A TASTE OF OUR OWN SHANGRI LA
( Just 28 miles off the coast at Lands End !)
(N. B For speed in downloading, some of the compilations below are compressed. To view the images in the uncompressed format, click each one in turn. You will then be able to increase the image further by clicking again)
Pat and I have been visiting these islands at least yearly for the past 15 or so years, and, if anything, their attractions become increasingly irresistible as the years slip by.
This is not solely because of the beauty of the place itself - in most respects it has not changed since we first set eyes on the archipelago - but returning as we do at the same time in August each year, we look forward to renewing contact with old acquaintances (perhaps that should be friends!) both among the islanders themselves and the many visitors who, like ourselves, having once visited Scilly feel bound to return year by year. In comparison with many, Pat and I are still newcomers to this holiday as we have met folk who have been coming here for over 50 years - and long may they continue to do so!
We keep the commentary brief, preferring to let the images tell most of the story. However, if any visitor to this page would like more information, they are welcome to contact us by email and we will try to help or point to others who can.
There are two basic ways of reaching Scilly - by air or by sea. Air travel is provided by helicopter or by single-wing 'plane. We prefer the sea route, which takes approx 2.75 hours, sailing from Penzance on the Isle of Scillies Steamship Company vessel, "Scillonian III", preferring as we do to enjoy the trip along the Cornish coast before departing for the Isles, which we see slowly appearing at the horizon, while we enjoy a drink and Cornish Pasties (The REAL ones, made from the Cornish recipe, that is). This year (2007),we arrived in bright, sunny weather, having left a rather overcast and chilly Penzance at 9:30 am.
Throughout the voyage, the visibility was clear, and the sun emerged, with the islands, about half way through the voyage.
The first compilation (right) is of the first pictures taken towards the end of the voyage and feature St Martin's (the most Northerly Island), two aspects of St Mary's, the larger island - on which we stay - and then pictures taken on our arrival at St. Mary's quay.
The Scillonian always has a large number of day trippers to the islands - this is how we first came to Scilly - and we are always pleased when such visitors get the chance to see it in the splendour of good weather.
Day trippers are always warned to wear sun protection as the particularly clear air here makes it all too easy to become sunburnt quickly.
....has been our base on Scillyfrom the first year we stayed there. For many years, we were regular guests of Colin & Ann Mumford at the Godolphin Hotel, on Church Street but, following their retirement, we have become happily and very comfortably ensconced at Tregarthen's Hotel, which is conveniently near to one of our favourite Scillies locations - the harbour.
St Mary's has all the features we desire and we could happily spend all our time there if need be ; Hugh Town itself has a variety of shops for provisions (for self-caterers, etc), restaurants, public houses, gift shops, chemists, as well as meeting the spiritual needs of Christians, through its various churches (most denominations)
Indeed , it fully caters for most tastes and is a great base for a restful holiday.
This said, there are also a great variety of outlets for the more active, as St Mary's boasts a golf club, horse riding school, boating, diving centres, and many opportunities for various forms of boating. The Gig racing of Wednesday and Friday nights is quite a spectacle, based on old Scillonian traditions - (well worth reading about) - and always brings an air of excitement. Additionally, there is an excellent museum, entertainment in the evenings brought to visitors by the various musical and theatrical societies on the island, plus slide shows and talks for those who wish to know more about Scilly.
St Mary's is an ideal place for children because of the many activities that they can enjoy, with or without their parents, in complete safety. Walking around the island is a particular joy, and those in more of a hurry to see everything can opt for a hired bicycle, or take one of the bus trips on offer around the island.
The other town, and the original main residential area on the island is Old Town, where the original quay was built in the 15th century, in what is now called Old Town Bay, to serve the needs of Ennor Castle (very few remains - in private grounds). This small community also has a store and places where visitors can take refreshment, so can even make a day of it in this more peaceful place.
This is a favourite part of St Mary's for many regular visitors - do not fail to visit Old Town Church, the very old, if much reduced original church at St Mary's and the last resting place of many seafarers, both local and also unfortunates who were shipwrecked in Scilly.
There are also a number of other folk who over a number of years became residents, and these include even a number of politicians - Lord Wilson of Rievaulx (former British Prime Minister) and Ray Gunter, who served in Lord Wilson's administration for a number of years.
A visit to Old Town would not be complete for us without a visit to see John Bourdeaux who has now returned to his original art, painting, and has thus enhanced his already enviable reputation as a potter of considerable skill and distinction.
This compilation records our 2009 visit, when we were pleased to learn that he remains in sound health and were able to watch him at work on new commissions and ideas. Some of the glazes and methods that he has developed require as many as six separate firings to achieve the standard and finish that he seeks.
All visitors are made to feel very welcome and there must now be thousands who now like to think of him as a friend as well as a provider of superbly innovative works of art, developing as he has, new methods in using granite in his creations.
To the left is the first compilation that I prepared, last year, from pictures taken in 2007 and 2008 of John himself, surrounded by a few examples of the wide range of his talents.
This is a potter of national and international repute, who creates his work in a studio set in idyllic surroundings.
Known by many of his colleagues as The Alchemist, he creates an amazing range of glazes, utilizing many local minerals.
His mastery of using precious and semi-precious metals in multiple firings has resulted in a stunning range of hand thrown lustre ware that is extremely collectable, pieces of which are already housed in private collections throughout the world.
The items on the bottom row, left, are some of our larger purchases over the years. It is difficult to nominate a favourite!
In 2008, on our annual visit to the pottery, we could not resist a certain bird, which we decided to name Hanjague which is the name of the first island/rock we pass in Scillonian III when we arrive in the Scillies.
To remind ourselves of the name we had chosen, I combined the piece with the island!
Among the charms of Scilly is the fact that it doesn't change much -- and then only for the better. Any holiday, of course is subject to the vagaries of the weather, and this year we travelled in an expectation of bleak conditions for most of our holiday.
This was driven home to us by a very wet and 'bumpy' voyage - the worst that we have ever experienced in that respect, and we spent much of our time 'below decks' (but we still enjoyed our traditional drink - Guinness and Red wine respectively - with our steak pasty, while many of our fellow-passengers were spending much of their time with their heads in paper bags !
In the event, the rain had stopped by the time we had disembarked and from that point we enjoyed some marvellous days with long spells of sunshine. Even the rainiest spell, on the Sunday at St Agnes, lasted only a couple of hours and resolved into sunshine (by way of apology?).
All the pictures in this first compilation are taken at St Mary's.
perhaps the most well known of all the islands of Scilly, because of the world-wide reputation of its sub-tropical gardens. However, those Tresco Abbey Gardens do not feature on these page as present as these notes are at present based mainly on our 2007 stay in the islands - and we have not actually visited those glorious gardens for a year or two now.
The main reason for this is that, as well as the point they are at their most colourful in May and our recent visits have all taken place in August, we do so enjoy walking around the island because of the more natural beauties that there are to appreciate her. We hope that we have managed to bring a flavour of the riches that Tresco offers.
If we have any criticism it is solely in our fears that this island's balance between preserving the natural assets and catering for an increasing number of residential holiday makers may be in danger of becoming rather one-sided in favour of the commercial development - but really, only the residents themselves are truly in a position to judge this. In fairness, all the developments we noticed this year are of a quite superb standard and should shortly settle to become part of the landscape.
This year's tour started from New Grimsby and we took a route via, firstly the New Inn (the only true pub on the island!) to refresh us for our walk, then on to Carn Near, the Airport, Little Pool ( in front of Tresco Abbey) and so up to and beyond Old Grimsby and the Island Hotel , heading for King Charles' Castle, from where we enjoyed the views of Cromwell's Castle, New Grimsby, Bryher, and far-distant St Mary's.
Thence back to our boat for our return to St Mary's .
St. Martin's, 2007...
The most northerly of the islands, and thus the nearest to the mainland, which can be seen on a clear day from the North end of the island. We were again blessed with glorious weather throughout the day, which was a double blessing because St Martin's was holding its annual fete and thus looked for good weather and a consequential bumper attendance ; they received both !!
Like all the other islands, St Martin's has its own charms -it is not just a rubber-stamp of the other islands, which each have their communities, of which they are justly proud. The various inter-islands competitions are a mark of this admirable trait.
In the same way, for the visitor, each island is different, but equally beautiful and it is for this reason that Pat and I make a eagerly look forward to visiting them all on our annual Scilly holiday. Each of the islands is something of a favourite while we are there; what other recommendation can we offer ?
We were pleased, this year, to be able to make a fleeting visit to the St Martin's Vineyard, which we have seen develop over a number of years. They now produce wine of a very good quality and a visit or conducted tour is well worth while; the gift shop is a very useful addition for the visitor, as well.
In common with the other islands, there are countless breath-taking views to be enjoyed, and St Martin's has the beaches which a great many visitors favour - this said, it matters not which island you are visiting - you will always be able to find a superb beach for safe sun and sea bathing. It is well worth repeating, however, that it is essential that one is well protected from the Scilly sun because of the very clear air here. Sea bathing is just about always safe; there are only two beaches on the islands from which bathing is not recommended at high tide !
.... we were able to pay two visits and were blessed with good weather each time. The compilations are divided into two sections, the first being largely coastal views plus inland 'domestic buildings and gardens taken while we walked around the island. This year we did not visit the most northerly end; we will probably do so next year.
Once again, we were struck by the contrasts between each of the islands, and as we re-visit Scilly we are struck by their individual character and beauty.
The second compilation is taken at Lower Town, in the gardens of the St Martin's hotel. This is a wonderful place in which to relax with a cooling drink after an invigorating walk and the views from this garden of the surrounding and distant islands is particularly attractive.
This is among our favourite spots (but there are many) on Scilly.
Once again, we made two trips to this island. Firstly, and more briefly, following our usual rather colder and damper trip around the Eastern island to view the Sea-birds and the Seals. In fact, one gets the impression that the Seals are even more curious about the trippers than we are about them. Certainly, they always seem to study us very closely!
For a change, this year we did not actually experience rain on this trip, although there was sufficient swell to confirm that we were having a traditional boating trip. By the time we got to St Martin's (at Higher Town quay, the weather was showing considerable promise and we were able to enjoy our walk down to Lower Town, for our traditional drink in the garden of the St. Martin's Hotel, before walking back to Higher Town via the Most southerly and western coasts, to return to St Mary's.
It was good to see that, as we noticed on our later trip, and in common with other island in the group, there is an increasing number of farm animals to enjoy.
Something of a shortened visit this, but we had already planned to return to take a longer walk before enjoying all the fun on offer at the St Martin's fete a few days later......
......... and in due course we did just that. We were pleased to find that this was a day of truly glorious weather, because our planned visit to this event in 2008 was not to be -- the event was cancelled in view of the very unsettled weather which had been promised, (although the threatened deluges did not arrive and it was a very warm afternoon.)
We were dropped off at Lower Town quay, the most Southern point of the island, and as we had planned, we walked to the most Northern point where there is a magnificent daymark as an aid to shipping, as well as the foundations of an ancient chapel and rather newer ruins of various military buildings. This is one of our favourite walks and allowed us to view the various changes which have been made, mainly, it seems, with visitors in mind. More footpaths have been opened up, making for a larger variety of individual walks around the islands.
Walking back from the day-mark by the eastern paths, we passed Church farm and the St. Martin's Vineyard, which was not open because of it being Fete day, which was held, as usual, on Pool Green, which serves well also as the St Martin's cricket ground.
This was an extremely good fete, well attended, and with a good variety of stalls, including fund-raising contests for folk of all ages. The local Fire Service were among the most enthusiastic supporters, because, not only did they do a roaring trade with Burgers and other hot food ( plenty of smoke as befits their calling) they also organise a very impressive water shoot on to the beach, which was a great hit with the youngsters. This was one of the most resourceful creations that we have witnessed, the water being pumped from the sea, released at the top of the shoot, with sufficient force and vigour to provide the children with a good, thrilling 'ride' and naturally making its way back, whence it came ! Still viewing the feature and fun from the quayside as we awaited the boat for our trip home was a great finale.
This year (2008) we visited both this island and Bryher in weather which was warm, but rather overcast and therefore not in the best light for taking photographs which will do justice to the wonderful hues and contrasts to be found.
However, we cannot leave it at that and have therefore used some of previous year's pictures to (we hope) adequately illustrate the charms of St Agnes (right) and Bryher (below) - although no such album can possibly say it all !
What images we did capture this year were largely for the purpose of our records, featuring as they do, among other things, the work being undertaken to improve access to both islands by renovating, extending and replacing various quays (the last two images to the right).
It rather saddened us (and yet amused us a little) to hear a young lady at the quay, as we awaited the boat to take us back to St Mary's at the end of the trip, sadly bemoaning the fact that this particular area was in such a state because of the works -"it used to be so pretty", she said. Did she really not realise that in a couple of months or so, all would be as good as before, or better ?
We were also delighted to find that the birds on the islands were tamer than ever and, at St Agnes it was even possible to feed them by hand -- their table manners were impeccable! For the first time, we had managed to acquire one of the famous Turk's Head pasties, and thoroughly enjoyed them - as did the birds !!
In common with the other islands, Bryher has some marvellous views and for this reason is excellent for walking, although perhaps it is one of the most demanding physically for those who wish to see it all, as there are a number of high points which are reached via steep paths -- the views from these are well worth the effort for those who are able.
The views afforded are very much contrasting, varying between the wilder parts of the coast, where the sea is very often turbulent - Hell Bay is the most famous - to the Tresco channel which presents a calmer and usually much more peaceful scene and is thus very popular as an anchorage for small craft.
At some stage of our visit, we spend a little time in the garden of the Hell Bay Hotel which, with its pool and sympathetic planting, attracts a number of winged visitors also seeking refreshment
and our 2008 images.......
This year's walk started with a slow boat trip across, and as we approached we noticed this one yacht which had either been anchored 'in the wrong place', or had strayed into water too shallow. Either way, this was the result.The water level was low, still, as we arrived and we noticed that there were one or two folk making their way to Tresco - but on foot.
We walked around most of the island in a clockwise direction from the quay via Rushy Bay, pausing fore refreshment at the Hell Bay Hotel before continuing our stroll, but did not go up to Shipman Head this year.
We noticed that the coastal erosion at this end of the island is continuing apace.
As with the other inhabited islands, there are some wonderful gardens to be enjoyed and the one pictured here, as we found out in conversation with the owner, was created on the site of an old quarry. He claimed that most of the landscaping had thus been done for him - but there was obviously more than a touch of misplaced modesty in his remarks!
Other Boating Trips ...
As well as providing a ferry service to the inhabited off-islands the St Mary's Boatmen off other, longer, trips to allow visitors to Scilly to see more of the archipelago. These trips are of especial interest to those who gain a particular enjoyment in seeing wildlife of all kinds in their natural environment - what better place than here.
Regular trips are run to the Western Islands, visiting the Bishop Rock Lighthouse which is at the furthest point west, the eastern Islands, and the 'Norrard' Rocks. Seals and Sea birds abound and it is interesting to note that the seals in particular appear to derive as much pleasure from observing the trippers as do we superior beings' in our quest for further knowledge.
These longer trips are, of course, dependant on the vagaries of the weather and it is unfortunate that, occasionally, the swell is heavier than some anticipated and that not everyone has as strong a stomach as they supposed!
A trip which is not always on offer but well worth the journey is the 'Round St. Mary's' trip - a tour around the coast of St Mary's, which is visually interesting but greatly enhanced by the commentary, always full of information.
Evenings at St Mary's ...
Call us creatures of habit if you will, but we always change after dinner in order to stroll around St Mary's at evening, taking the camera if there is any prospect of a reasonable sunset or at least clear visibility in good light (this is the case most nights).
For sunset scenes we head for the Garrison (where,of course, the most dominant building is the 16th century Star Castle, which is now a highly rated hotel), the Quay or the Buzza - this year we were unlucky with the latter and have no images to display -- but there's always next year.
When we go up to the Garrison at evening, we often take a walk west along the footpath, in the direction of St Agnes. This is a very peaceful walk and is the more enjoyable because we know that even on the darkest nights we are in no danger of coming to harm - there is almost no crime on Scilly
We always visit the Quay and harbour before retiring to one of the excellent St Mary's pubs for a final nightcap. All the pubs have there own distinctive character and are highly recommended.
St Mary's Boatmens Association ...
Our annual holiday on Scilly is so special for us; this is due, in no small part, to the wonderful service provided by the boatmen of St Mary's who make it possible for us to visit so many parts of these islands more or less at will (weather permitting - sometimes the longer trips are not possible in adverse conditions).
Not only do they transport us, but they keep us assured, informed, amused throughout the trips with their asides, comments and commentaries. Their wealth of knowledge and descriptive skill displayed on the longer tours is of particular benefit and interest and adds greatly to the enjoyment of our days out.
It is therefore with pleasure that we take this chance to pay a final tribute to the owners and crews of these boats, by printing images that we have accumulated over the past few years-
- we look forward to seeing them again next year...
..... and as I continue to visit these pictures, I can only wonder at the fact that we continue to feel the same, as I write this following our 2011 holiday, which was even better than ever and enhanced by six days of sunshine.
There follows a series of compilations from 2011 images .......