Have you been to Scilly?
That’s what I’ve asked everyone I know recently. I’m obsessed with this British archipelago which is 28 miles of the coast of Cornwall.
I’m not surprised when many say the Isles of Scilly are on their travel bucket list. The gulf stream ensures it never frosts, creating a climate where subtropical plants thrive. On a sunny day, when the clear Atlantic waters turn turquoise blue and the white sand beaches sparkle, you may think you are in the Caribbean. That’s a teeny bit of a stretch, but think of a warm Scottish Hebrides. And you are so far from the British coastline, even Apple devices get confused about time zones.
Former Prime Minister Harold Wilson holidayed in Scilly in the ’70s and I imagine holidays there aren’t much different now. Days are filled with boat rides, long seaside walks and cycle trips discovering secluded beaches and bays. Only locals have cars, so there is hardly any traffic. Life is governed by the tides and weather. It’s good old-fashioned, Famous Five fun – the only exception being super fast wifi is now included! There’s no scheduled travel to or from Scilly on Sundays — and that just adds to the retro feel!
Only 5 of the islands are inhabited. St Mary’s is the largest (3 miles wide) and the defacto hub. St Martin’s is known for its white sand beaches, Tresco has famous gardens, Bryher is wild and rugged and St Agnes boasts the Turk’s Head – the most southwesterly pub in the UK. Most people spend their time going between the Islands on the regular boat services. We stayed at Tregarthen’s Hotel on St Mary’s, which is perched on a hill above the Harbour and only 5 minutes from the Quay, making “island hopping” very accessible.
Getting there: Skybus & Scillonian II & III
The Skybus, operated by Isles of Scilly Travel, is the fastest way to Scilly. Your holiday will start as soon as you board the 19 seat Twin Otter plane or 8 seat Islander seats. You sit within arm’s reach of the pilot, and have views straight ahead through the cockpit and on all sides. The flight is full of spectacular overhead views over Cornwall and Scilly. Flights go from Lands End (15 – 20 minutes), Newquay (30 minutes) and in season from Exeter (60 minutes).
Make sure to check the luggage requirements, as they are different from other commercial airlines, especially when it comes to hand luggage.
Alternatively catch the Scillonian ferry from Penzance Harbour. It’s 2 hours 45 minutes depending on tides and weather conditions.
Isles of Scilly: Suggested Family Itinerary
Day 1 First of all, stay at Tregarthen’s on St Mary’s and have them organise all day bike hire. If you aren’t feeling energetic, go for golf cart hire instead. Kid’s will love Tregarthen’s Treasure Trails, cleverly created pirate treasure adventures. Meander through the island lanes and admire the stunning vistas. Visitors are always welcome to see John Bordeaux’s Pottery, whose ceramics and sculptures are inspired by the islands. Stop at Carn Vean Cafe for a drink and to admire the chickens and parakeets and then continue the short cycle to Juliet’s Garden Restaurant for lunch (a MUST DO) for expansive views across the Harbour and on to Samson, Bryher and Tresco. Then cycle a bit further and get an ice cream at Town Beach. Before dinner catch Gig Racing (ladies on Wednesday, men’s on Fridays). Then dine at Tregarthen’s.
My 12-year-old’s perspective
Tregarthen’s has “Treasure Trails” to do while on St Mary’s. We followed a map and found hidden pirate treasure! We rode around on bikes, but you could do it on a golf cart too. You follow a map and at every stop you find a treasure and cross off the pirate suspect who did it. It was a great way to get a tour of the island.
Day 2: Organise a day of island hopping with Captain Tim of Calypso Boat Trips to visit 3 islands in one day! You can preorder a picnic lunch from Tregarthen’s, which handily comes in insulated backpacks. The tour stops on wild and rugged Bryher, the smallest of the five inhabited islands, where need to make your way to Hell Bay to admire the crashing waves and then climb the rocks in Rushy Bay. Make sure to stop by the Bryher Shop and Vine Cafe. Then head off to Tresco, the most organised of the islands. In low tide you can walk! Find a secluded beach to have your picnic (benches seem to be everywhere) and dine alfresco surrounded by white sand beaches! Take the short stroll to Abbey Gardens. Then end with an afternoon on St Agnes, where you can stroll across the sandy tombolo from St. Agnes to the almost deserted island of Gugh. Have a pint at the Turk’s Head (the most southwesterly pub in the UK) and pick up some Agapanthus plants at the shop, honesty box of course! Dinner at hotel.
Day 3: The Boatman’s Association publishes a schedule of trips each morning (you can get the schedule early from their Facebook page). Head out to St Martin’s, which is known for its pearly white beaches. Walk up to the Island Bakery and get a traditional Cornish pasty or a Scilly crab sandwich on an organic granary roll. Admire the art at North Farm Art Gallery (several items are for sale, including sketch books). Then walk to the Great Bay, take in the views and relax! While you are there, peer up at one of the most iconic structures on Scilly, the Daymark, built to help sailors navigate. When you get back to St Mary’s, spend the afternoon window shopping in Hugh Town, making sure to pop into Seasalt, a funky Cornish clothing shop. Kids will love a stroll to Porthcressa Beach to collect shells or go rock pooling. Mum and dad can get a cuppa at Tea by the Sea and still keep an eye out. Have dinner at Tregarthen’s or take a super boat cruise to St Agnes for dinner at the Turks Head. Tregarthen’s will gladly swap a dinner for a picnic lunch.
My 12-year-old on Island Hopping
We went Island Hopping on the Calypso boat with Captain Tim and it was great! First, we went to Bryher, it was so tiny it only had one shop and a few honesty boxes (with really good fudge). Next we went to Tresco. The hotel made us a picnic and we ate it on the beach. Then we went to the gardens. And last but not least, we visited St Agnes. At St Agnes we were so tired we stopped at the Turk’s Head and sat down and had Troytown ice cream, which is made from Scilly cows! Then we walked over to Gugh, there is a beautiful beach there, and did lots of hand stands. The boat ride was fun and Captain Tim was funny.
Where we stayed: Tregarthen’s Hotel
Not many hotels make it on my favourites list. The ones that do have that special je ne sais quoi, I-want-to-stay-here-forever feeling. I know when I find one because I start planning a return nearly as soon as I get there.
Tregarthen’s made it on to my list. Part of its secret is location, right on St. Mary’s Harbour and perched high enough to command some of the best views of Scilly. Life on the islands revolves around the many boat trips that launch from this harbour. It takes all of about 5 minutes from dropping off your room key at reception (old-fashioned and I love it) to stepping on your boat.
Service and family friendliness are other reasons to love the hotel. Tregarthen’s concierge service will recommend and arrange adventures based on your family requirements. Fancy a picnic on the beach in Tresco? Or a cycle around St Mary’s looking for hidden treasures? Kids bored? Collect shells, paint them and add them to our shell wall!
But food quality is always a litmus test. When you come home each evening, tired from a day of Famous Five exploring, you want to enjoy a high quality, leisurely meal. With just-caught seafood just steps away and lots of fresh local produce, the restaurant serves excellent dishes, which can be adapted to suit your children’s tastes too.
When you finally make it to your room and make a cup of tea adding fresh local milk, you’ll start planning your return. We did!
Here’s a video the girl’s made about exploring the Islands. Enjoy!
IF YOU GO:
Tregarthen’s Hotel, Garrison Hill, St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly TR21 0PP +44 01720 422540 tregarthens-hotel.co.uk Family friendly hotel in one of the best positions on St. Mary’s.
Isles of Scilly Travel islesofscilly-travel.co.uk Fly or sail to the Isles of Scilly from Penzance Harbour, Land’s End, Newquay or Exeter Airports with Isles of Scilly Travel. Note there is no scheduled travel on or off Scilly on Sundays!
Calypso Boat Trips St Mary’s, TR21 T. 07778 198454E. Enjoy a fun day out with Captain Tim of Calypso. Boat takes 12 passengers so booking is essential. Tim also offers days trips to islands, trips to view seal and evening trips to St Agnes.
Juliet’s Garden Restaurant Seaways/Porthlow, Isles of Scilly TR21 0NF +44 01720 422228 julietsgardenrestaurant.co.uk A MUST VISIT. Views overlooking the Harbour and you can even see Tregarthens!
Carn Vean Cafe, Pelistry St Mary’s TR21 0NX 01720 423 458 Cute cafe on a quiet lane and a perfect stop when cycling around St. Mary’s.
John Bordeaux Pottery Old Town, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly johnbordeaux.co.uk. An Aladdin’s full of gorgeous pottery inspired by Scilly.
St Mary’s Boatman’s Association Rose Cottage, Strand St Marys, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly TR21 0PT +44 01720 423999 scillyboating.co.uk. Associated of 10 independently owned boats that run regular service to the islands of Scilly. The schedule is published each morning, or check their Facebook page.
The Island Bakery, St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly TR25 0QL +44 01720 422111 theislandbakery-stmartins.com. Pasties, local crab sandwiches, pizza and lots of other yummy stuff.
North Farm Art Gallery St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly TR25 0QL visitislesofscilly.com A charming converted barn showcasing the work of local artists. My eldest bought a “Sketching Scilly” workbook, which she loves.
Our accommodation and some meals were provided by Tregarthen’s for the purpose of this review. The flights were donated by Isles of Scilly Travel. We paid for all activities. All opinions are my own and my family’s.