The Isles of Scilly – en route to Tresco

Tresco #1

Thursday 8th to Tuesday 13th September 2022

Last year, Matilda noticed that there would be a Low Tide Event scheduled for the Sunday before our usual Tresco week, which was starting on 13th September 2022, so we planned to travel down early, visit the famous Jubilee Pool in Penzance, and spend a few days each on St Mary’s and Bryher, to enjoy the various pop up stalls on the sandbank. 

This year we opted to travel by train, leaving home just after 09:00 so that Matilda could make full use of her Freedom Pass.

Black clouds were looming as we arrived in Penzance and made our way across the road from our accommodation in The Stanley to the Jubilee Pool which promotes itself as “the UK’s largest, most celebrated Art Deco sea water lido and geothermal heated pool“. Only a few hardy souls were swimming in the unheated pool.

Although the sea water is geothermally heated and replenished daily it still seemed a little chilly and Matilda took up position in front of one of the inlets where there was a warm current flowing into the pool. After a short while, the black clouds fulfilled their promise and huge raindrops pounded down, splashing up from the surface of the pool with sufficient force to sting our faces and obscure Matilda’s vision through her glasses. Robert rushed to move our towels from the side of the pool into the shelter of one of the poolside cabins.

It is a beautiful historic building and we were amused to read on the website that they will be opening the pools up for a dog-friendly session called “Dog Day” on 30th October as this is the last day of the season. Owners are warned that the life guards are not contracted to undertake canine rescues.

Although the sessions last for just under an hour we decided to cut short our visit and return to the hotel to dry off.

We have perhaps been spoiled by visiting the Blue Lagoon and more recently the Sky Lagoon in Iceland, but even at the Sky Lagoon we were not keen on Step Four: Cold Mist which was intended to “refresh the senses” but which was essentially simply standing around in a cold, fine drizzle. The rain in Penzance was equally cold and far heavier.

Dry once again and dressed for the weather conditions we set off to find somewhere to eat and came across The Lugger. A group of locals had established themselves in the tent outside this pub and were playing an unlikely medley of music ranging from Chas & Dave to ABBA cover versions. 

The food looked inviting but Matilda demanded we go inside for a change of music to accompany our meal. Robert started his own personal holiday trend by ordering two starters instead of a main as he found it difficult to decide. He subsequently pronounced the chowder to be exceptional and the moules in cider to be best he had ever had. 

We also raised a glass to the Queen, having heard about her death on the train journey down. 

Robert asked the bar staff for phone numbers for local taxi companies and tried to book one to take us from our hotel to the heliport but found that they were all fully booked doing runs for school children or to the Scillonian. When we explained the situation at breakfast, the staff at The Stanley were very helpful and the proprietress (we assumed) willingly turned her hand from cooking the “full Cornish” to taking us to the heliport. She refused any kind of payment and we can only commend her for her help and support. It would have seemed like a long trudge with luggage. Our thanks to all the staff at The Stanley

The helicopter was swift, efficient and enjoyable as always. 

On Saint Mary’s we checked in to The Tregarthen which has a tiered patio with fine views.

Here the receptionist gave us some helpful advice about the boat times that day and where to eat in the evening. We were able to book in for the first night at The Mermaid and the second at The Atlantic before catching the boat to St. Agnes.

On St Agnes, we found the sparrows at The Turk’s Head were incredibly tame and . . .

. . . Matilda was pleased to discover that they were serving Blue Moon on draught.

Coming back on the boat from St Agnes, we had a good view of Star Castle which we planned to visit the next day.

Later, in The Mermaid we joined locals listening to King Charles’ III first historic televised speech. 

And raised another glass to our Queen and the new King.

The following day we set off to walk round the Garrison, which is described as once being part of one of the most remarkable coastal defence systems in England. 

The Elizabethan curtain wall was gradually extended until it surrounded almost the whole of the headland, with bastions carefully angled to facilitate crossfire across every possible line of approach from sea or land.

Initially during the English Civil War, the Royalists held the Isles of Scilly, and in March 1646 the future Charles II stayed on the island for a few weeks before escaping to the greater safety of Jersey. 

In WWII the Isles of Scilly were a key defence in the Battle of the Atlantic and large numbers of servicemen were stationed here. The Garrison became an important signal station, and there are still remnants of the pillboxes which were constructed within the 18th-century batteries.

The views are of course beautiful, even from the rusting remains of the WWII fortifications.

Star Castle was at the centre of these coastal defences and although it is now a prestigious hotel with an underground bar in the dungeons, we felt we were happier to have views above ground at The Tregarthen.

The Amaryllis Belladonna at the church in Old Town were at their best. They are also known as ‘Naked Ladies’ as they produce foliage and flowers at different times of the year and so solitary beautiful pink blooms rise on dark stems in autumn after the spring foliage has died back. Matilda planned to buy some bulbs to take home if she could find any.

Matilda tracked our walk on Strava.

A tide which is low enough to be a walking tide, is matched by a correspondingly high tide and having strolled round the Garrison and Old Town, we sat for a refreshing drink with the water almost lapping over the pub patio at the appropriately named Atlantic.

After two nights on St Mary’s, in order to reach our next destination before the tide fell too low for the route to be navigable, we had to book our own private boat to transport us across to Bryher [see Selfie of the Day below].

Even for Scilly, the Hell Bay Hotel is remarkably quiet and we had booked for two nights so that we could walk from Bryher to Tresco, via the Low Tide Event stalls on the sandbank.

The view from our personal patio [left] and the bar [right]

Unfortunately the pop up event itself scheduled for Sunday was cancelled but we were still going to be able to walk across from Bryher to Tresco. 

On our way to the water’s edge to walk between the islands, we met a very kind and helpful woman near Veronica Farm. For obvious reasons Matilda had not wanted to google ‘naked ladies’ for fear of what might appear on her screen but as the farm has a plant stall, she asked whether there were any belladonna lilies for sale. Matilda was not hopeful as this is obviously the peak flowering season. The lady said she usually kept them but kindly suggested a couple of places we might be able to find them on St Mary’s.

We carried on to complete our watery walk.

Matilda tracked this on Strava as she loves to feel she has walked on water. As always, Robert was quite impatient to get started and had ordered his first pint in the New Inn before the tide was even at its lowest.

Later, back on Bryher, he was particularly pleased to beat Matilda at Scrabble, but she maintains that it is all in the luck of the tiles drawn.

The following day we had planned to walk around the island. The Hell Bay Hotel is in a beautiful lakeside position. We once again met the helpful lady from Veronica Farm who recognised us, apologised unnecessarily and offered to dig up a bulb for us and bring it to our hotel where she was attending a yoga class later in the day. Matilda was delighted.

The views as you walk round the island are impressive, whatever the weather.

Once again, Matilda tracked our progress on Strava as we circumnavigated the island.

We then went across the middle for a restorative snifter at Fraggle Rock only to discover that this favoured haunt of Robert’s had closed ten minutes before we arrived. We took a different route back.

When we asked at reception, we were handed a large brown bag with two fine bulbs in bloom. We had left some cash in an envelope for her but it didn’t seem adequate given the bulbs were much more mature and impressive than Matilda had been expecting.

We subsequently enjoyed the photogenic sunset over the island.

Video of the day:

Selfie of the day:

Personal inter-island transport

Dish of the day:

Two starters as a main at The Mermaid, St Mary’s

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