Like many, I have been unable to embark upon planned long haul holidays but needing a change of scenery, I jumped at the opportunity when a supplier had a late cancellation for a week on the Isles of Scilly. It was not somewhere familiar to me but those people I know that had been all loved it and I am delighted to report that I did too.
To make it feel authentic, where part of the fun is in reaching your destination, we drove to Penzance and stayed overnight before taking the ferry ride over to St Mary's, the largest and most populous island of the Isles of Scilly. The pleasant journey is just under three hours though you can fly or take a helicopter, if you prefer.
I began to get rather excited as the Isles of Scilly started to come into view and I could see beaches and lighthouses along the coastline.
The Isles of Scilly is an archipelago around 30 miles off the south-western tip of England, consisting of 50 islands in total, only five of which are inhabited. The total population of St Mary's, Tresco, St Martin's, Bryher and St Agnes is just over 2,000 and visiting gives a feeling of stepping back in time.
The islands are renowned as a bird watchers paradise, and I was told over 400 species can be found here including puffins, gannets and oystercatchers. We managed to spot a few on a wildlife cruise as well as Atlantic grey seals.
Our home for the week was the perfectly located St Mary's Hall Hotel, a two-minute walk to both Porthcressa and Town Beaches. If you like to sit and look at the sea, the boats and the wildlife then it doesn’t get much better. Within five minutes of the hotel, you can also walk into Hugh Town and the quay.
The hotel has just 26 high-quality rooms plus a cosy lounge, bar and restaurant, and a tropical garden area with seating. We took a 'half board' approach, dining at the hotel for three nights, eating at different restaurants for another three and having the obligatory fish and chips by the sea one evening. Seafood is of course on all the menus and what I sampled was delicious.
We had some lovely walks around St Mary's, including a two-mile one that covers the Garrison Walls.
The Star Castle Hotel, once an Elizabethan Castle, now a luxury hotel with an award-winning restaurant is perched here. We also hired a golf buggy (you cannot take your car over) for the day and it was fun to explore the whole island and find those off-the-beaten-track beaches.
Keen to see as much as we could, we made sure to visit some of the other islands. Each morning at 8:30 am, the daily schedule is published listing the various wildlife trips available as well as the times for the boats that travel between the islands.
We took a wildlife trip, that dropped us on St Martin's. The island is only two miles long, with around 130 inhabitants but it is so worth a visit.
There is a vineyard, a flower farm and some unique shops, plus the highlight, the gorgeous white sandy beaches.
If you caught Julia Bradbury on the television when she visited, we went to the same bakery and bought freshly filled rolls and the largest Cornish pasty I have ever seen!
Tresco is the only privately owned island and is home to the famous Abbey Gardens. I do love a palm tree (check my latest t-shirt acquisition) and was in my element with over 20,000 plants from 80 countries found here.
Like St Martin's, Tresco also has some beautiful, quiet beaches to visit.
We decided to leave Bryher, the smallest island, for our next visit but we did grab an afternoon on the tiny St Agnes, only a mile long and remarkably unspoilt, where some small galleries can be visited along with Troytown Farm, famous for its ice cream.
Each beach that I mentioned was quiet, stunning and the colour of the water was Caribbeanesque.
As you may have seen in the media, Wally the Walrus has been frequenting the islands and we were fortunate and excited to see him, despite the fact it seems he has been making a nuisance of himself wrecking boats in the harbour.
My fabulous associates at Prestige Holidays have access to several hotels on the Scilly Isles and offer twin centres as well as single stays.
They also work with local island experts, including resident ornithologist and naturalist, Will Wagstaff, who has been leading guided wildlife walks in the Scillies since 1985. Will offers day tours and Prestige have also secured him for some week-long guided tours, covering a variety of islands.
if you are thinking of visiting, booking in advance is essential or having the right contacts to take advantage of a cancellation certainly helps! I have clients already booked for next spring.
In conclusion, I of course love my long-haul holidays but one positive from the pandemic has been to look at travelling closer to home and I’m so pleased I did.