Our very own paradise

Our very own paradise

Andrew Silk travels to the Isles of Scilly

Those of you who regularly read my travel columns will know that I absolutely love the varied and beautiful countryside, seaside and great outdoors that the British Isles has to offer. There’s so much beauty and variety in our country that we often overlook just what is available to us on our doorstep, and without all the hassle of a long distance flight, queues at the airport, or many hours of travel to get there.

And it’s true that I never cease to be pleasantly surprised when I visit parts of the country that are new to me. Well this month I’m writing about a part of the country that didn’t just surprise me, it blew me away!

I do believe I’ve found (and I know I’m probably not unique in this) our very own paradise here in the UK, a place that’s so beautiful, that’s so quiet, that’s so quaint but in a nice way; and a place where you can totally lose yourself in solitude and relaxation. It’s home to just 2,200 people, is forged by the sea that dominates it, is full of ancient history and archaeology and is warmed by the Gulf Stream giving it one of the most temperate climates in the whole of the UK. It’s just a short flight to get there, or if you don’t like flying then just under 3 hours by the daily ferry that leaves from Penzance. Located 28 miles off the Cornish coast I am of course talking about the five inhabited islands and something like 140 others that make up the archipelago that we all know as the Isles of Scilly, including St Agnes, which is the most southerly point in the United Kingdom.

Flying into the main island, St Mary’s, is an adventure in itself. I took the Skybus from Newquay – a 30 minute flight that takes you down the Cornish coast with fantastic views of the coastline and then the short hop across the sea – landing at the airport just above the islands capital, Hugh Town. Coming into land, you are flying right over the cliffs giving you a great sense of adventure. From the airport there are shuttle buses that will take you to your accommodation for a small fee, or to the harbour to catch your boat transfer if you are staying on one of the other islands: no need to think about hiring a car here because you simply can’t!

Close to the action

The base for my stay was Tregarthen’s Hotel which has a stunning location right on the quay in Hugh Town itself, where the boats that take you to the outer islands, depart from daily. You couldn’t be much closer to things than you are here, and with the quayside being a hive of activity it’s a great place to just sit and watch the world go by.

It was from the quayside that we took the short boat journey to the beautiful island of Tresco, home of the famous Abbey Gardens, more of which later. Tresco is a delight from the moment you land, to the moment you leave. The only way to get around is on foot, by bicycle or by hiring a golf buggy, but it’s not that arduous whichever way you do it. The bike hire is perhaps the most fun and don’t worry you can’t get lost, there’s a path that navigates the whole of the island. Hiring a bike also allows you to visit some of the fabulous and almost deserted beaches that are everywhere; when you stumble upon one I swear it feels like your own private beach!

Isles of Scilly - Gardens

But no visit to Tresco would be complete without a trip to the world famous Abbey Gardens which date back to 1834, although the site has housed an abbey since the 12th Century. Boasting over 4,000 different species of plants the gardens are set into ’themes’ and you could quite easily spend a day walking round and not be able to take it all in. The gardens even have their own mausoleum of sorts called The Valhalla Museum containing figureheads from ancient shipwrecks to remind you just how reliant the islands were on the sea in the past. I was even lucky enough to see both a red squirrel and a Golden (or Chinese) Pheasant when I visited: both firsts for me in the wild.

If you are on Tresco don’t forget to pop into the only pub on the island, The New Inn for either lunch or dinner: you won’t be disappointed.

The next day was off to St Martin’s, another short boat trip and another almost deserted delight. The beauty of St Martin’s is that you can easily walk round it in a day and again there is no chance of you getting lost – simply follow the coast path and you will again stumble upon deserted beaches with sand so fine that it apparently used to be exported for writers to dry their ink with before the days of blotting paper. As you walk along the beaches keep your eyes open as you may spy others watching you with inquisitive seals popping their heads out of the water, tracking your progress.

Plenty to do

And so to the main island, St Mary’s which is also the largest of all. From the shops in Hugh Town, to the art galleries and craft shops that abound, from the many walks that you can take, or from just sitting and watching the hustle and bustle in the harbour, there’s plenty to keep you occupied. The views looking across to the other islands are just stunning and as a panorama it’s always changing. A great place to visit for lunch is Juliet’s Garden, high on the hillside overlooking Hugh Town, it really is a spectacular setting to sit and enjoy some of the freshest seafood I guarantee you will taste.

My only regret at visiting the islands was that I had to leave – my time there was far too short and I would have loved to stay longer. I can see why people go back there year after year and it’s certainly a place to which I will return. The wanderer in me knows that there is far more to explore. This truly is our own paradise!

Fact box

You can fly with Isles of Scilly Travel from Exeter, Newquay and Land’s End Airports and enjoy breathtaking aerial views of this beautiful cluster of islands from the comfort of your Skybus plane.

Flights from Land’s End take just 15 minutes or half an hour from Newquay, and operate all year round from Monday to Saturday.

There are scheduled flights from Exeter Airport between March and October six days a week which reach Scilly in under an hour.

Prices start from £140 return from Land’s End Airport.

From spring through to late autumn, the Scillonian lll passenger ferry sails up to seven days a week between Penzance and St. Mary’s. Prices start from £90 return.

Visit www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk to book your journey, or phone 01736 334220.