overlooking the harbour. (When the nausea passes off, you might feel like going down when the sun does, to the Dungeon bar below and ordering the best five course dinner on the island).
Cream teas are £5.00 per person and include 2 home-made
fruit scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam and a pot of tea.
Last year I took the Scillionian III Ferry from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly. The Scilly Isles are approximately twenty-eight miles from Cornwall, and the ferry journey is an eye-wateringly two-and-a-half hours long.
However, it is a wonderful journey. There is a restaurant inside the ferry and you can sit on the deck and breathe the sea air as you whizz past the spectacular coastline of South East Cornwall, including St. Michael's Mount, Landsend and (you can just about make it out) the legendary Minack Theatre. The Isles are a glorious sight to behold and it is a journey I will never forget.
Isles of Scilly Travel Centre
Cornwall TR18 4BZ
Within the UK: (local call rate) 0845 710 5555
International: +44 (0) 1736 334220
Facsimile +44 (0) 1736 334228
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