Spring on the Isles of Scilly

Kevin Pilley experiences some unique Scillonian traditions and locations on a visit to Bryher.

Croquet and Crab quiche

Spring on the Isles of Scilly. What is there not to love? And for the rest of the year too? Apart from the limited opportunities for croquet on the sea floor. You haven’t lived until you have helped turn the Atlantic Ocean into Hurlingham, eaten lobster burger and crab quiche while standing up five hundred metres out to sea and raised your Doom Bar beer or Tarquin’s Hell Bay G&T to toast two coastlines.

Sadly, the croquet was abandoned this year, due to bladderwrack.

The Isles of Scilly’s two Low Tide Event pop-up food festivals and farmers’ markets are held when the tide goes out between Tresco and Bryher. The next one is on Thursday, 31st August 2023. You can walk between the islands at other times but no festivities are laid on.

Arguably, these are the only social occasions where Crocs are acceptable, even, de rigeur. Gingerly, with trousers rolled, you walk from New Grimsby on Tresco or across the Crab Ledge sand flats from Bryher to a strand which is usually under 20’ of salt water.

The first event was held in 2015 when a group of locals had a soiree in the shallows. Noel Dashwood now provides the music, and his kazoo renditions of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs Robinson” and Eric Clapton’s “Layla!” as well as some Johnny Cash are also effective herring gull deterrents.

Local products to sample are Westward Farm’s rose geranium gin, from St Agnes local artisanal cakes and bakes; Veronica Farm’s rosemary fudge, with chowder, lobster tacos and paella courtesy of the Pender family’s Bryher-based “Island Fish”; and ice cream from Troytown Farm, there are lobster pot-making and local craft demonstrations and rock pooling for the kids.

Where to stay on Bryher and how to get there

Bryher’s Hell Bay Hotel stands on the westerly shores of “the island of hills” which, at 330 acres and one mile and a bit long and half a mile wide, is the smallest of the five inhabited Isles of Scilly.

Skybus Bus operates 17 seater twin-otter flights from Exeter airport (duration one hour) and from Land’s End (20 minutes). The airport is on St Mary’s which is a short, well-sprung £10 closed boat ride to Bryher. Helicopters land at Tresco. The 2 hours 45 minutes ferry from Penzance docks at St Mary’s.

Arriving on Bryher at low water, you are met at the quay by a 4WD from the hotel, five minutes away. If it’s late, you can browse the honesty box selling local succulents in the form of inedible and not very frost-hardy “cliff pasties”, fleshly evergreens and potted Aeonium houseplants.

The blue and white clapboard hotel, which some think is very New England and some say is “Caribbean meets California”, suits the Isles’ unique Britain-on-the-Gulf-Stream location.

It overlooks its own wildlife lagoon or Great Pool (grab the two chairs on the Sunset Deck early) and looks out towards the 1858-1992 Bishop Lighthouse on the horizon, Droppy Noise Point, the Gweal Hill headland, the Northern or Norrard rocks Illiswilgig, miscellaneous other skerries along with rollers and white horses of the Atlantic.

The hotel has a private art collection belonging to the owner, Robert Dorrien-Smith, a fifth-generation relative of Augustus Smith, who first leased the Scilly Isles from the Duchy of Cornwall in 1834, and semi-seriously took the title, Lord Protector.

Rooms in Bryher’s Hell Bay Hotel

Built around a courtyard, 25 suites (the Emperor and The Empress being the high end) all have Ren toiletries, Lloyd Loom furniture, Lucy-Tania soft furnishing and Egyptian cotton beds to please those who like to turn over their hotel room to check its makers. It is probably the most strenuous exertion staying at Hell Bay affords.

Along with the pool, the seasonal pitch ‘n’ putt course, pool and the Treatment Shed spa with its local, St Martin’s-made “Phoenix & Providence” seaweed based unguents.

Food and drink at Bryher’s Hell Bay Hotel

If you prefer to eat at a table rather than on the seafloor, chef Richard Kearsley’s seafood-dominated cuisine (from sardines and scallops to John Dory and bream) is served in the hotel’s two AA Rosette restaurant. It’s beautifully decorated with seascapes by Richard Pearce whose studio is in front of the hotel.

Don’t miss these Bryher attractions

Local attractions include granny’s toenails and dwarf pansies. Will Wagstaff’s wildlife tours are the best way to appreciate them. The tiny viola is only found on the Scillies. Granny’s toenails (common bird’s foot trefoil) are more common.

The local naturalist is equally fond of solar-powered slugs, orange peel and boiled sweets. And cliff pasties and succulent Scilly wall cabbages. On Bryher, he takes you past New Zealand and South African crop field windbreaks, tamarisk trees (once used for lobster pots), abandoned daffodil farms and gig sheds. Every April, along with its walking festival, the Isles host the World Gig racing regatta. Once, there were over 200 pilot gigs on the islands.

Will points out the Bermuda buttercups, Hottentot figs, Prides of Madeira, and three-cornered leeks which look like white bluebells. He also expertly leads you to the only public loo on Bryher and recommends a comfort stop.

His tours don’t take in Bryher’s other landmark – an old telephone box which has been converted into the world’s smallest museum. The current exhibition is of postcards.

Find out more

Visit the Isles of Scilly. To travel to the Isles of Scilly, our Silver Travel Advisors can quote for and book cruises that visit these magical islands, call on 0800 412 5678.

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