- Coastline Outstanding natural beauty
- Coast life Bimbling on bikes and boats
The island idyll you need may not be as far away as you think: this dainty little archipelago just off the Cornish coast is mellow in mood and mild of climate. Here, life is leisurely, sand is implausibly white and dinner is reared round the corner.
Of the five inhabited islands, St Mary’s is a sort of hub, in that it has a school, a hospital and a (nine-mile) road network; it also has air and sea links, so it’s likely to be your first port of call. Car-free Tresco sports rocky outcrops, castles and calm beaches; its sub-tropical climate helps 20,000 exotic species flourish within Abbey Gardens, the island’s key accessory. Two-mile St Martin’s is calm, with remote swooshes of sand and a vineyard. St Agnes is a mere mile across, peppered with quaint cottages and flowery fields. And Bryher is a rugged beaut; it’s got the Hell Bay Hotel, a golf course and lots of hilly hiking. Boat between if you fancy, or pick your spot and take a deep breath. Explore the islets, take long dips in the sea and feast on local produce. Scillonians take it slowly.
Do go/Don’t go
With a mild climate that rarely sees frost or snow, the Scillies are pleasant year-round. Winter can still be brutal on the beach – this is still Blighty, after all. But it’s also difficult on a practical level because flights are fewer, the ferry parks up (between October and March), and – unhelpfully – the once-popular helicopter service was cancelled in 2012. While summers can actually be a shade cooler than on the mainland, plenty of sunshine and clear skies more than make up for it.
You can fly to St Mary’s with Skybus (www.ios-travel.co.uk) from Land’s End Airport (£70 each way), Newquay Cornwall Airport (£85 each way) or Exeter International Airport (£120 each way). Newquay receives lots of regional flights with Flybe, so you could fly there from Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Exeter International is the hub for international connections. Check St Mary’s Boatmen’s Association (www.scillyboating.co.uk) for services from the main quay to neighbouring islands.
Trains For Land’s End Airport, the nearest train station is Penz ance. First GreatWestern can whizz you there from London Paddington in five and a half hours; a sleeper train makes the same journey. The Skybus shuttle will wait outside Penzance train station to take you straight to the airport if you call 0845 710 5555 to pre-book. Or, you can get to Exeter International in 2-3 hours from Paddington.
Automobiles Both Newquay and Exeter International have ample parking – Land’s End doesn’t. Scillonian III (below) is a passenger ferry, so you can’t take a car with you and besides, only St Mary’s has a road network.