JINI REDDY discovers sub-tropical tranquillity off the Cornish coast
IT'S ALL about the tides on the sun-soaked Isles of Scilly. At daybreak boatmen, guesthouse owners and visitors scan the waves to see whether offshore pleasures will get the green light.
It's the ultimate tourist roulette but rather than being an annoyance it lends an almost poetic charm to this ravishingly beautiful archipelago 28 miles but a world away from the Cornish mainland.
Click here for great Scilly offers
Perhaps it's because the locals are so welcoming and trusting that doors are left unlocked and you pay for eggs, fudge and even handsomely-priced paintings via honesty boxes.
The cheerful "Scilly sergeant" with little crime to fight, spends his days on the beat or reuniting lost property with its owners.
The landscapes are so arousing it's no chore to abandon plans and go with the flow or the tides. Which is how - choppy waters putting paid to the chance of snorkelling with seals - I find myself on a boat from Bryher, the smallest of the five inhabited islands, headed to uninhabited Samson to play castaway.
Kathy and David Stedeford own Bryher Boats. "See you in two hours," says boatman James, their son, as he drops me off.
Dazzled by sun, azure sea and solitude, I ring him 15 minutes later and beg for another hour. Walking along the grassy paths from one end of the island to the other, I keep a respectful eye on the Fagin-like gulls as I pass ruins of ancient burial chambers and hop across rocks, shouting giddily: "Mine, all mine."
Samson has been uninhabited since the 1850s when conditions were so poor governor Augustus Smith, a banker turned philanthropist, evacuated it. Rumour has it a woman refused to move so Smith went to force her out but she cast a spell fixing him to the spot. He let her stay.
"I wish I had her powers," I think when I'm back on Bryher that evening eating crab and passion fruit mousse, brioche with sweet onion and brandy dip.
My bolthole, the Hell Bay hotel, ought to be renamed Died And Gone To Heaven. It’s a stylish colony of pastel cottage-style rooms and public areas with French doors and picture
Those on a more modest budget can stay at the Samson Hill Cottage overlooking the Tresco Channel. Owner Issy Tibbs has sustainable furniture, grows her own fruit and offers breakfast,
packed lunches and dinners with
fish caught by partner Gareth.
One evening I watch a gig race with long wooden rowing boats dating back to the 1830s.
“Each gig had a pilot who’d be rowed out to an incoming ship. Whoever got to the ship fi rst won the job of navigating it through the treacherous Atlantic waters,” explains gig rowing club chairman
Alasdair Moore over dinner at the Flying Boat Club on the island of Tresco.
On the other side of Tresco, facing St Martin’s and the Eastern Isles, are the new chic Sea Garden Cottages offering B&B and self-catering. My more humble digs here are above the pub, the
New Inn run by Robin Lawson. The fish pie on my last night is comfort food at its best. That day I’d cycled round the island, eaten at the Ruin Beach Café and had a facial at the Tresco Leisure Spa.
I hop over to St Mary’s before my return flight. After soup and chocolate cake at Juliet’s Garden
Restaurant I stumble upon a tiny studio run by Susan Seddon who knits slipper socks (Scilly Socks).
For fantastic Scilly offers, click here
She takes time to make me a cup of tea before sending me on my way with a hug.
Is it any wonder I would beg, borrow or steal to return to these isles?
Isles of Scilly Holidays (01720 422200/www.islesofscillyholidays.co.uk) offers two nights at Hell Bay hotel, Bryher, and Sea Garden Cottages, Tresco (both half board) plus two nights at
the New Inn, Tresco, (B&B) from £1,153pp (two sharing). Price includes return helicopter flights from Penzance to Tresco, parking in Penzance and boat transfers between Bryher and Tresco.
First Great Western (0845 700 0125/www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk) offers return rail from London Paddington to Penzance from £164pp (two sharing a cabin).
Isles of Scilly Tourism: 01720 424031/www.simplyscilly.co.uk