If you want to “get away from it all” without leaving the UK, there is nowhere better than the Isles of Scilly – in the Gulf Stream 28 miles into the Atlantic Ocean from Lands End. Everything you could need is there – apart from crowds and commercial tourism; the number of visitors is limited by both transportation and accommodation – so plan ahead.
To get there, the steamship Scillonian sails from Penzance with 300 passengers each day through the summer at 9am for the 3-hour crossing – returning at about 4pm; but be prepared – unless the ocean is unusually calm, it is not recommended except for good sailors! There is also the Skybus service from Newquay and Exeter airports, and a helicopter service is due to be resumed shortly. The main island (with the airport and seaport) is St. Mary’s and there are four other inhabited islands – Tresco, St. Martins, Bryher and St. Agnes – plus a couple of uninhabited but reachable islands, Samson and Gugh.
Each morning at about 9.45, holidaymakers converge on the quay for the 10am boat trips to the other islands operated by experienced local boatmen. Some of them will tell you their adventures as members of the lifeboat crew! Then when the Scillonian arrives at about noon, there is another round of boat-trips to the off-islands.
The most popular destination is the island of Tresco, which has one of the finest sub-tropical gardens in Europe and a historic Valhalla of ship figureheads – and all the islands have peaceful beaches and various facilities.
But for those who might find it difficult to climb down steps to board the local boats, St. Mary’s itself has plenty to offer in terms of scenery, history, wild life and coastal walking paths; and one enterprising local business now offers a service of self-drive golf buggies – 2, 4 or 6 seaters – perfect for Silver visitors to be able to see most of the island at leisure. There are taxis, too, and one or two coach tours but there really is no need to consider taking or renting a car. The narrow central street of Hugh Town, the capital, is already too busy at peak times by the few local cars plus delivery vehicles at the shops and supplies making their way to and from the quay.
There are a half dozen hotels (in St. Mary’s, Tresco and St. Martins) plus a range of B&B’s and self-catering options as well as restaurants and bars; the local seafood is a ‘must’. And the local people are warm, welcoming and recognise that today, tourism provides 75-80% of their economy – the rest coming from early daffodils, which were once the islands’ major source of income.
The excellent Hugh Town museum also tells some dramatic stories of earlier years when shipwrecks, and their bounty, were a feature of life on the islands, positioned as they are at the junction between the English Channel to the South and the Bristol Channel to the North.
The Scillies, then, really should figure in your ‘bucket list’ – and like many people, you may then be lured to going back again and again.