July 2011 and September 2012
I spent a week staying on Scilly and for the first visiting the first three islands I had been blessed with wonderful weather. Unfortunately, on the day I visited St Martin’s it began to cloud up at the end of the day, a sign the weather was changing. At night a storm broke out with apparently gale force winds. I was camping on the St Mary’s, but thankfully the campsite was not exposed so I wasn’t much disturbed by it. Once morning broke it was a bit breezy and grey but not raining. I had two more islands to visit, St Agnes and Bryher, so once I was ready headed down to the quay.
As I did so I could see the sea was pretty rough from the winds overnight and I was beginning to doubt there would be any trips at all. On reaching the quay I found it was still blank from last night, as they tend not to right the trips up until around 9am. I headed into town and when I came back, there was no trip to Bryher because of the conditions, but there was to St Agnes, so St Agnes it was. The downside was due to the conditions, the return trip was early, at 2:45pm, so I didn’t have very long to visit the island.
Some of the boats from St Mary’s have an enclosed area and some are open. We had got an open boat, which normally I preferred but with the rough seas today, I was not so sure. St Agnes is the most south-westerly of the islands. Whilst the water around most of the islands is shallow, there is a deeper channel over to St Agnes, which means the sea got quite rough. The boatmen on Scilly have a great sense of humour, and as we were being tossed around and getting very wet from the sea, he stopped the boat and asked “can you sit still please, you’re making the boat rock”. As we neared St Agnes it became calmer again, thankfully. The boatmen chirpirly informed us “don’t worry if you’ve got covered in seawater, the rain will soon wash it off”. As we arrived at the quay he asked “Did anyone fall out on the way?”. When we replied no, he responded “Good, you wouldn’t believe the paper work”. Well it certainly lifted the mood!
The weather was forecast to be grey with rain but so far the rain held off. I started to walk around the island and although it was grey and windy, it was dry. But as I was around half way around, and furthest from the town, the rain started. Drizzle at first, it soon got heavier and in the wind as well it was not pleasant. I decided to take an early lunch in the pub, The Turks Head, and walked back to the town. The nice thing about St Agnes is nothing is far away and it was still less than a mile to walk back. Once I got to the pub, it quickly became apparent everyone else had had the same idea. Every table was taken and the bar was packed too, so no chance of food unless I wanted to sit outside under an umbrella and try and keep the rain off. So I headed to Middle Town where there was a cafe, which was much less crowded. After lunch I braved the rain and continued around St Agnes.
Next to St Agnes is another island, Gugh, with a population of 3 according to the last census. It is linked to St Agnes at low tide by a sand bar. By now the tide was low, so I headed over to Gugh and started to walk around Gugh. As I was about ⅓ of the way round the rain stopped and as I got further around the sun came out. Sadly, by this time it was only 20 minutes or so before the return boat. So I took a few photos of Gugh and St Agnes in the sun and headed back.
However this wasn’t my only trip to St Agnes (hence the two dates), as when heading down to the south west again a year later, I decided about a week before I left to postpone one of my walks on the South West Coast Path and instead take a day trip back to Scilly (which was in fact the second time I’d done so). To visit St Agnes a day trip by ferry doesn’t allow time to make the trip over to St Agnes and back, so I decided to fly.
I had already been on the helicopter when I stayed over on the islands the previous year and with it being in it’s last few weeks of operation by this time, there was a question mark over if it would even run (as the service had been suspended for a week previously so the company could fulfil a military contract, so I was told) and it was also more expensive. So I opted to go on the plane, the Isles of Scilly Skybus from Lands End.
It was a bit of a luxury and an expensive day out, as it cost the best part of £100 but I knew it would be a great day out. So early in the morning I drove from my accommodation near the Helston to Lands End airport. I say airport, since it was essentially a field, with a control tower and a rather run down terminal (which has since been demolished and replaced with a shiny new terminal). The car park for day trips was right next to the terminal, a rather better experience than at most airports! You also don’t need to arrive 2 hours early here, I think I arrived about 45 minutes early, which was still far more than was needed.
On presenting my booking confirmation, I was a bit surprised to be asked to step on the scales, (not just put my bag). It turned out the planes are very small and they have to ensure the total weight of the plane does not exceed it’s limits. I also believe they do it to try to sit passengers of similar weight next to each other, to keep the plane balanced. I was given a plastic card with a number on as a boarding pass. I think this was the first flight of the day and soon the tiny little plane pulls up at the terminal.
We are soon directed into the departure gate to watch a safety video, which seemed a bit odd, but later I realized why. We were soon directed outside to board the plane. There didn’t seem to be any concept of “airside” at the airport here, or any security or customs. It was all rather like flying should be, really.
That is certainly the smallest plane I’d ever been on (and I think the smallest that is used commercially in the UK). The name Skybus was rather appropriate too. It seats just 8 passengers plus the pilot (there isn’t a co-pilot nor any other flight crew), 2 each on 4 bench seats, which are like those on an old bus. Indeed getting in is a bit like getting into a 3 door hatchback car. There is one door for the passengers on either side of the plane. One gives access to the front 2 rows and the other access to the back 2 rows. To get into the back of the two rows, you have to tip the front seats forward, like in a small car. Inside it was very small and felt more like being in a car. I was sat next to the emergency exit so shown what handle to pull, but hoped I wouldn’t be needing it. Once in we do up the seat belts, which are also like a car, being attached to the wall on either side.
Soon the pilot got in and turned round to introduce himself – there is no separation between passengers and crew on these planes.. I must admit to be being a bit concerned there wasn’t a co-pilot and hoping the pilot was not feeling ill! It was fun to watch him set all the controls and then start the two engines, one by one. They were pretty noisy. I was sat next to the landing gear which on these planes is a fixed wheel, so it doesn’t get retracted during flight. Soon we set off, bouncing across the grass, to what was called the runway, which is essentially grass with a few lines painted on. es.
Like the helicopter this is another thing you can’t experience any more though. During the last two wet winters, Lands End airport had to be closed for many weeks because the grass runway was water logged. With no ferry in the winter passengers had to be diverted to Newquay, which wasn’t popular. As a result, the runway was closed for a week or two in July this year to be tarmacked, so it’s no longer a grass runway.
Soon we were bouncing over the grass along the runway picking up speed and very quickly, we were airborne. These tiny planes can take off on a very short runway, which is why they are used. I even took a video:-
Very quickly, we were over the coast of Cornwall.
Looking back, I could see Sennen Cove. Here is a view inside, to give you an idea of the size.
I was hoping to get the front row immediatly behind the pilot, but sadly I got the third row both ways. Most of the rest of the short flight was sea, but soon I got a view of the islands, as we came into land. I could also see how short the runway was, but it was a smooth landing, and it was so good to be back. I headed into the terminal and waited for my bag, as you are not allowed hand luggage inside the cabin on these planes. We were met by a friendly mini bus driver who said he would take us to the “city centre”. I wasn’t sure if this was inclued but decided to walk anyway, since it was a nice walk and I knew the boats wouldn’t leave until 10:00am or so anyway.
It was a lovely morning, to walk past Old Town Bay in the bright morning sunshine.
Soon I was back in Hugh Town which was still quite busy. Thankfully there was a trip to St Agnes on the board. I got lunch and took a nice walk around the Garrison area, since I had plenty of time, then headed back to the quay. It was a busy day on Scilly as there was not one but two cruises in. The Scilly boatmen seemed to be acting as the tender for these as well as running the trip boats. The normally unflappable boatmen were in a bit of a flap. The area where the boats normally went was being used to shuttle back and forth from the cruise ships, so we were directed to the end of the quay where the Scillonian III is normally loaded (it hadn’t arrived yet). I joined what I thought was the right queue but couldn’t actually see the boat to be sure, but it turned out to be the right boat.
The boatmen were very apologetic although in truth we left on time, so there was little to apologise for really.
It was a short and thankfully much calmer journey over to St Agnes than last time I was here. This time I decided to head anti-clockwise around the island, so turned left on arriving. This took me to Kallimay Point and soon Port Hillier beach.
There were good views back to St Mary’s, too.
The beach is a mixture of pebbles and sand, with rocks at the shoreline. It was a nice beach, but not the best on Scilly.
The path headed around the back of the beach and at the north west there are another couple of rocks and islands just off the coast, one is called Burnt Island, for reasons I’m not sure about.
On the end of one is something that looks like the end-gable of a house but I was told by the boatmen coming over it is in fact a navigation aid.
Soon there is a little pool a bit like a dew pond, presumably where the ground is so low-lying. It lined up rather nicely with the lighthouse beyond.
This took me round to another sandy beach Port Coose, which was a better beach. I sat and enjoyed the view before continuing past another quay which I think is only used for private boats.
It was a beautifully calm day today, rather in contrast to my previous visit, with the sea looking more like a lake than the sea.
Past the quay there was another good sandy beach, this one called Periglis. To the west I could see the island of Annet, another of the uninhabited islands, although it looked like some people were heading over there in a private boat, although landing is not permitted.
I passed a lovely little cottage with it’s name written in shells glued on the wall. At the south end of the beach was Lower Town and the island church, which was of an unusual design and looked more modern than I expected.
I also passed the campsite, which I remember was taking something of a battering on my previous visit, as it’s right on the west coast with nothing for protection between the site and the sea. When the weather is good it must be wonderful, but when there is a strong westerly, there is no protection from the elements at all.
Soon I also passed the Isles of Scilly weather station, from which all weather forecasts on the island are taken. I had wondered how it was the DJ on Radio Scilly was able to provide a more accurate weather forecast than the Met Office. Here is the answer, it is this hi-tech affair.
Yes, it’s a rope tied to a board with some useful instructions on how to interpret the data.
Heading south from here, to a place called Troy Town, the coast becomes more rugged and rocky.
That is Annet, in the background. Looking out to sea, I can see the Bishop Rock Lighthouse, truly the most south westerly point of the United Kingdom and I can zoom in and get quite a good shot.
The south of the island is rocky with the grass coast path dotted with numerous rocks, stones and outcrops. It reminds me of the coast of Penwith area of West Cornwall, which I suppose is no surprise, since we are off the west coast of Cornwall here.
The coast path soon brings me to the maze, which is not as impressive as might be expected. I don’t think it would be too tricky to get to the centre here!
Just beyond this is a rocky beach with pebbles on and it seems to be a popular past time to pile the stones up, to form as tall a tower as you can. I had a go and it was surprsingly tricky, as I couldn’t leave until I’d made at least one pile higher and it is not easy to do without knocking the whole lot over and having to start again. A bit like Jenger, really. Here is the result, after I added a pebble.
There are many more piles on the beach though:-
I saw this in a couple of other places on the islands, it seems to be something of a local pasttime. Heading round the coast there is a rocky headland and then a wider rocky bay, Port Warna. There are cows grazing in the fields here, with rocks all around them. I also headed inland to see a famous rock on the island, Nags Head. I’m sure you can see how it got it’s name.
Back on the coast it becomes more hilly and rugged as the southern tip of the island is the wonderfully named Wingletang Down, an area of rocky ground, mixed with heather and gorse and numerous rocky outcrops, a bit like Dartmoor by the sea. There is another beach at Port Askin, but again it is mostly rocky.
At the southern most point, Horse Point I am furtherst from the town and get good views over to the Bishop Rock Lighthouse again. Rounding the corner is another beach this one a good sandy beach, Wingletang Bay, another lovely name.
Roundng the corner I come to what is called the Cove, which is on the south side of the sand bar that seperates St Agnes from Gugh. On this picture St Agnes on the left, Gugh on the right.
It is a sheltered spot and hence another popular place for mooring boats.
Heading round I am soon at the sand bar. Not only is this about the best beach on the island it is also the only link between St Agnes and Gugh. It is completley covered at high tide and said to be quite dangerous, as the currents are strong when the water is over it.
Thankfully the tide is out, so I can head over and explore Gugh again, too.
There are two houses on Gugh, both to a similar design with these rounded roofs, which are said to withstand the strong winds of winter storms better.
On the way though I can’t resist stopping for a paddle on the beautiful soft sands.
Soon I reach the sandy shores of Gugh, with a good beach backed with dunes and another sea built out of driftwood and fishing nets.
Here is the view back over to St Agnes from Gugh.
I head anti clockwise around Gugh too – why mess with a winning formula? Like St Agnes, the south of Gugh is rocky and a mix of moorland, grass and rocks. The centre of the island is quite high too, with some cairns marking the top. I bet if you time it right so the heather is in bloom this would be an even better view.
Soon I reached the south of the island, Hoe Point and headed up the east coast.
There are more rocky outcrops here with the one ahead being Dropnose Point. I can now get views back to St Mary’s from here, too. North of Dropnose Point is a rocky and sandy beach, which is deserted.
Out to sea is a rock, The Bow. Heading north there is an unusual standing stone, obviously man made, although i’ve no idea what it is for. Perhaps it is the Scilly version of Stonehenge? Actually it’s called the Old Man of Gugh which is said to date from the Bronze Age. Which means whoever put it in the ground did a good job.
I head up to the top of the island, Kittern Hill to get a good view back over St Agnes too
Soon I round the corner at Kittern Rock with a view back over to St Agnes and the rocky west coast of Gugh.
To the north of the sand bar is the beach of Porth Conger where the land becomes flat behind the dunes. Back to the beach, I have rounded both islands and this time in perfect weather.
Out in the bay there is a beautiful old sailing boat, moored up, which has a French flag flying, so has presumably made the crossing from France. A nice sight. Back over on St Agnes, I get a nice view of the boats in the bay at Port Conger
Then it’s time to head for the pub – The Turks Head. This is the most South Westerly pub in Britain and is a popular place, probably helped by the fact it is next to the quay. Unlike the other islands, there are evening boat trips over to St Agnes for supper at this pub, which I imagine must provide a welcome income although it’s odd that the other islands don’t do similar.
It has quite possibly the best view from any beer garden in England, too
After a welcome pint, I set about walking the inland road over the island, passing the lighthouse.
St Agnes looks a lovely place to live, if you could cope with the isolation for a few days if the weather was bad. I think I’d manage.
Sadly it is soon time to head back to St Mary’s and I have to make sure I don’t miss the boat and miss my flight, as I have to be back at the airport by 6, and the boat leaves at 4:45 from St Agnes.
The Scilllonian III is still in port when we arrive back.
Looking over St Mary’s harbour it is a beautiful afternoon.
The quay is still busy with the boats now returning from the various islands. As I head back away from the sea into the centre of Hugh Town the island bus is there, although I’m glad I’m not going to it’s destination, which is shown as “007 Worlds End”. Hugh Town is quite busy again, with all the boats coming back.
Not having taken the mini bus back down from the airport I don’t know the arrangements for when it goes back, so I walk back to the airport, although this time via the coast path rather than the roads. As I do so, I watch the Scillonian III heading out to sea and back to Penzance.
Soon I’m back at the lovely Old Town bay and head up to the airport. Back at the airport I check into my flight but thankfully here you are not kept in an airside area and are free to wander back outside, so I do that and sit and enjoy the last views over the coast of the island. I also watch the helicopter arriving, sadly now on it’s last few weeks of operation.
It’s quite a busy airport, as soon one of the larger Twin Otter planes arrive, which operate on the routes to Newquay and Exeter. Not long after arriving, the helicopter is off again, back to Penzance.
Soon it’s time for me to depart too, and I’m sad to leave, as it was so nice to come back to Scilly and revisit the places I loved so much on my last visit. I recognised one of the other passengers as coming over with me on the outward flight and like me he is a bit puzzled, since there are more than 8 of us in the departure lounge and we know the planes only seat 8. It soon becomes apparent our flight is in fact being run by two planes, that take off a couple of minutes apart.
I took a pretty terrible video of the takeoff too. I was trying to zoom in and focus out the front window but as you can see the camera couldn’t focus. Still it gives an idea of the size of the place and the tiny little planes.
We get a good views over St Mary’s on the way out.
We fly over Tresco, with Bryher just behind it.
Beyond them, it’s St Helen’s, Tean and Round Island.
Finally, we pass over St Martin’s.
Nearing Cornwall, we pass over Lands End
And then Sennen Cove. Landing back on the grass runway is quite an experience too – it is rather bumpy. Here is another video as we arrive and bounce along the grass.
It was a fantastic day and the experience of flying in the little Islander planes that run the route was a very memorable one. Expensive yes, but I’m very glad I did it. I must go back to Scilly soon.
On arriving at the airport I am back in my car within 5 minutes of landing – if only more airports could be like this! I drove round to Penzance for dinner. Whilst sitting on the promenade I look out and see a familiar ship – it’s the Scillonian III I watched departing from St Mary’s nearing Penzance. Soon it passes St Micheal’s Mount and heads into the harbour.
Here is details of the transport to St Agnes:-
From St Mary’s the St Mary’s Boatmen Association run regular trip boats over to St Agnes. These are normally daily and there is often an evening “supper boat” too.
From St Martins : St Martins Boat Services