As I peered out of the plane and the Isles of Scilly first came into view, my heart leapt. I fell in love with these beautiful verdant islands bobbing in a scintillating turquoise sea when I first set foot there at the age of twelve. I couldn’t believe it was already five years since my last visit. I’ve said it before and no doubt will say it again, time has a habit of running away with you. This trip was a flying visit, literally.
This was my first time flying to St Mary’s, the biggest island on the archipelago and the island of arrival, whether coming by boat or plane. I couldn’t quite believe it took less than 20 minutes from taking off at Land’s End, to touch down. I’m used to the slower paced Scillonean which has its own magic and where leaping dolphins are more or less guaranteed. The Isles of Scilly are only 28 miles west of Cornwall, but it feels like stepping into another world. We left the mainland shrouded in cloud and arrived under blue skies. Talking of sunny dispositions, Island folk, by necessity, have to be more resourceful than the rest of us and they are certainly a friendly bunch.
You can fly to the islands with Isles of Scilly Travel on the Skybus from Exeter, Newquay or Land’s End. The easiest route for me was to catch a train down to Penzance then hop on the Scilly bus to Land’s End airport. I met up with Fiona from London Unattached on the train and we traveled the rest of the way together. The airport is not quite as tiny as one I flew from in New Zealand, but the planes are definitely smaller. I flew out on a 19 seater, which I thought was small, but flew back in an 8 seater which is the cutest plane I’ve ever been on. I had the good fortune to sit directly behind the pilot which gave me a panoramic view of the receding isles, the azure seas and the looming bank of clouds over the mainland.
The airports were a complete surprise. I was expecting a shed at one end of the airport, but what I got were well appointed buildings with plenty of seats, space and attractive features. The cafes offered local produce and homemade cakes. I was told on reliable authority that the one at St Mary’s served the best coffee on the island. I’m not much of a coffee drinker, so the I didn’t partake. But there’s always next time. Various art works and items for sale adorned the walls and a roaring fire warmed us up at Lands End. On St Mary’s we were greeted with the best view I’ve ever had from an airport and the departure lounge sported an outdoor seating area taking in said views.
One way flights start at £70.
The Isles of Scilly
The shallow waters of the Isles of Scilly are covered in white sand. This reflects the blue sky turning the landscape into a palate of blue – turquoise, azure, cerulean, sapphire and cyan. The blonde sand has collected around the islands to form many beaches making them an ideal holiday destination. It wasn’t until I was on the train that I realised I’d left my camera’s battery in the charger at home. I was gutted and had to make do with my phone camera instead. I was unable to capture the true beauty and depth of colour that I saw all around me, but I hope you’ll get a measure of it at least.
For a truly relaxing break, the Isles of Scilly is the place to be. Life has a more measured pace and you feel like you’re well away from the hurly burly of modern life. It’s a place to walk, ride, swim, boat, botanise, watch wildlife, chat and generally hang out. Although there are cars on the islands, most ride bikes or just walk to get from A to B. There is an air of tranquility which is mostly missing on the mainland these days. May is a wonderful time for flowers and I revelled in the deep blue echiums, bright pink mesembryanthemums and yellow Hottentot figs amongst many others.
The archipelago consists of five inhabited islands and several uninhabited ones. I’ve been to all of the main ones, but was strangely less familiar with St Mary’s than the others. Bryher is the wildest and my favourite. Tresco is famed for its subtropical gardens and unusual plants. St Martin’s is covered in small farms and is known for its organic produce. St Agnes is attached at low tide by a sand bar to Gugh and has some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. The largest island by far is St Mary’s with a circumference of 10 miles.
We arrived at the tail end of the biggest festival of the year – The World Pilot Gig Championships. Hugh Town was almost bursting at the seams with boats, strapping rowers and their supporters. We met up with a team of female Dutch veterans celebrating their gold medal win. Veterans, I learnt were over 40. Only forty? What does that make me?
Hugh Town is a quaint attractive little settlement, situated on an isthmus with a beach on either side. Unlike most of the Isles of Scilly, it’s owned by its inhabitants, not by the Duchy of Cornwall. It operates as the island hub and is its administrative centre. It boasts two banks, a post office, art galleries, various shops as well as a number of pubs, restaurants and hotels. Here you’ll find the archipelago’s main harbour and quay which is a constant hive of activity with boats, large and small coming and going.
Fiona and I had lunch booked at Juliet’s Garden. So soon after we arrived, we set off on the twenty minute walk around the coast from Hugh Town. We saw flowers and bees everywhere not to mention wonderful coastal views. In fact Juliet’s Garden is renowned for its stunning situation on the coast overlooking Bryher. We celebrated our arrival with some elderflower bubbly for me and a glass of wine for Fiona. As the sun was shining we sat outside for a while, but the wind picked up so we headed indoors to finish eating.
The cafe come restaurant is known principally for its seafood, so I wasn’t surprised to find there wasn’t a great deal of choice for vegetarians. Fiona enjoyed a fresh crab salad, whilst I munched on a cheese toasty. When it came to cakes though, I had too much choice and wanted to try everything. I settled for a slice of raspberry and pistachio frangipane with clotted cream. The clotted cream was both generous and local. I was not disappointed. Fiona seemed equally pleased with her sticky toffee slice.
A farm shop sits just outside Juliet’s Garden. It’s best known for growing and selling scented, multihead narcissi know as tazettas. The shop was unstaffed and we were charmed to see that payment was via an honesty box. In fact I saw various products for sale around the island where payment was made in similar fashion.
En route back from Juliet’s Garden, we spotted a small sculpture garden and a stranded boat – oops! I’m not sure how the boat got onto the rocks, but in true laid back Isles of Scilly style, it was a case of waiting for a high tide to get it afloat again. We also called in at Porthloo Studios, a group of enterprising artists who were all happy to talk to us about what they did and life in general. It was well worth a visit. The artists were creating drawings, paintings, prints, jewellery and Scilly Socks. I ended up spending rather more than I’d intended. The socks, were actually felt slippers and such fun.
Star Castle Hotel
The Star Castle Hotel is situated on the Garrison just above Hugh Town and looks out over the harbour, the sea and the isles of Samson, Bryher, Tresco and St Martins. It’s a 16th century Elizabethan castle, built in 1593 to defend the Isles of Scilly from the Spanish. It takes the shape of an eight-pointed star and comes complete with ramparts, cannons and moat, though the latter is somewhat overgrown with greenery now.
Children and dogs are both welcome and there is a large playground area as well as a swimming pool, tennis courts and complementary golf. The gardens extend to four acres and include a few secluded “garden rooms”, which were fun to explore. I really liked the eclectic mix of tables and chairs which were dotted around everywhere.
We were looked after very well during our stay, including being transported from the airport to the hotel and back again. The staff were all friendly and very helpful, offering true Scillonian hospitality. A perfect spot for a comfortable, relaxing and reviving break.
Fiona and I were both situated in generous rooms, which although not located in the castle proper, overlooked the sea with stunning views of Sampson and my beloved Bryher. I had a wooden veranda complete with sun lounger and if I’d had more time, I would most definitely have made use of one of them. A cheeky thrush sat on the railings facing me and sang for his supper.
My room was light, comfortable and spacious with two arm chairs and various tables scattered around. The bed was enormous and super comfortable. I’d have been more than happy to spend an entire week in it. As well as a variety of tea, coffee and biscuits waiting in the room, there were dressing gowns and lots of fluffy towels including flannels. I do love a flannel and the Star Castle Hotel got extra brownie points from me for having them. I was particularly impressed to find, on my return from dinner, that a couple of lights had been turned on and the cup I’d used earlier to drink some Earl Grey from had been washed and returned to its place.
The hotel has 38 bedrooms in total, including single occupancy, family rooms and suites.
We chose to eat dinner in the Castle Restaurant, which, as the name suggests, is situated in the actual Castle. I met up with Fiona for a quick drink in the Dungeon Bar first, but didn’t really have time to take much note of it. The six course dinner was a fitting end to our day and was also very filling. The restaurants use local seasonal produce where they can and this was reflected in the menu. For hotel guests, dinner is only £25 which seems a bit of a bargain.
I started with a charming olive tapanade amuse bouche sitting on a white ceramic spoon. This was followed by my favourite course of the evening – a salad of Cornish brie pannacotta, thyme roasted figs, croutons, toasted pine nuts and herb oil. I’m not quite sure how the pannacotta was made, but it had an appealing consistency and I was reassured it was indeed vegetarian. A light, fruity and highly quaffable white wine accompanied our meal. My starter was followed by a really good velvety sweet potato valouté.
For my main course, I had to ask if there was an alternative to the only vegetarian one listed on the menu. There was, but in the end I opted for the original – linguine, avocado, spinach, roast peppers, parmesan and pesto oil. It was touch and go at this point if I could fit in a dessert; instead of opting for the rich dark chocolate tart, lime butterscotch and vanilla cream, which I might otherwise have chosen, I went for the lighter and smaller raspberry pavlova. We finished with coffee and dark chocolate truffles.
The next morning, we ate in the hotel’s second dining room, the Conservatory Restaurant. This was the most convenient as it was close to our rooms. It was bright and light and beautifully laid out. I was still feeling full from the previous evening, so I was pleased to see lots of fresh fruit, including pineapple and watermelon. There wasn’t a vegetarian cooked breakfast on offer as such, but the chef was very obliging, so I’m sure I could have put in a special request if I chose. I opted for egg Florentine instead, which was on the menu. Apart from the fruit, this was just about all I could manage.
Overall I enjoyed the food. It’s always a treat to have someone else cook for you. I’d have liked to see more vegetarian options, though I was impressed that the parmesan cheese I was served was a vegetarian version.
I’ll add a link to Fiona’s post when it goes live as she’s writing more extensively about the hotel.
Fiona took the boat to Tresco and I went for a walk around The Garrison before catching my flight back to Cornwall. If you look closely you might be able to spot her on the boat.
St Agnus is the only populated island that can’t be seen from the castle, but take a walk from the hotel around the Garrison and it’s not long before first Annet then St Agnus come into view. Paths wend hither and thither and I was in Paradise. My walk only lasted 90 minutes, but it could have gone on a lot longer. There was much to see including flowers, bees, views and a lot of historical monuments. I took the high road to begin with, but ended up walking around the outer wall.
The Garrisan is built on The Hugh, a prominent headland jutting out to the west of Hugh Town. An extensive and hefty outer wall hugs the coastal contours. It was fortified in the 1800s to protect the town and castle and remains in good condition today. I found several strategically placed gun batteries on my route around the outer wall complete with cannons. These, apparently, allowed the big guns to be fired at all angles.
I may have only spent twenty four hours on the Isles of Scilly, but I packed a lot in. It felt like a much longer stay and it was a real treat. Having said that, I’m now itching to go back for a longer stay as soon as possible.
The Isles of Scilly, its definitely worth a visit – PIN IT
I was the guest of Isles of Scilly Travel. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own. The raspberry pavlova photo comes courtesy of London Unattached.