Wandering along a sandy island path on a summer’s day, I chanced upon a vineyard with a little bell inviting me to ring if I’d like a tour and tasting so I asked myself, how could I resist?
The vines cover two acres close to a dazzling white sandy beach on the enchanting Island of St Martin’s in the isles of Scilly some twenty -eight miles beyond Land’s End.
It was taken on in February by Nottinghamshire couple James Faulconbridge and Holly Robbins who came to Scilly on holiday in 2018 and, like me, called in for a wine tasting.
Said Holly:” When we heard that the owners, who first planted the vines in 1996 were looking to retire, we jumped at the chance of taking over and moved heaven and earth to make our dream come true.”
But there was some method in their madness because the couple had a large allotment back home in the Vale of Belvoir and were already making wine from their produce.
In their former professional lives James was an ecologist and Holly a project manager with tractor makers John Deere.
Never quite knowing what one might discover just around the corner or over the next headland is all part of the fascination of spending a holiday wandering around the islands of St Mary’s, St Martin’s, Tresco, Bryher and St Agnes which together make up the archipelago.
This year my wife Jenny and I sailed out from Penzance on the island ferry Scillonian III to spend a week on St Martin’s staying at The Karma Hotel which must have one of the finest locations of any in the UK.
For it is set in lovely grounds dotted with palm trees and long- stemmed blue Agapanthus flowers just above the jetty at the Lower Town end of the island and looks out across the sound to neighbouring Tresco.
The only way to reach this fabulous island is by launch from the harbour on the main island of St Mary’s and if the tide is coming in, then making your landing right outside the hotel is a memorable start to any holiday.
If, however, the tide is low, then visitors, both day trippers and those coming to stay are landed at the Higher Town quay at the other end of the island.
But this is an equally memorable experience because visitors step ashore at the end of a long dazzling white beach as if they were being castaway for the day, or luckily like us, for a whole week.
Just along from the quay, twenty-four- year- old Lewis Johnson, who grew up in the islands and describes his childhood as amazing, has launched a kayak hire venture.
He and his business partner Anna Brown started taking visitors out snorkelling with the seals but had so many enquiries about sea kayaking that they launched their new business to meet a demand but then lost the first part of the season due to the pandemic.
Even now the virus is having its effect because all their buoyancy aids have to be disinfected after use which restricts the number of wearers.
Walking up from the Higher Town quay with some magnificent views towards the sea and along a wild flower garlanded path, is like taking one’s first steps into a laid- back small island world.
At the top of the hill day, trippers will reach St Martin’s only single- track road and a row of charming little signs advertising some of what the islanders have to offer.
The road now runs west for just over a mile to the Karma Hotel but not far along the way, the children of St Martin’s tiny primary school have a small stall displaying items they have made for sale.
Here I met holidaymakers Clare Dawson and her daughter May who’d stopped to buy some lip balm and a friendship bracelet.
Going north, the tiny road runs between quaint stone cottages to the village bakery run for the past eight years by husband and wife team Barney and Ella McLachlan.
Barney, from Wolverhampton, came to Scilly on holiday as a child but then returned to St Martin’s for a season to help his uncle run a guest house.
Close by was the island bakery where he later worked before taking over the business in 2012.
He met Ella from Devon while she was working on the nearby flower farm and the couple made national headlines when their first son Marcus was born a month’s premature on a Royal Navy helicopter flying them through misty weather to hospital in Truro.
“Before we took off the midwife said we’d have our first baby in about twelve hours but he arrived twelve minutes later and the pilot had to radio ahead that he’d taken off with eight passengers and now had nine,” recalled Barney.
That was six years ago and today the couple also have a five- year- old daughter Olivier.
Barney works flat out in the bakery catering for the islanders and a growing number of holiday visitors while Ella keeps the books and has recently launched her own line of skin care products called Phoenix and Providence,
“There are only one hundred of us on the island in the winter so then I just do one bake a week,” said Barney who also takes on more of the childcare duties.
When a small party of guests visited The Karma St Martins Hotel where Scott Fisher is General Manager, they requested caviar which was understandable in the circumstances because they’d just flown in from Russia.
But laying his hands on the famous delicacy was, a little easier said than done!
“It was clear they were missing their caviar so there was nothing for it but to have some flown in from the mainland,” said Scott.
But that was all a far cry from the current season which saw the hotel’s opening delayed until July 4 because of the earlier coronavirus lockdown situation.
“We all had to get our skates on pretty rapidly to prepare and be up and running with all the required safety measures in place,”
“But all went relatively smoothly and we were fully booked from the start with guests, who just could not wait to get over here,” he said.