The Isles of Scilly: flora, fauna & food!
I have wanted to go the Scilly Isles all my life. Watching old footage of Harold Wilson walking around his sun-drenched garden, surrounded by tropical trees and flowers, started it all for me! So when Isles of Scilly Travel offered me and a friend a three day trip, we jumped at the chance. The weather was a bit iffy, but that’s England in April, and it made it even more of an adventure…..the beautiful islands are a photographer’s dream, whatever the weather, and if you’re into walking, flora, fauna and excellent food, you are in for a treat. I hope you enjoy our highlights.
We drove from Portsmouth to Exeter, then hopped on the tiny Skybus to arrive at St. Mary’s just 50 minutes later. We could talk to the pilot all the way there we were so close to him! It was a fabulous day for it, flying over Dartmoor and seeing the Scilly Isles for the first time. Breathtaking. I’ve made a short video of our highlights for you to watch when you get to the end of this blog. I’ll also list other ways you can get to the Scilly Isles at the end.
We were lucky enough to stay at the Star Castle Hotel, in Hugh Town , St. Mary’s. The most dramatic entrance to a hotel that I’ve ever experienced (more on the video). The castle is within a garrison, built in 1593, with magnificent views in every direction, including from our bedroom! It’s a must visit wherever you’re staying. And a must for dining, but more of that later.
The weather was perfect when we arrived on the Thursday evening so we literally threw our suitcases into the room and set off to enjoy the golden hour around Hugh Town. From here on in, you will spot my travelling companion, Dalia, in her little red coat popping up all over the place like a scene from the film ‘Don’t Look Now!’ Not being a hiker, camper or country girl she was very grateful I ordered her to pack a really warm, weather proof coat for the trip and good walking shoes. And I made her buy a woolly hat once we were there! (We’re friends from school, so she’s used to my bossiness!)
Hugh Town, St. Mary’s, is the main town on the Isles of Scilly, full of shops and all the things you may need if you’re on one of the smaller islands. We spent a very happy hour wandering around photographing the architecture and pretty front doors. Maybe I should have added front doors to flora, fauna and food such is my obsession with lovely entrances!
Walking along the coast to our evening meal was just gorgeous as we got there in time for sunset……..
The food at Dibble and Grub was as fabulous as the views and the restaurant was buzzing. The walk followed by such high standard tapas was a fantastic way to start our weekend break.
The next day, after an awesome big breakfast at the Star Castle, we needed some exercise before our early lunch. The forty minute coastal walk to Juliet’s Garden Restaurant was just perfect for taking in the flora along the way. I’ve never seen so many enormous succulents……………
The whole of St. Mary’s is covered in wild garlic and flowers, as are the other islands……..you can smell the garlic everywhere and it’s in a lot of the deli products that are served in restaurants or sold locally. So a nice boost for your immunity along with fresh air and fresh fish!
There are lots of little artist shops near Juliet’s Garden so we worked up a good appetite walking, shopping and photographing along the way. We also stumbled across Harry’s Walls, the remains of an unfinished artillery fort, started in 1551 by Edward VI to defend the harbour of Hugh Town from possible French attack.
A yummy lunch at Juliet’s Garden is certainly worth the walk from Hugh Town. It’s a little bit of paradise tucked away on top of a hill and walking along the empty lanes you quickly feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to somewhere in Cornwall fifty years ago when there was little traffic and peace and quiet prevailed! And if you’re wondering where all the other walkers are, they did arrive later, we just got there really early for lunch as we had a busy afternoon ahead of us!
What we also loved about this trip is that you can only island hop by boat, so our transport to St. Martin’s Island was another highlight. Everyone on the boat,: crew, islanders and tourists alike, were really friendly and lots of the passengers had dogs with them so I was in my element! The Isles of Scilly is incredibly dog-friendly, pooches are welcomed everywhere.
We needed to work up another big appetite for another big meal on St. Martin’s so took to the country lanes with a spring in our step to explore this delightful, even quieter, island. And it didn’t disappoint.
I promised you fauna as well as flora so coming across these local Jacob Sheep, complete with baby black lambs, just made my day.
And bird spotters are in for a treat too………
The clouds were rolling in by the end of our walk so it was time for an early dinner as we had a very special evening ahead………
Dinner at the Cloudesley Shovell Restaurant, The Karma Hotel, St. Martins, was absolutely stunning complete with yet another gorgeous view. It’s the kind of hotel to stay when you have that book to write and need absolute peace and quiet without any distractions…..other than country walks, a visit to the Spa and a glass of Prosecco in the evening!
But we weren’t on St. Martins for any of that, we were there for a very special walk that could only be taken after the sun had set….……
As you’ve probably gathered by now, the Scilly Isles is all about walking. The roads, especially on Islands like St. Martins and Tresco (we’re going there later!) are traffic free, there are no buses or taxis, just a few golf buggies around if you get really caught out. It’s a walkers’ paradise. Every year the Isles hold a Walk Scilly Spring Festival. The 10-day festival features 40 walks and boat trips across nine islands; the five inhabited islands and four of the uninhabited ones . All are led by the very best of expert guides and local islanders to show you what the Scilly Isles has to offer.
Sadly, we were at the very tail end of Walk Scilly but we did make one of the very last ones: St. Martin’s Captivating Dark Skies. It was cold and cloudy by the time we met up with the lovely Anna and Val for our walk to the Community Observatory, otherwise known as COSMOS, but we were still beyond excited……..
I took the photo of the observatory above and the moon below with my iphone, capturing the moon through one of their telescopes. How cool is that? The stunning night sky photo below was taken by Bruce Frank and provided by COSMOS. Despite not getting a sky like Bruce did, we had the most amazing time with Anna and her team: pasties and hot soup were served (we were still too full from our Karma dinner) , we listened to great talks about the sky at night, enjoyed staring at the moon through the telescopes and walking along St. Martin’s lanes in the pitch black. We did get to spot the Plough, and all the usual suspects, in between the clouds but it was the information that COSMOS passed on that was really great, making this a must do if you are a star gazer.
We had walked eight miles by the end of our chock full day so, not surprisingly, slept like the dead that night, staggering back from our star gazing at 11.00 at night, by boat, of course.
The next day we went by boat to Tresco Island for another lovely, meandering walk along the quiet country lanes, past pretty cottages to our next stop - lunch! I hope you’re not getting the impression that all we did was eat and sleep!
And just look at this Tresco beach in front of our lunch stop.……
The beaches on Tresco are so white that you could mistake them for the Caribbean, no wonder this island is so popular. Lunch at the Ruin Beach Cafe was, again, excellent (we didn’t have one bad meal during our entire visit to the Islands, not even an average meal). The restaurant takes its name from the ruined smuggler’s cottage that forms part of its terrace. So some history thrown in with award-winning food and staggering views.
We must say a special thank you to Tom, the Assistant Manager, who ferried us off to Tresco Abbey Gardens in a golf buggy after lunch because we were just running out of time and exhausted! As I said before, there is little transport on the islands which is what makes them so special. You’ll notice big green Safari type vehicles all over Tresco but those are for the time-share owners. However, wherever you are, you can always hire a bike or hitch a lift. The locals are really friendly and welcoming.
Thanks to Tom, we got to the world-famous Tresco Abbey Gardens. in plenty of time. Sadly, the weather had taken a turn for the worse and was blowing a hooley! But it’s a beautiful, sheltered spot and worth a visit at any time of the year. The gardens are home to thousands of exotic plants from around the world. We didn’t visit at the best time of the year for flora as it was still only April, but oh my goodness the trees and plants were spectacular as was every hidden corner of these huge sub-tropical gardens……
I didn’t expect to get so excited about the fauna in one of the most famous gardens in the world but we came across the most beautiful golden pheasants about to have a ruck or a romantic liaison, I’m not sure which. (There’s more footage in the video highlights, but you can’t hear their beautiful mutterings because of the wind!). But the absolute highlight for me was seeing my first RED squirrel. We stood transfixed for at least 20 minutes and were rewarded with this capture……….
As you can see, our two days of flora, fauna and fantastic food were just the best and surpassed anything we were expecting. But, as they say, all good things come to an end. On Sunday, our last full day, the gales came, the rain lashed and all the inter island boat trips were stopped, so we never got to see the famous puffins. Crying emoji. Here’s one to whet your appetite. If you want to take one of the many Island Wildlife Tours, take a look here.
That’s the thing about a tiny group of Islands on the Atlantic. You can’t do anything about the weather and you just have to make the most of it and dress appropriately. In the words of Billy Connelly, it’s not the weather that’s bad, it’s the clothes you’re wearing! So we did make the most of it and decided to explore our beautiful, historic hotel and garrison, inside and out, on our wet and windy Sunday. And we enjoyed a long pub lunch, watched a movie, read in the Star Castle’s cosy lounge, played Scrabble and slept more! Well, what else are Sundays for? We quite enjoyed the dramatic weather, knowing that we couldn’t get off St. Mary’s even if we wanted to. Island life is so relaxing, you just have to go with the flow and that’s so good for the soul.
Inside the Star Castle hotel: our bedroom, the lounge downstairs, a reading corner and the indoor heated pool.
We also had a nose around the other rooms at Star Castle. There are only thirty eight rooms in the old part, and no, there are no ghosts. But the hotel also has garden rooms and suites overlooking the sea, within the four acres of grounds. Many of them have their own lounges and are perfect for families and the odd dog!
We did venture out to walk around Hugh Town but this photo says it all. Have you ever seen such a deserted street?! The only places open were the Co-op, the Church and a couple of pubs. Apparently, during high season, the little boutiques do open on a Sunday but, again, we loved the fact that when we were there we really did feel that island isolation. Time for more food……..
Finally, during our long weekend, we ate two meals at the Star Castle hotel. The first was in the gorgeous old dining room in the main house (where you can also have breakfast)………
And our second meal was in the Conservatory……
Both of our meals in-house were beyond superb. The menu is extensive and includes a host of local meat and fish as well as home-grown veg and it’s all cooked to utter perfection. Dalia’s Beef Wellington was melt in the mouth delicious so I would really recommend that you eat here, wherever you’re staying. (The photos don’t do this food justice as it was just too dark.)
I do hope you have enjoyed seeing what we got up to during our long weekend on The Isles of Scilly. The flora, fauna & food were just fantastic and the whole island vibe was really relaxing. And we did well over 10k steps a day! I am so glad I finally got there and have visited somewhere that has been on my bucket list forever.
Here’s more info on how to travel to the Isles:
Isles of Scilly Travel operates Skybus flights from Exeter, Newquay and Land’s End Airports. Flights from Newquay and Land’s End are all year round and from Exeter are between March and October. Prices start from £178 return from Land’s End.
The Scillonian ferry sails from Penzance to Scilly between March and October, seven days a week. Fares start from £110 return.
Find out more at www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk or call 01736 334220.
Our trip was courtesy of Isles of Scilly Travel in partnership with Star Castle Hotel. So I must say thank you to some of the many, lovely people we met at our hotel and at the restaurants we visited: Spider, Gary, Ange, Filipa and Tom the Boatman at Star Castle, the friendly folk at Dibble & Grub, Juliet and Lewis at Juliet’s Garden Restaurant, Robin and Scott at Karma’s Cloudesley Shovell Restaurant, Anna & Val at COSMOS and Walk Scilly, Tom and staff at the Ruin Beach Cafe, and the staff at Tresco Abbey Garden. Also, a big thank you to Mary O’Leary and her team for putting together such a great trip.
And in case you’re wondering, such was the weather on the Monday we were due to leave that the ferries to Cornwall still weren’t running! (Go with the flow was the mantra on everyone’s lips.) But the Skybus did take off and landed safely in Exeter, so thank you to the pilot!
For more highlights from our amazing adventure on the Isles of Scilly, here’s a short video for you. As usual, I would love to hear your comments and whether you have visited this magical place that must surely call you back again and again.
And do let me know if you have visited the Isles of Scilly, I always love to hear your thoughts,