The Isles of Scilly
The Scilly Isles are places of contrasting extremes: extremely beautiful and wild, with lichen stained tors blasted by the Atlantic and glittering, deserted beaches, more wrecked ships around the Isles of Scilly than anywhere else in the world. The Scillies, has five inhabited islands (Tresco, Bryher, St Agnes, St Martin's and St Mary) and about 140 rocky islets, 28 miles off the coast of Land's End, Cornwall. The Scillies are firmly rooted in British holidaying destinations, were leased to a banker named Augustus Smith in 1834. His descendants took over control of the islands but today only Tresco remains a private fiefdom.
St Mary's Island is the most populated of the five inhabited isles of Scilly and there's something Blytonesque about this island. Perhaps it's the 1950s bus that rattles around, the barnacled nautical types or the sense of old-world decency pervading the place. The wind, rain and sunshine here seem to buffet you about as though you're in an elemental washing machine, setting a glow on your face.
With water everywhere; the Scillies have their fair share of history and myth, and a great place to meet the locals and hear their lobsterman's tales is in one of their pubs. It is said that King Arthur is buried in the nearby Eastern Isles. Legend has it that Merlin sent a tsunami to swallow his enemy Mordred as he pursued the regent from Cornwall across the finger of land that ran to the Scillies. Maybe there is some truth to the myth of the giant wave: to this day, fishermen claim to hear the tolling of church bells rung by underwater currents.
Head to the old garrison for a beer in the atmospheric 400-year-old Dungeon Bar at the Star Castle Hotel. The barman is full of ghost stories, especially the one about the woman in the blue cloak often seen walking the cliff path. It is also a great location on a clear evening to witness the natural phenomenon of the 'green flash', as the sun descends below the horizon.
Other activities on St Mary include cycling; you can hire a bike and cycle around the island. You board an inflatable boat with Island Sea Safari and take wild life trip around the islands of Bryher, Tresco and forbidding Hell Bay, where lie myriad of ship wrecks, some even stacked on each other. Here you get the meet the local lobstermen and spot puffins and seals.
The island of Treco is still private, and is owned by Robert Dorrien-Smith and advertises itself as 'the last piece of England', has tourism as its main income, with two hotels and number of expensive cottages. Tresco's closest neighbour is Bryher, however Tresco is the larger and swanker of the two.
Tresco is an haven for children, a Blyton-esque Treasure Island on which the pirates are dressed by Boden. There are no cars, only bicycles and electric golf buggies. On here the beaches are clean with sands like crushed mother-of-pearl. Activities include sailing, fishing, seal spotting and walking (with mild temperature you can easily traverse the whole island in a day).
Visit the Abbey Garden, home to towering palms and elaborate ferns, it's the island's most famous attraction, a lush, subtropical idyll planted in the grounds of a ruined 16th-century abbey by the sea-fearing Smith Family. They filled the garden with exotic flora from their travels. From the garden along the sandy track, up through the dunes is Pentle Bay, a wide, white-sandy beach ideal for waterskiing.
A five minute water taxi (which travel around the island all day) will take you to Bryher, which is smaller, wilder and more egalitarian. This little island is teeming with the deep purple plant agapanthus, tumbledown cottages and organic farms selling fudge, it's pretty in its own way. The island is slightly more westerly, and feels perceptibly more windswept. The children will love it here for finding shells.
The first thing you'll notice on disembarking at the dock is that, but for a couple of oystercatchers and sandpipers, no one is around. Comparing to the Caribbean, the water here is just as blue, the sand is just as fine and the hills behind are perfect green, you get breeze on your face rather than heat, however, the water here is freezing cold.
Hell Bay, named after the northerly end of the island, is where shards of rock jut out of the sea and the wind are fearsome, many a boat has come to grief in this bay. From here you can look across to the rocky outcrops of Crow and Merrick island.
For foodie lovers the islands have launched Low Tide Events, a biannual sandbank feast and the Taste Of Scilly food festival, which runs during the month of September.