Penzance, an English town located at the extreme end of south-west Cornwall, is one of the gateways to visiting the Isles of Scilly. Located at a distance of about 45 kms from Land’s End, the Isles of Scilly form an archipelago of five islands in the middle of the Celtic Sea. St. Mary’s island is the largest of all the islands; it has its own airport and harbour. Speed boats, ferries and private yachts depart from St. Mary’s island and takes passengers to the other four inhabited islands – Tresco, St.Martin’s, Bryher and St Agnes. Known for its white sand beaches, towering lighthouses, jagged yellow rocks and exotic sea food, the islands are a must visit for all travelling to Cornwall.
A trip to the Isles of Scilly begins with a sensational journey. One can fly to St. Mary’s airport from Newquay or Exeter or Land’s End. The cheapest and most economical way to reach the Isles is by the passenger ferry, Scillonian III (£20 pounds each way). It departs from Penzance harbour and reaches St. Mary’s island in a little over two hours. The isles are very popular during the summers and I had booked my tickets well in advance to avoid the queue.
It was Friday and a brilliant bright September sun shone in the sky; it was a perfect day to visit the island. As the ship sailed in the surging blue waters, the Penzance harbour receded farther away into the distance. It went past St Michael’s Mount which houses a 17th century castle belonging to the St Aubyn family. Inspired by St Michael’s Mount in Normandy, France, the castle at Cornwall is a tidal island. A granite stone pathway, visible at low tide, connects the island to the neighbouring town of Marazion.
It was almost noon by the time the Scillonian III reached St. Mary’s quay. The sea was deep blue in colour and I could spot sea weed, trout and even an otter in the quiet waters. The road to the town centre was laid with ice-cream, fudge and pastry shops. The souvenir selling shops were buzzing with tourists and the charming little tea rooms had just started to serve their afternoon high tea.
There are lovely walks around St. Mary’s island. I went past the Old Town church, the postoffice, a bell tower and reached a high ground from where I could see miles and miles of the Cornish coastline. Pristine and unspoilt, the smaller islands are a haven for seagulls, shags and seals. A rare species of a rose shaped cacti grew in the wild and along the walking trails.
A guy named Richie was waiting for me at the quay. I hopped onto his speeding boat and sailed towards the eastern isles. It is advisable to spare at-least three hours for the round trip to and from the isles. Even the sheltered speed boats are unable to keep out the scorching heat of the unobstructed sun; I missed my sunscreen.
Richie knew the seas by heart ! He was a resident of St Mary’s and was well acquainted with the history of the isles. The Greeks and the Brythonic legends mention the Scilly islands in their local folklore. Ruined vaults of monasteries were found on many islands and traces of archaeological remains were dated back to the Stone Age.
When it is low tide, seals are spotted swimming in the seas or resting on the rocky coves. Their curious little eyes met ours. Being used to visitors, they greeted us with a few noises and cleared the way for the boat to pass through. Deep into the sea and away from civilisation, I was one with nature.
A trip to the Scilly Isles is incomplete without the sight of unique rock formations rising out of the ocean. The yellow rocks were stacked on top of one another and took the shape of a rugged mountain. When the water becomes shallow, one can simply walk from one island to another.
When Richie dropped me back at the harbour, it was almost time for Scillonian III to leave St. Mary’s island. On the way back to Penzance, I dined over a fresh crab salad and a glass of Malbec. It was a grand finish to an already spectacular day.
The next morning, I took the train to St. Ives. It was beginning to get bright and the Porthminster beach was empty. An arresting shade of blue and yellow spread across the skies. Sparkling waves rippled onto the golden beach; the sand was shimmering in diffused sunlight. St Ives was still asleep and the noise of the screeching gulls resonated in the surroundings.
St. Ives is one of the most visited places in Cornwall. It hosts a large number of galleries and exhibitions all throughout the year. St Ives harbour beach leads onto St. Nicholas’ chapel which is the highest point in town. The South West coastal path passes through St. Ives before moving further south towards Land’s End. Daphne Du Maurier, the English author and creator of gothic masterpieces like Rebecca, had stayed here in the 1940’s. A whitewashed house honours the novelist and her literary works.
The Porthmeor beach is another attractive tourist destination, famous for its Michelin star seafood restaurants and surfing. Resting on the rocks by the sea, I watched the movement of seafoam on the light brown sand. A fishing boat landed nearby and the fishermen were bringing in their latest catch.
This was my second visit to Cornwall. It was just as fascinating as my trip to Tintagel and the Bodmin moors. One day, I hope to walk the South West coastal pathway – discover the many more wonders that have drawn millions to Cornwall.
Some useful tips:
- If you are sea-sick, it is more advisable to fly to St. Mary’s airport from Exeter/Newquay/Land’s End. During high tide, the sea can get rough.
- During peak summers, the weather at the Isles of Scilly can be very hot and dry. Please make sure you carry sunscreen, a hat and drinking water while you’re out sightseeing/sailing/hiking.
- If you’re planning on visiting the Isles of Scilly for a day, don’t cram in too much. You get less than five hours to explore the island.
- The Isles of Scilly have become very popular over the years. Don’t leave your bookings for the last minute.
- You can avail yourself of the local tours by emailing the owners well in advance. They are helpful and responsive.
- Take a look at the official website of Isles of Scilly tourism before making a visit.