The Scilly Isles are comprised of five inhabited islands, with St Mary’s the base for most tourists; it’s where you’ll arrive from mainland England and also where you’ll find the capital, Hugh Town.
Of course it’s made super easy to travel between, or around (if on a wildlife safari), the other islands–the St Mary’s Boatmen’s Association advertise each day’s trips on the main street and by their hut on the harbour. During our time in the Isles of Scilly one of the trips on offer was to visit two islands in one day: Bryher, then Tresco.
If nothing else, you’ll want to visit Bryher so you can witness the ferocity of notorious Hell Bay first hand. I took photos, videos and Boomerangs but it just doesn’t come across half as beautifully terrifying as it is in real life.
We underestimated the size of Bryher and with less than two hours on the island quickly ran out of time. There is much more to see than just Hell Bay. I mean, would you look at that water…
First: there are two arrival/departure points on Bryher so pay attention to the captain of your boat as you dock, because they’ll tell you if your collection point is the other quay.
Secondly: wear a waterproof to travel. Our boat was low, the sea was choppy, and I got drenched, to the amusement of the other daytrippers (all in good humour, they were laughing with me). Luckily it was a beautiful day so my denim dress and sea-soaked hair dried quickly–honestly, I was more worried about my cameras and phone.
We didn’t have a plan, so just wandered in the sunshine. As on the other Isles it’s bizarre to see familiar British icons like the red phone box on an almost-tropical island. Also dotted along the roads are huts where people sell things; you just pop some money in the honesty box, which is such a sweetly old-fashioned and trusting idea. On Bryher I picked up a bicycle-printed pouch that’s ideal for beauty essentials in my handbag.
I had two highlights on Bryher: the little cove above, from which you can see across to Tresco (I can’t find it named on any maps* but it’s near Fraggle Rock Café); and the prehistoric cairns and Shipman Head, running alongside Hell Bay. I’d love to have spent more time exploring this northern part of the island, but it was time to catch the boat across to Tresco…
*You can find a map of Bryher on the tourism website.
There is a lot to see on Tresco: you’ll definitely want to tick off Cromwell’s Castle and King Charles’ Castle, and probably the Abbey Garden too (though we knew we wouldn’t make it to the last on that little list).
We had about three hours on the island, which turned out–of course–to not be enough time at all.
First on the agenda was Cromwell’s Castle, a circular gun tower built in the 1600s to protect Tresco’s New Grimsby harbour; on the battery two cannons still face out onto the Atlantic Ocean, as if awaiting attack.
The castle is now Grade II listed and managed by English Heritage. It’s tiny but well-maintained and entry is free, so it’s definitely worth a 10-minute detour to poke around inside.
Then, we trekked up the hill to an even more historic artillery fortress: King Charles’ Castle.
Built in the mid-1550s, King Charles’ Castle is now an impressive-in-itself ruin. As a fort it wasn’t actually a very effective design and was partially blown up after Tresco was invaded by Sir Robert Blake in the 1600s; some of the stone was re-used for Cromwell’s Castle.
By this point we were famished, so headed across Tregarthen Hill back to civilisation.
The weather quickly began to turn, as is the way when you’re by the sea (never mind a tiny island that bears the brunt of the Atlantic Ocean–the nearest land in the opposite direction to England is Newfoundland, 3,400km away).
We just managed to catch the end of the lunch shift at the acclaimed New Inn and gratefully sheltered from the weather–which had become really nasty. After some excellent grub we headed to the harbour to catch a boat back to St Mary’s and the open arms of another pub.
- Posts about the Isles of Scilly (ACCOOOHTREMENTS.)
- My guide to visiting the Isles of Scilly (ACCOOOHTREMENTS.)
- Cromwell’s Castle (English Heritage)
- King Charles’ Castle (English Heritage)
- Tresco tourism website
- Bryher tourism website