Approaching St. Mary’s, our first impressions were of a wild, rugged Atlantic island. Although very beautiful in the sunshine, it is not hard to imagine how inhospitable these islands must be for sailors in bad weather:
There are tales of some islanders in the distant past, driven by extreme poverty, shining false lights to lure ships onto the rocks in order to claim salvage over their booty. They “rescued” the booty (usually along with the ships’ crew members, at least) in beautiful wooden gigs.
Thankfully, modern day lifeboat men on Scilly are much more above board and very helpful. The day after we arrived in St. Mary’s was a lifeboat open day.
We got to look round Scilly’s state-of-the-art Severn lifeboat and spoke to a very helpful member of the crew who gave us lots of useful hints on places to visit while we were in Scilly. It is thanks to his advice that we got to swim with seals in the wild, to climb up to the remote Round Island lighthouse and to visit freshwater caves from the seaward side by dinghy, as well as finding some very beautiful sheltered anchorages in Scilly.
In fact overall we have found the islanders to be immensely friendly – friendlier than on the mainland. (With the one exception of the grumpy fisherman who complained vociferously at my lack of skill in throwing our bow line up at him as we tied up against the harbour wall for refuelling. But he did at least grab the line and make it off for us, before ordering Rob to show his “crew” how to throw a line properly! I was highly indignant…) In this world, doors are left unlocked, children can happily potter on their own and they trust you to “call in with the money later”. How refreshing!
On St. Mary’s we hired bicycles and enjoyed a wonderful tour of the island. There were very few cars on the lanes (this being the only island with any cars at all) and the cycling was gorgeous. We explored cliff tops and beaches and stopped for a leisurely lunch in a Bavarian café, of all places, with delicious homecooked food. The sky was deep blue, the sun was shining and everywhere there were gardens, walls and rockeries full of mesembryanthemum in full bloom (flowers that are daisy-like in shape, but the size and colours of carnations). There were also lots of agapanthus coming into flower – a real favourite of mine, and which will now forever remind us of Scilly, as well as of the Azores.
We finished cycling just in time to wander into a pub to catch the last couple of points in the tennis, as Murray won Wimbledon.
The tennis over, we sailed the short passage to the beautiful, compact island of St. Agnes and its smaller neighbour, The Gugh, where we passed a happy, peaceful couple of days.