The Isles of Scilly are made up of a large number of very small islands (approx. 200) grouped together off the coast of the southernmost tip of England, approximately 28 miles southwest of Land's End. Only the five main islands listed here are inhabited:
The islands are all part of the Duchy of Cornwall with the exception of certain areas of St Mary's. They have an overall population of just over 2,000, of which approximately 1,600 live in the largest island St Mary's which is about 2 ½ sq. miles (6 ½ sq km). The Isles of Scilly Environmental Trust is responsible for the management of the islands.
The climate here is understandably milder than on mainland England and facilitates the growth of sub-tropical and semi-tropical plants. Anyone interested in flowers would do well to visit the islands in early spring season when there is the flower harvest and annual flower show in March.
The museum in Church Street Hugh Town, capital of St Mary's, is perhaps the ideal place to become acquainted with the island and its topography, history and archaeological sites of which there are many dating from Bronze age on these islands.
Needless to say tourism plays an all-important role in the islands' economy with an increasing number of day-trippers taking advantage of frequent services from mainland England (see below how to get there). The islands are a refuge from the stress of modern life. Although there are a few cars on St Mary's the tourist does not need one as there are only about 9 miles of roads. Other sources of income for the islands is the cultivation of flowers for the UK market, fishing and small scale farming.
The strategic importance of the islands is borne out by the presence of two castles, the 16th century Star Castle on St Mary's, so named because of its eight-pointed star shape. This was built as a form of defence against Spanish invaders but has now been transformed into a hotel. The other, Cromwell's Castle on Tresco, was built a century and a half later. Also during the two World Wars the islands were heavily fortified with British troops.
Anyone taking one of the regular ferry services from St Mary's harbour to Tresco will have a chance to admire the wildlife, puffins and Atlantic grey seals. Tresco is also famous for its Abbey Botanical Gardens begun in the 1830s by Augustus Smith in what remains of an old 10th century Benedictine monastery. Also of interest on this island is the Valhalla Figurehead Museum, in the Abbey gardens. The museum houses a fine collection of artefacts and figureheads from ships wrecked off the Islands of Scilly.
The third biggest island, St Martin's, is endowed with fine sandy beaches and offers a number of facilities such as sailing and diving instruction, bird-watching walks, boat trips to admire the wildlife and also fishing trips. There are also regular trips to other islands in the archipelago.
The western island of Annet is a sanctuary for seabirds but visitors are not allowed to land during the breeding season.
WHERE TO STAY
Anyone wishing to book a hotel or guest house on these islands is strongly advised to do so well in advance to avoid disappointment as the islands are saturated with visitors during the summer months. Before leaving for the Isles of Scilly the visitor might want to spend some time on mainland Cornwall where accommodation is plentiful .
Tourist Information Centre:
Town Hall, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly TR21 OJL, Tel.: +44 (0)720 22536
HOW TO GET THERE
There is frequent transportation to the islands. A ferry service run by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Co Ltd, Penzance-St Mary's takes approximately 3 hours.
BIH run helicopter flights from Penzance, which take about 30 minutes tel.: +44 (0)736 63871.
Brymon Airways organise flights from Plymouth tel.: +44 (0)752 707023.
The Isles of Scilly Skybus Ltd have flights leaving from St Just the journey takes around 15 minutes, tel.: +44 (0)736 787017.
latest update: 19/4/04