finding Scilly


Porthcressa Beach, Scilly, UK


Two and a half years ago I found Scilly.

With the greatest of ease; it got hold of me, it grabbed at my heart and it wrenched it.

We were holidaying in Pendeen, Cornwall. Cornwall was our happy place. We booked a long overdue ferry trip to St Mary’s, Scilly Isles for the day.  It was a three-hour, 28 mile journey,  south-west into the Atlantic Ocean.


We disembarked excitedly, knowing we had only four hours to explore and hike around the island. If we missed the boat back, we would be looking for a B and B for five, and wouldn’t be going back to Penzance until 4pm the next day. Ha! Wouldn’t have minded!

What exactly was on this island – surrounded by more sea, islands and boats? We had no idea of what to expect. We’d hand on heart, truthfully,  not even Googled it.

On that gloriously warm May afternoon, we walked on sandy, sea-shelled beaches, through a lush nature reserve and had a cafe stop in the idyllic Old Town Bay. I think I knew then that one day we’d come back.

Old Town, St Mary’s

Eventually, after a short walk past the most beautiful, peculiarly but perfectly placed cemetery, the Five Islands School,  and down past all the allotments overlooking the sea – we found ourselves on Porthcressa Beach right next to Hugh Town.

I sat on the sand, quietly, noticing tiny, tiny fragments of iridescent pearl shells in peach and silver, pondering  how could I feel so extremely sad and happy in equal amounts. I seriously didn’t want to leave.

It was hot. The girls were cartwheeling in the sea in their jeans and t-shirts. It reminded me of being by Lake Como in Italy. Just listening to that gentle ebb-flow sound. The sea-stones trickling in and out of the water.

Everything was perfect and everything was wrong.

Everybody else was doing everything right. Children were in their wetsuits in canoes, splashing or paddling purposefully. Relaxing families were clearly only half-way through their two-week stay. There was slowness and quietness.  I wanted to be a part of all of it. Within the hour this would be all gone.

Instantly, our Cornwall mainland holidays were superseded by these little, intriguing islands just out in the Atlantic. And I wanted to explore them all. So, naturally, we would just have to come back.

It was time to plan a proper holiday to Scilly out in the ocean, just like those other families.

Standing on a tiny island in the Atlantic



getting there: a pleasure and a bother

Scilly was fully booked for the summer months, so we planned our holiday for the October half-term as we had no real choice. It’s not always so easy booking holidays for five people. The islands do have some accommodation, but there are only five, small inhabited islands. These are named : Tresco, Bryher, St Mary’s, St Agnes and St Martin’s.

We nearly booked a week on St Martin’s. We were tempted by the totally dark skies at night. Because of Scilly’s remote location, it has dark sky discovery sites which are excellent for stargazing. We decided however, that the house we’d picked was really too small and we needed much more space. Luckily, we found one in Old Town (the place with the cafe that we’d been to two years before) –  a stone’s throw from the beach.

Five days before our holiday, and to our horror, Storm Brian was forecast. We had a worrying text from the ferry company saying the trip would probably be cancelled on our travel date because of 50mph winds – and the boat ride would be ‘uncomfortable’.

Storm Brian arrived the day after we arrived – 50mph winds on St Mary’s and all the off-islands

We decided that losing a day of our holiday was not particularly fair, so we phoned everybody (parking, hotel, cottage, ferry company) and miraculously arranged everything so that we could travel the day before it was predicted. We were taking a huge chance. Could we beat this storm?



On the day before the day we should’ve sailed, the wind was holding steady at around 20mph.  And, although our journey wasn’t without sickness, we did manage to get to The Mermaid Inn on St Mary’s by twelve noon. This time, we were really, really lucky. We watched the Scillonian lll sail back through the curtains of the pub and felt sorry for the passengers on it; the sea had begun its spring tide swell and they were all going back to the mainland on that full, swaying sea.

Scillonian lll heading back to Penzance

But, we were finally on Scilly – for nine days instead of seven.

Late October afternoon view from inside The Mermaid


I will continue to write about St Martins, Tresco, St Agnes and Gugh, Bryher and St Mary’s. Each island deserves a blog-post all of its own. Hopefully, this will give a good sense of each island, and the photographs (although mostly taken in October on an old IPhone ) might just make you wonder how you might get there someday.



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