Discover The Isles of Scilly

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Discover The Isles of Scilly
By Ethel DeMarr

Ethel and her husband, Terry, Discover the Isles of Scilly

Ethel and her husband, Terry, Discover the Isles of Scilly

It all started with puffins. I became acquainted with these comical little sea birds several years ago when we were living in Scotland. They are stumpy, little black and white birds, with bright orange feet and large multicolored beaks. Flying looks difficult with their short little wings and walking is not much better. In short, they are absolutely adorable. There are very few places where one can see puffins and most of these are remote and wild. So when I learned they were nesting off the coast of England until mid-July, I was determined to see them. So we were off to the Scilly Isles.

If you look at a map of England you will find a small archipelago off the coast of southwestern Cornwall. These small islands are owned by the Duchy of Cornwall ( as is much of mainland Cornwall). This means that the Duke of Cornwall, Charles, owns a ton of real estate. We heard that he receives approximately 8.15 million pounds per year just from these small islands. The Dukes of Cornwall have owned these islands since 1351, but that is another story!

The Isles are remote, wind swept, wild, and difficult to reach. We opted to take the three hour ferry ride from Penzance (yes, as in the “pirates of…”). No cars are allowed on the isles, so we had to leave our car in the special ferry car park while we were away. The island are so small that you can walk the length and breadth in a short time. Many of the isles are uninhibited. Others have only dirt roads or paths connecting a few farms or cottages. Electricity only recently reached many residents. Truly unspoiled islands.

The main island is St. Mary’s with it’s port of Hughtown. We arranged to stay in a guest house about a 30-minute walk from the ferry. Fortunately, the ferry company provides luggage delivery to the hotels and inns. That left us free to amble around Hughtown before going to our guest house. We found a lovely seafood cafe for lunch. Fresh crab was abundant and we were happy.

Fresh Seafood Lunch

Fresh Seafood Lunch

Our first priority was to figure out how to get out to the even more remote rocky outcroppings where the puffins were nesting. We knew that would not be difficult; every gift shop and art studio displayed puffin pictures, paintings, coffee mugs, tee shirts or puffin salt and pepper shakers! It was apparent that we were not alone in our quest!

The Boatman’s Association of St Mary’s provides boat service to the many islands of Scilly. Since the fishing industry failed due to supply and Euro allocations, the boatmen rely on tourism. Most of the boats are fishing boats that have been modified to carry passengers, albeit uncovered. And these boats offer puffin trips during the few months the birds are in residence. (crazy little birds leave land in mid-July, having raised their one chick, and head out for the open north Atlantic. They do not return to land again until the spring!)

Ethel on a Boat Tour to See the Puffins

Ethel on a Boat Tour to See the Puffins

We were able to secure passage on the Sapphire the next morning to visit the puffins. That left us free to find our guest house and walk around St. Mary’s. One of the first things one notices are the plants and flowers of the islands.

Flowers on St. Mary's

Flowers on St. Mary’s

Due to the Gulf Stream, there is an amazing diversity of all sorts of plants from lush tropical to cacti. And there are flowers everywhere. We could not stop taking pictures of the flowers.

Amazing Diversity of Plants - From Lush Tropical to Cacti.

Amazing Diversity of Plants – From Lush Tropical to Cacti.

Humans have been living on the Scillys for a very long time. There are stone age and iron age sites all over. The burial sites here were much like those that we saw in the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland. I am fascinated to think of people living in such a place so long ago. Standing near the burial site one cannot help but think of all the lives that have come and gone on that very site. Makes me feel very insignificant!

The trip to see the puffins was a great success. We saw many puffins in the water, in the air and on the rocks. I do not have the type of camera necessary to capture these little guys under these circumstances, so you will just have to believe me! We also saw many other beautiful sea birds and grey seals. I was very happy indeed.

Bryher Island

Bryher Island

We spent a couple of hours watching the puffins the went to the smallest inhabited island in the group, Bryher. We spent four hours walking completely around this lovely island, stopping for lunch at a small inn. The weather was very good, sunny, a bit windy and mid-60s.



We found a great spot for dinner on St. Mary’s that night, within walking distance of our inn. Tasty local lamb and seafood and Chilean wine! Chile must send a lot of wine to the UK!

The next two days were spent going around to the other islands, hiking, visiting gardens and sampling local foods and ales! Cornish ice cream is worth burning calories! So rich! The weather was mostly sunny, with wind and an occasional shower! Four seasons in one day!

Ethel and Terry Hiking at Land's End

Ethel and Terry Hiking at Land’s End

We took the ferry back to Penzance on Friday afternoon and stayed at a Bed and Breakfast there for three nights. We did a self guided walking tour of old Penzance and learned of pirates and smugglers. We hiked the coastal trail to the charming village of Mousehole and to Land’s End.

Land's End

Land’s End

The grand finale was a rain soaked outdoor performance of Hamlet by the Royal Shakespeare Company on the cliffs of St. Ives!

Hamlet by the Royal Shakespeare Company on the Cliffs of St. Ives

Hamlet by the Royal Shakespeare Company on the Cliffs of St. Ives

If You Go:

Isles of Scilly Tourism Website.

Land’s End.


Royal Shakespeare Company.

St. Ives.

Read More of Ethel and Terry’s Travel Articles:

Notes from Cornwall: National Trails and National Trust.

Notes from Cornwall: Food and Random Thoughts.

– Africa.

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One Response to Discover The Isles of Scilly

  1. Wonderful to catch up with you and Terry thru your blog. Sounds like you are doing well. So happy for you guys.

    Ed Fox 09/17/2012 at 6:07 pm

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