Family Fun in the Isles of Scilly

by jamesd

Overview of the delightful Isles of Scilly off the Cornish Coast in the UK. A look at each of the islands, accomodation and activities for all the family.

Nestling some 30 miles off the farthest tip of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly comprise of a network of granite islands and reefs standing in the clear cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Once infamous for smuggling and shipwrecks, these days the main industry is tourism, and deservedly so: perfect white sand beaches are lapped by aquamarine waves while the mild climate allows sub-tropical plants to flourish and there have been a number of upgrades to the quality of the accommodation on offer on the islands in recent years.

Getting to the islands themselves can be the tricky, and it has to be said, expensive part. The first of the three ways to reach the island is The Scillonian II ferry from Penzance (£80 return per person) which sails in the morning and returns in the afternoon and takes approximately two hours. If the weather is fine it can be a pleasant trip as the boat hugs the Cornish Coast round to Lands End with commentary on local points of interest, and for those that can stomach it, bacon rolls and the obligatory pasties. Once past Lands End it’s out into open sea, and if the weather is rougher, be warned, the trip can take longer and be unpleasant for those without experience sea legs.

The British International helicopter service is a similar price but takes only 20 minutes or so with regular flights from Penzance throughout the day. There is also the Skybus light plane, which runs services from Lands End at a similar price again, but also has flights from Bristol, Newquay and Exeter. Both ways give you an excellent view of the most westerly part of the United Kingdom and a great view of the islands as you come in to land.

The islands themselves number in the hundreds, with numerous shipwrecks paying testament to the danger of the outlying islands, often little more than bare granite outcrops, its here though that trippers can take boats to observe puffins, shags, cormorants, seals and possibly, if you’re lucky, dolphins.

The five main inhabited island are all quite different in character, and in the attractions they offer, but all the islands are well connected by daily trippers boats, so whichever you choose, you’re not confined to for your stay.

Most people opt to stay on the main island of St Marys, the largest and most developed of the islands, though at only about five miles in length and a couple wide at its widest point, it's all relative. Hugh Town straddles the narrowest point of the island, is home to the harbour and Porthcressa and Town beaches, there are three pubs and a handful of restaurants, cafes, clothing shops and the only supermarket. Hugh Town is the main hub of the islands and rush hour is around nine in the morning as holidaymakers make for the quay and the tripper boats to the off-islands. St Mary’s also has Old Town, which is a lot smaller and offers numerous activities, from sailing, windsurfing and horse riding, to guided walks, pub quizzes and the odd band gig. Although it’s the busiest island, and the only one with roads and cars, St Mary’s is still quiet and has lots of unspoilt scenery and secluded coves, whilst still offering options for eating out or a night’s entertainment. There are numerous B&Bs, and some good hotels including Tregarthens and the aptly named Star Castle, which is actually an Elizabethan castle dating from 1593. The Dungeon Bar is very atmospheric.

Of the other main islands, St Agnes and Bryher are perhaps the most rugged and undeveloped; both have campsites that offer seclusion, a single pub, and small store. If you really want to get away from it all, these are the islands to choose, Bryher also has a good hotel at Hell Bay with a pool and other facilities.

The island of St Martins is famed for its spectacular white sand beaches and has B&Bs as well as the highly rated St Martins Hotel, on a hot day there you could almost believe you were in the Caribbean. If luxury is your thing, then the St Martins Hotel could be for you, or alternatively a stay on the privately owned island of Tresco, where the estate has not only a high spec hotel, but top end self-catering (you get your own boat thrown in) with a convenient deli and social club.

Whichever island you choose, the Isles of Scilly are perfect for a family holiday. The lack of traffic and isolation makes it perfect for kids, while there is enough on offer to keep people of all ages occupied for at least a week. If you’re looking for hectic nightlife, this is definitely not the place, but if you’re looking for break where you can get away from it all beside the sea and where the focus is firmly on healthy outdoor fun, then the Isles of Scilly could be for you.