Walking on the Isles of Scilly
Walking on the Islands - St Mary’s, Tresco, St Agnes and Gugh
After the short hop in the Skybus and a few minutes to unload my bags it was time to have a wander around Hughtown and the surrounding area. First impressions were of a very quiet town, no traffic noise, no sirens or car alarms and no loud music. The streets of Hughtown are immaculately clean and there is no graffiti anywhere. Everyone say hello and the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, it seems that everyone you meet has got enough time to chat about everything and anything. It is like stepping back in time and I started to realise that this is a different type of destination.
Hughtown is the largest town on St Mary’s and once you have done a quick tour it gives you an idea that every other town must be very small indeed. St Mary’s has everything you might need from food, drink, pubs and hotels to tourist information office and a post office. The sports shop also sells fishing tackle and if you need any clothes the outfitters can rig you out for sailing or walking.
The obvious walk from Hughtown is around the walls of the garrison. The distance is only a couple of miles but the circuit gives great sea views and will help settle you in to the peace and quiet. The original castle was started in the 1590’s with the construction of the Star castle, now an exclusive hotel. The island was a stronghold for the Royalists during the English civil war and has been developed and extended over the years to counter both Napoleon and the germans during the world wars. It is worth noting that the garrison rarely fired a shot in anger and the soldiers and gunners became expert gardeners. The garrison also has a campsite, the only one on St Mary’s.
Starting from the gatehouse in Hughtown the walk simply follows the established path and guides you around the impressive garrison walls. As you enter the garrison walls it is worth stepping into the old powder magazine which now hosts an exhibition about the history of the place.
The gunnery stations situated at strategic points around the outer walls give good views across to the other islands and if they had ever been challenged they would have proved formidable.
One strange structure is where the generators were placed to power the huge searchlights that had been installed to illuminate the sea. The lights were there to pick out enemy raiders and submarines.
You could easily get around the route in minutes but this is where you need to begin the process of getting into the pace required to really enjoy the islands, there is no need to rush, take your time!
St Agnes and Gugh
My first trip from St Mary’s and it gave me a taste for island hopping. St Agnes is a real gem and although it is a small island it offers the visitor a chance to explore and relax. This is where it began to sink in that you really need to start going around a quarter speed. St Agnes has a pub, the Turks Head and a small shop and a cafe in the old Coastguards houses. The island also has a small farm making stunning fresh ice cream, I ate one and then went back for seconds!
The day was bright and it was warm enough to be pleasant. The boat out from St Mary’s was busy with walkers but as soon as the boat had landed the island swallowed them up and just a few of of were left to walk across the sand bar to Gugh.
The two islands are joined at low tide by a sand bar that allows visitors to walk across and explore the smaller island of Gugh. The island looks like a miniature piece of Scotland transported south. The low gorse and coastal flowers are a strange mix when viewed against the meadows of St Agnes a few hundred yards away. Paths crisscross the island and lead from the high points where strange rocks have been eroded to tiny coves and granite headlands. The island has no shops or pubs and few houses. The two houses with odd shaped curved roofs were built by a borough surveyor from London and he designed the houses to withstand the Atlantic gales that strike the Scillies from time to time.
One feature that you must visit on Gugh is a standing stone known as the ‘Old Man of Gugh’. The stone dates from the Bronze Age and has grooves cut into which are found on other standing stones across the islands.
Crossing back to St Agnes you can stroll around the paths and see how the small community functions. The island has a couple of small farms and a herd of cattle a few houses and a disused lifeboat station. It also has some of the most beautiful granite sculptures you will see. There are granite fingers pointing skywards to the right of the jetty where you land and the sea has also had a hand in shaping some of the granite outcrops. The beaches are a little rocky. St Agnes has one of the four campsites that occur on the Scillies, located at Troy Town it has a great aspect looking across to the other islands. There are self catering cottages here too so if you want a get away from it all holiday St Agnes could be the ideal place.
A world famous destination if only for the wonderful Tresco Abbey gardens. Tresco is another island that is different from its neighbors. The boat from St Mary’s dropped me at Carn Near quay on the southern tip of the island. There followed a 15 minute stroll to reach the entrance to the Abbey gardens.
You cannot come here without visiting the gardens. They give a clear indication of how different the islands are from the mainland. The range and variety of plants that will grow here resembles a sub tropical location closer to Africa than Cornwall.
Tresco will easily take a day to explore fully and there is accommodation on the island if you want to extend your stay. A circular walk around the island is about 6 miles and will take in sand dunes, forest, moorland and granite shorelines. I spent half my day enjoying the gardens and the rest of the day walking up the west side of Tresco to reach the coastal tower known as ‘Cromwell’s Castle’. Climbing to the top of the castle gives fine views and the position of the guns indicates it’s purpose. Further inland is another castle known as King Charles’ Castle, what is left are the remains after Cromwell’s men dismantled the walls to deter royalist supporters from re-occupying the place.
A walk back to New Grimsby for the boat gave visitors the chance to hop across to another island, Bryher. The boat returns later in the day so you can spend a few hours on Tresco and using the same ticket visit Bryher and then return to St Mary’s. A lot of islands for very little effort.
Tresco has a lot of accommodation by Scillies standards and it also has a Post Office, shop, laundry and a couple of hotels. Tresco can be reached by helicopter from Penzance and a regular service delivers visitors to the landing area just outside the entrance to the Abbey Gardens.