St Martin’s – The Isles of Scilly, was far away in the distance when I first worked out which island it actually was.
I was on the Scillonian leaving Scilly in 2016, heading towards Penzance. It was brilliantly warm. I could see white sub-tropical beaches and azure blue coastlines on the horizon. I thought to myself – I’m going to walk those beaches some day.
A year later, late October mind, I sat waiting on one of the island ferry boats that take people to the ‘off-islands’, with couples, birders, families, dogs and owners. We all smiled at each other, waiting for our day trip to St Martin’s to begin. This twenty-five minute short boat ride across the archipelago just whammed up the anticipation even more, and made it feel like a proper adventure.
It was a dry day with no sun. The Gry Maritha was unloading its bulk freight cargo – lifeline to the Scillies. Forty or so passengers sat waiting for their adventure to begin. Our plan was to go for a long wild coastal walk, to find those sandy white beaches and to visit Fay Page.
Everybody got off the boat at Higher Town Quay in St Martin’s in a determined flurry. The boatman said we would be met at the other Quay – Lower Town Quay at 2.30 or 4.30. We had to remember that. The other Quay.
On arrival, we panicked a bit, should we go North, East or West? We didn’t have a map. People soon dispersed with their own agendas. We chose East so that we would get a good blustery walk, and a view of the Eastern Isles out to sea. We were almost tempted by the sign on the red boat to go straight to the Seven Stones Inn. Must remember that for later.
We were on the South-East shore – Par Beach – and quickly decided to go East, anti-clockwise. We walked down to the next stony beach – Perpitch. It was empty. Unexpectedly, we spotted a rather large-headed seal. Comical and cheeky looking. It was watching us – unashamedly. We were all shouting and squealing. It really was quite close. I pondered on the life of a seal round here.
Moments later there it was again, with another equally big playmate. Two! So exciting! Floating and staring. Head to one side. We named them Sea-bastion and Ce-lia. The children were skipping up to the shore with ready phones, “Oh look, there’s another, and another!”
So we watched. The seals played hide and seek with us. It was exciting just guessing where they would pop up. I’m not at all seal-interested, but it was funny being checked out by these blubbery boys, or girls.
The best part of all was when four seals came up for a snoop at exactly the same time. It was like getting all four seals/cash/cherries on the one-armed bandit machines.
Eventually, they swam towards St Mary’s and we carried on with our walk. We missed them immediately.
The ocean and rocks were to our right, and to our left, ankle-high brown bracken and sloping hills. The footpath was neatly cut out, but only maybe the width of a standard ruler. You had to concentrate, otherwise you could stumble easily into the crunchy fauna.
It was a beautiful meandering walk. We still searched for our seal friends – just in case they decided to follow.
We got out the rucksack supplies, crouched on large rocks, and ate sandwiches and crisps whilst hiding badly from the wind – which had got up a lot as we’d walked higher. We took a few pictures, drank warm coffee, and moved off again.
We saw the infamous Daymark perched up high before us. It was on the highest point of St Martin’s. A large striped crayon pushed deep into the ground. A whopping 4.8 metres in diameter and 11 metres high. Constructed out of solid circular granite in 1683 by Thomas Ekins – an aid to navigation. The oldest surviving beacon in the British Isles.
It is in fact an Ancient Monument. Apparently it is visible from mainland Cornwall on a clear day!
We walked higher. The elements were raw. The wind whipped up and outerwear flapped at high speed. Mesmerised, we raced toward the Daymark. This strong Scilly construction commanded to be reckoned with. I stretched my arms wide and hugged it with my face pressed against the chilly stippled white paint. It was quite an amazing feeling. Even better than hugging a tree. More majestic.
Then my daughter, who stood next to me, shouted out something or other – and joined me.
We often hug Cornish rocks – Well, only the really amazing ones. It runs in our family.
The wind, like an open and broken tent flapping in a relentless storm, sent me a bit loopy for a while. I whooped loudly with great emotion.
I thought about its position, its elevation, its grandeur and its meaning; the past mariners and islanders, ships and shipwrecks. We chased and whooped a bit more round the Daymark.
So I stopped brainwashing my daughter about how brilliant it was and I walked backwards for a few hundred metres STILL looking at it. I was just so exhilarated in its presence.
Eventually, I unfixed my gaze from the Beacon and turned the right way round to continue my walk. I took a sharp intake of breath, as you might if you were to ever fall overboard from a boat into the freezing sea.
Suddenly, sunlight shone, island upon island. I stood incredibly still, then turned, panoramically, 360 degrees very, very slowly. I had the most incredible crystal clear view of the sea all around. And, in it, the island of St Mary’s, The Eastern Isles, the rugged island of St Martin’s upon which we were already on; I could see Bryher and Tresco, and beaches as far as the eye could see. Unforgettable.
The terrain changed to grass and fields dotted with a few cows. We could see the vineyard better from this angle too. We headed inland to Higher Town – a small hamlet with a village shop, The Island Bakery, a post office and an art gallery. The bakery had some excellent looking cakes, everything homemade and really only the good stuff. I walked in and walked out. Stupidly. I wasn’t hungry at the time and was more interested in looking at the art in the gallery. Next time I’m buying the cake.
The twittering sparrows flitted about our feet and ate the baker’s crumbs. October sounded just like March. There was so much birdsong. It was confusing! The sun was out too!
Heading west, in the direction of the other Quay, we followed the only road.
We stumbled across The Seven Stones Inn. It was a steep walk up to it. I was so glad we bothered with the climb. Usual tables outside. Wow!!!!!!! What a bloody fantastic location for a pub!
Why people sat their on their iPhones using the WiFi looking downwards for long periods of time I had no idea! I just drank in the scenery. The sparrows hunted for seeds up and down the old flower heads, and the dogs got patted by their owners. The shandy tasted spectacular!
Inside was cosy and fairy lights covered the ceiling.
I wouldn’t mind stumbling home from here after midnight, back to my own island home one day.
Reluctantly, I left my (probably favourite) view, and we headed off to Fay Page’s Silver Workshop in Lower Town. I’ve followed her on Twitter for quite a while, and I’ve admired the quality of her work from afar. So, I was very excited about going, and was hoping to buy myself another silver charm. My last Bryher charm was sent in the post, so actually being able to choose my own up close was a real treat.
We almost walked past the very small unassuming stone workshop. It was adjoined to a stone house. Inside it had white-washed walls with display cabinets made from reclaimed teak: ornate typewriters, ships mirrors and displays with shells and flowers. There were maps, hanging pot-buoys and books about boats. More silver collections and fish- themed displays. Driftwood and oddments that had been washed upon the beach.
In the corner, behind the main shop desk, there was a great throne (chair), and desk workspace just in front of the window. It was absolutely covered in metal and wooden tools and things that I didn’t know the names of and that I’d never seen before. Maybe two or three hundred of them – and pots, shiny gadgetry and magnifiers. It utterly intrigued me. I wanted to photograph it so badly – but daren’t ask!
Raph was in charge. She was standing in for Fay ( Fay was in San Francisco), and she happily talked about all the silver charms, adding in extra details about how or when it was first created. It was a fabulous studio which showcased a real passion for the sea, sea-life and all things related to Scilly – in silver.
The door creaked open and a young girl of about six came bursting through the door with a Halloween gift for Raph, and she was so excited to show her what she’d grown.
I thought it was amazing too – so I asked Raph if I could photograph it outside. Resting amongst the enormous heart rocks and stones – a blue-grey pumpkin!
I was going to choose myself a sea urchin charm. But, I spotted the silver Daymark. I felt the weight of it and Raph explained how well it was made with its oxidised stripes. I knew it would remind me always of our windy island walk up to the top of St. Martin’s where we first were acquainted.
I think maybe the Daymark chose me. My daughters took their time to chose other beautiful seashell and fossil charms. And of course the Scilly seal. Somebody had to chose the seal. The large one.
After the charms had been beautifully packaged we said goodbye to Raph and left the workshop. It was such a fun and memorable visit. It exceeded my expectations. We then headed towards the other Quay for 2.30.
It had turned cold again, but we had had a brilliant day. We sat on the beach and collected yellow shells, imagining how amazing this island would be on a glorious hot day.
There was so much more to be discovered, and paths to walk, but that would have to be another time. So I picked up some keepsakes to bring home.
The Guiding Star took us safely back to St Mary’s Quay and we walked slowly back to our cottage in Old Town. You do have to do a lot of walking on Scilly. Boating. Beach combing. . .