The Isles of Scilly may be close to the Cornish coast, but they’re another world. They are one of our favourite places to unwind, blending natural beauty with a calm, laid-back attitude. Each inhabited island has its own vibe; and if you want a gentle stroll rather than an epic hike, all five have some stunning little walks.
Here’s a bit more about this beautiful archipelago, and how to get to Scilly from Penzance.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have your own boat, the first island you’ll set foot on is St Mary’s, home to the airport and the Quay. It’s the largest of the islands – but you’ll soon realise that size is relative here, as it measures just six square miles.
Hugh Town is the centre of the island, and the place to go for anything practical from food to cash points. This description rather undersells this old and bustling little town, with its lovely harbour and winding streets.
Stocked up and fed, head out of town. St Mary’s coast paths and near-deserted beaches make it a glorious place for a walk.
And now we come to the “off islands”, reached by small passenger ferries from the Quay in St Mary’s. St Martin’s is a real favourite, famous for its sweeping white sands and crystal-clear water that simply doesn’t look or feel remotely British.
Take a walk along the heather-covered cliff paths looking out for rare birds. Don’t forget to call into The Island Bakery to pick up a picnic (if you’re staying on St Martin’s, they also do a great takeaway pizza). The difficult bit is choosing where to eat it – all the beaches and coves are simply so lovely…
Welcome to Britain’s most south-westerly spot, St Agnes. It has a wilder feel than the previous two Saint islands, especially on its rocky western coast. This is the place to come for beach combing, shell seeking and rockpooling.
Our favourite short walk here is to stroll across the sand bar that links St Agnes to Gugh, with its Bronze Age remains. Then it’s back to St Agnes for a pint with a view at The Turk’s Head.
Bryher feels like two separate islands: the sheltered Tresco channel side with its pretty beaches, and its wilder Atlantic coast – the name Hell Bay should give you a clue. Bryher is home to the luxurious Hell Bay Hotel, which swells its resident population of just 80 (ish) people.
Again, you’re not going to get a long walk on a single island in Scilly, but you will get a spectacular one. Look out for roadside stalls selling farm-grown produce; and call into the local shop or the bar at Fraggle Rock for extra refreshments.
Across from Bryher lies Tresco, arguably the most glamorous member of the archipelago. The island is privately owned by the Dorrien-Smith family, and it has some gorgeously luxe visitor accommodation.
The island is famous for Tresco Abbey Gardens, a subtropical treasure of a place. Exotic plants thrive in Tresco’s climate, which simply couldn’t grow anywhere else in the UK. Head to the north coast for the best walking; then there are some wonderful places to eat on this sophisticated island.
Scilly has five inhabited islands – which leaves us with around 140 people-free idylls. Many have been colonised by seabirds, providing them with a rare opportunity to live without humans. You can take boat trips around many of these wild and tiny islands, or even visit some yourself.
Samson was inhabited until the mid-19th century, and has an eerie collection of abandoned dwellings to explore. It also has some of Scilly’s most beautiful beaches. There are glorious views across the islands from Tean’s Great Hill (don’t get too excited: it’s about 40m high).
St Helen’s has the haunted-feeling remains of an 18th-century isolation hospital, where plague carriers where quarantined. Or, for some of the best seabird-spotting territory in the South West, try Annet, the “island of birds”. You’re welcome to visit; however, Annet is closed annually between mid-April and mid-August to let the birds enjoy their home in peace.
The traditional way is to catch the Scillonian passenger ferry from Penzance. This iconic vessel takes about 2 and ¾ hours to reach St Mary’s. There’s a journey there and back each day (weather permitting, and not during the winter). If you don’t have chance to stay on Scilly, it’s perfectly possible to have a good day out there, returning to Penzance on the evening ferry.
The Scilly helicopter link has just been reinstated, and you can now catch a flight from Penzance to the Scillies again. It’s located just outside town (near Sainsbury’s) and offers flights to both St Mary’s and Tresco. We have heard that the new helicopters offer “weather resilient air travel”: great news for both the residents of Scilly and visitors.
You can also fly to St Mary’s (small plane, rather than helicopter) from Land’s End and Newquay airports. Not sure which way to travel? Try a Fly & Sail package, which lets you experience both ways.
If you want to tag a holiday or day trip to Scilly onto your Cornish walking tour, just let us know at Western Discoveries. We can make sure your walking itinerary works around your Scilly travel plans.
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