Isles of Scilly - United Kingdom

For white sandy coves closer than the Med, the Isles of Scilly – off the Cornish coast – boast fine seafood and archaeology aplenty. Words by Rosemary Barron. Photography by Mark Parren Taylor.

Travel Time 1hrs 10min

Why go?

A visit to this archipelago of 140 islands, five inhabited, can be the equivalent to several holidays in one short break. Be enchanted by the wild flowers, rare birds and magnificent sunsets as you walk or cycle along pretty lanes, collect shells on deserted beaches, enjoy the finest shellfish imaginable and admire some of England’s most picturesque archaeological sites. If a town stroll is more to your taste, with arts shops, small museums and frequent stops at pubs and restaurants, then there’s also Hugh Town on St Mary’s. Or a short ferry ride takes you to a luxuriant, sub-tropical garden (Tresco), wild Atlantic shores (Bryher and St Agnes), and even a delightful vineyard (St Martin’s). From 11-20 May, there’s also Creative Scilly visitislesofscilly.coma celebration of art, literature, poetry and performance.

What to do

Early flights from Penzance and Newquay will get you to St Mary’s in time for the island ferries, a short taxi ride from the airport. In 48 hours, you can visit up to three islands by ferry or all of them with a hired boat. For an unhurried pace, stay on St Mary’s, the largest speck of land. A day’s walking or cycling takes you around the isle, and there’s a fascinating museum, civil war-era fort and Porthmellon Beach ‘gig’ sheds (rowboats used to rescue survivors of shipwrecks) to explore on Day Two. Or spend one day in Hugh Town, another day visiting one of the other islands. A ferry takes you to Tresco and the beautiful Tresco Abbey Gardens, planted in 1834 in the grounds of the 12th-century St Nicholas Priory. You’ll find there, too, Valhalla Museum, with its collection of shipwrecked ships’ figureheads. Bryher is a 10-minute ferry ride westwards. A 15-minute walk across this island of 84 inhabitants reveals the rocky Atlantic coast. Stop for crab sandwiches in the café of the Pender fishing family. Or visit St Martin’s for a wine tour of the local vineyard that has been planting the likes of seyval blanc and rondo for almost 25 years. It also has a farm shop, so you can stock up for a picnic.

Where to stay

Hotels here are few, and as singular as the archipelago itself. On St Mary’s, Star Castle Hotel is located in an impressive 16th-century garrison and has views of Hugh Town from its gardens. Or take a ferry to Bryher for the stylish Hell Bay hotel overlooking rocky coves and wonderful sunsets. A private art collection includes a Barbara Hepworth on the lounge wall, and the vivid colours of its comfortable rooms extend to the henhouses outside that supply the chef with eggs. You will enjoy peace, too, and a well-stocked library, across Tean Sound, in Karma St Martin’s which names its rooms for Scilly’s rocks and its restaurant for an admiral who died, stranded on them. On car-free Tresco, try beachfront Sea Garden Cottages – a lovely walk from Tresco Abbey Gardens.

Where to eat and drink

You know you’re in good hands when a chef waits on Bryher quay to meet a fisherman returning with his catch. Booking is a must at Hell Bay’s Crab Shack for fabulous local crab, scallops and mussels. Or, nearby, try whole grilled mackerel, bouillabaisse or Tresco-raised beef in the hotel’s attractive dining room. Waiting for ferries is a fact of life here, so it’s no surprise to find a pub near every quay. In the old Turks Head, St Agnes 01720 422434, wash down your fish and chips with Scillonian ale or, on St Martin’s, take a 10-minute walk to the quirky Seven Stones Inn for fish pie, Cornish beers and bay views. Delight, too, in the many family-owned tearooms. St Martin’s Polreath Tearoom turns its home-grown fruits into jams for scone teas in the lovely gardens; on St Agnes, Covean Cottage Café’s scones come smothered in the thick, rich cream of the tiny island’s farm.

Time running out?

Stop by Tanglewood Kitchen at the Post Office on St Mary’s for island crab and asparagus quiche, lobster salad, fudge and apple juice for your trip home.


Travel Information

Travel Information

Currency is the pound sterling (GBP). Time is GMT. The Isles of Scilly are approximately 56km west of Cornwall.

Getting There

Skybus flies to St Mary’s from Land’s End (20 minutes) and to Newquay (30 minutes) year-round, and from Exeter (60 minutes) from March to October.

The Scillonian runs ferries from Penzance to St Mary’s (2 hours 45 minutes) from March to November.


Visit Isles of Scilly is the website of the official tourist board and is packed with information for visitors.

St Mary’s Boatmen’s Association provides information on wildlife and fishing trips and private boat hire.

This article was taken from the May 2020 issue of Food and Travel.

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