It had been a long time since my last journey to the Isles of Scilly (30 years maybe? But who’s counting…) so when presented the opportunity from the Isles of Scilly Travel to experience a day trip from St Ives to this beautiful group of islands, just 28 miles off of the south-western tip of Cornwall, I was all in! There were many things about the day that stirred up vivid memories from that school trip all those years ago. The strange feeling of taking a short journey but arriving somewhere tropical. The beautiful sight of the cottages surrounded by succulent plants that will only thrive like this in these salty, humid environments. The almost complete quiet. But this was a very different adventure than the one I took as a child, and these days the islands offer much more to the day tripper, while still managing to remain charming, idyllic and unspoiled.
Getting there from Una St Ives is straightforward and, though you can choose to sail or fly on both legs of the journey, I chose to fly there and sail back on the Scillonian, to get the full experience (and because I love a boat trip!). We drove the short trip to Penzance to leave the car there (this makes things much easier on the return leg as the ferry drops you in Penzance), and a shuttle bus took us on the short drive to the airport at Land’s End to check in for the Skybus flight. The short flight to St Mary’s, the largest of the five inhabited islands, takes a mere 20 minutes from tiny Land’s End airport and no sooner have you settled in your seat and gazed out of the window, then you find yourself stepping off the plane.
You can take an airport shuttle bus or taxi into Hugh Town, but we chose to take the 20-minute stroll because, well, why not?
It was a pleasantly warm morning with light cloud cover, perfect for walking along the quiet lanes of St Mary’s, and in no time we arrived at ‘Adventure Scilly’ to be greeted by the smiling Nick & Bryony Lishman. It took about 2 minutes to realise that these guys know their stuff, as well as being extremely welcoming, friendly and chatty (a common trait of the Scillonians, as well as the Cornish!).
Both Nick and Bryony are native islanders with extensive knowledge of the whole archipelago, as well as having vast experience of adventure tourism. To suit their growing business they have just acquired a brand-new boat, an impressive and powerful 30ft Highfield RIB which, I can verify, skims across the ocean incredibly quickly and smoothly and gets you to anywhere on the islands in a matter of minutes. Adventure Scilly currently offer guided sea swimming as well as yoga, guided trail running and low-tide, inter-island walks and are looking to expand their offerings in the coming months. For the purpose of today’s visit, and to show us the capabilities of their incredible patrol boat, Nick offered to take us for a spin around the island, taking time to stop and relax with a coffee, before dropping us to our next destination, the island of St Martin’s!
After popping on our state of the art, self-inflating buoyancy aids, and a brief safety talk from Nick, we cruised out of the harbour and anti-clockwise around St Mary’s. Nick took the time to point out places of interest as we cut through the small Atlantic chop, and some local wildlife including sunbathing seals and beautiful razorbills (Bryony had informed us that puffins had been spotted the previous day, but we didn’t spot any of the notoriously elusive creatures this morning).
We dropped anchor in the mill-pond stillness of a cove on ‘Little Arthur’, one of hundreds of idyllic, tiny islands, uninhabited by humans, but home to a variety of wonderful and protected seabirds, and enjoyed a coffee while we chatted with Nick about the area and life growing up on the isles. I could have sat there in the sunshine and stillness for hours, but adventure awaited!
The next stop was the island of St Martin’s (a bustling metropolis with a population of around 135 people!), and Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) with St Martin’s Watersports. We glided across to the island, and Nick dropped us at the granite steps of Highertown Quay where we were greeted enthusiastically by another smiling, friendly face, this time Anna of St Martin’s Watersports, and we followed her down to the fine, almost white sands of Higher Town Bay, another secluded, picture postcard beach with turquoise waters. It was shaping up to be a great day! After a chat with Anna and team member Dulcie, a safety briefing and change of buoyancy aid, we were given SUP boards and paddles, guidance on where to explore (and where best not to go) and we were off!
Much like the coastline of west Cornwall, the scenery here is indescribably idyllic, and as we hugged the shoreline and headed off clockwise around the coast, brushing past clumps of seagrass lazily swaying in the tide, the only sound was the gentle splash of our paddles and the occasional excited squeak of a seabird. We chose a leisurely cruise around the St Martin’s coastline, stopping to rest in the sunshine (and nab a few more photos!) on a low tide sandbar before heading back, but it is perfectly possible to paddle between islands and head over to the Eastern Isles including Great Arthur, Little Arthur, Great Ganilly and Nornour.
This is a truly special way to spend a few hours, and if you visit the Islands for the day this is an experience that we highly recommend. The equipment is all top quality and the boards are very stable, perfect for beginners to experts, and ideal for getting out on the water for a different perspective of the coastline.
All this excitement meant that we had worked up an appetite, and we had a very special lunch in store…
If I said a lobster lunch, served in the ramparts of a beautiful, historic, 16th century castle featuring seafood caught by the owner on his own fishing boat, well…I guess you would be tempted wouldn’t you? Star Castle Hotel sits atop The Garrison in Hugh Town, St Mary’s and was originally built as a protective military base to fend off attacks from Spanish naval invaders, and boasts the most breath-taking ocean views. It was a very special treat indeed to enjoy fresh, locally caught lobster served with a fine Chardonnay in such an evocative and scenic location.
Continuing our leisurely, slow-paced theme that we decided to adopt for today’s trip (yours can be as action packed or chilled out as you wish!), a stroll through the charming shops and cafes of Hugh Town followed, and we tucked in to a delicious Troy Town Farm ice cream (made on the nearby island of St Agnes). When in Rome as they say!
Being Cornish water babies, we couldn’t resist a dip in the crystal-clear waters so we spent a lovely hour on Porthcressa Beach with its fine, white sands and alluring, electric-blue ocean, a divine way to wrap up our day on the magical Isles of Scilly.
Our voyage home was on the famous Scillonian ferry, taking us on a leisurely, scenic cruise from St Mary’s to Penzance. The ferry runs from April to November, and has comfy seats and a café, and on our way back we were even treated to the sight of a small pod of dolphins leaping past! Once at Penzance you can pick up a bus, or collect your car and head back to Una St Ives where you can complete the day with a glass of wine at the bar, or even a soak in your private hot tub, as you discuss your day’s adventures!
If you are a fan of the iconic, turquoise waters of West Cornwall, the maritime history, the unspoiled beauty, scenic walks and friendly locals, then you will fall head over heels in love with Isles of Scilly. It’s impossible not to. If you’d like to book a day trip to the Isles of Scilly during your holiday at Una, contact our reception team on 01736 257000 or email@example.com to discuss your options. It’s amazing what you can experience in just a day out…