As soon as I mentioned to anyone that I was off to explore the Isles of Scilly, I heard the response “Oh I have always wanted to go to Scilly”.
Well, my advice is – just do it! You won’t regret it. The Isles of Scilly were everything, and more, that I imagined they would be. It has all been said before, but it is true, the long sandy beaches, hidden rocky coves and crystal clear waters rival the Caribbean.
My husband Clive and I were taking part in the popular Autumn Walking Festival which is held over a long weekend in October. Of course weather is always a consideration but after our unforgettable summer how could anything go wrong? We were not expecting Storm Callum to bowl in for 2 days! Fortunately, the day we travelled dawned sunny and calm and we were able to enjoy the hour-long flight from Exeter to St. Mary’s. There are a few ways to get to Scilly – helicopter, Skybus light aircraft or the famous Scillonian ferry from Penzance. Living in the South East the easiest for us was Skybus from Exeter. Compared to Gatwick and Heathrow, Exeter is a delight, and St Mary’s even more so. A totally different airport experience with no crowds, queues or hiccups.
On arrival on St Mary’s, the ‘main’ island, we were off our plane and into the hotel transfer bus in about 5 minutes. Our hotel for 5 nights was the historical Star Castle which sits on top of the Garrison guarding the harbour. The building dates back to Elizabethan times and has regained much of its original structure. The hotel oozes atmosphere; when the storm was doing its worst we were hardly aware as we relaxed within the enormous stone battlements.
The Star Castle has some romantic rooms inside the original castle, complete with four poster beds, and some spacious suites in a modern annexe. Our room was one of the newer accommodations, very comfortable with a sitting area and a sheltered deck overlooking St Mary’s harbour. I must mention the food at the Star castle as it was exceptional. We enjoyed dinner on two nights and were wowed by the very imaginative menu that included local produce wherever possible. All the staff at the hotel were incredibly helpful and kept abreast of weather, inter island boat times and island activities.
The Autumn Walking Festival offers a contrast in seasons to the more established Spring Walking Festival, which takes place in April. The organisation was very impressive with a welcome party on the first evening where we met the walk leaders and fellow participants, many of which were travelling alone. The weekend is a great way to meet like-minded people with walking itineraries offering birdwatching, foraging and wildlife, as well as some creative workshops and the chance to explore some of the uninhabited islands.
As the weather tended to throw curve balls into the plans the organisers used social media, and close contact with hoteliers, to keep everyone informed about last minute changes to the schedule. During the weekend there were more than 20 walks to choose from covering a variety of subjects and costing an average of £8-10 per person. We mixed and matched some guided walks with some independent hikes.
Before the storm set in we managed an afternoon on St Agnes and discovered the delicious Troytown Farm ice cream.
Due to low tides we were able to walk across the sandbar from St Agnes to neighbouring Gugh. On the two very stormy days we wrapped up against the elements and explored St Mary’s from top to toe. The Tourist Office in St Mary’s was a great help and is well worth a visit as they can supply a variety of walking routes and suggestions.
One of the very unusual guided walks we participated in was a night hike on St Martin’s. A question mark hung over this trip as we carefully assessed the weather, but in the end it went ahead and a staunch little group of about 16 of us took a boat just as the sun was setting and chugged over to St Martin’s. As night fell, we were met by lovely ladies from COSMOS, the islands fledgling astronomical society.
They guided us with torches across the island to their smart village hall and explained about their ambitious plans to gain ‘dark sky status’ for St Martin’s. Their enthusiasm was infectious and despite the skies being a little too dark, due to unwelcome cloud cover, we had an unforgettable evening. With only just over 100 inhabitants the people of St Martin’s have raised funds for an impressive new telescope and even built appropriate housing for it. No mean feat! After an interesting talk and the chance to explore an interactive night sky computer programme (due to lack of the real thing!), we were treated to tasty pasties and spicy soup before taking the boat back for a night ride to St Mary’s. What an adventure!
As a reward for out stoicism the night before, Sunday dawned sunny, bright and warm and we set off for a self-guided walk on the stunningly beautiful Tresco Island. All the islands we visited were so easy to walk around and Tresco in particular. We made our way to the deserted beaches of Raven’s Porth and enjoyed coffee at The Ruin Beach Cafe, before strolling along the water’s edge on the finest softest sand found anywhere in the world.
A visit to the famous Tresco Abbey Garden is a must, although it can easily take a whole day to wander around the beautifully kept grounds. We found a surprisingly amount of colour in the planting for so late in the year, exotic species side by side with more recognisable flowers and foliage. The delightful cafe has a sheltered garden to enjoy freshly made lunches and teas under the watchful eyes of resident red squirrels, and the gift shop stocks imaginative souvenirs.
All to soon our few days were over. We were flying home on the afternoon flight from St Mary’s to Exeter so had all morning to enjoy our last few hours. We walked along the cliffs to the end of the airport runway and watched the comings and goings of small planes and helicopters which constituted Monday rush hour! Our 10-minute transfer and half hour check in meant we were soon on our way back to the mainland with happy memories of our island adventure
For details and prices of all available travel options go to
Details of the Isles of Scilly Walking Festivals can be found at