Back in January when I was living in Jo and Jonathon's flat in Tooting I had watched a program on TV called "An Island Parish". It was about an Anglican priest who had decided to take a left hand turn in his career path and take on a parish on the remote island of St Mary's in a group of small islands off the south west coast of England called the Isles of Scilly. Although it sounds like a Nana program it was actually very interesting, especially when his wife decides she can't take the remoteness anymore and grabs the kids and hot foots it back to the mainland leaving him alone and rather depressed (it rains a lot and to get anywhere you have to do it by boat, a problem for a priest who suffers extreme seasickness).
As Davina pulled out her map at the Godolphin pub in front of Michael St Mount I happened to notice that there was a small insert box highlighted at the bottom and lo and behold, there were the Isles of Scilly. I'm a bit of a doofus when it comes to TV, nothing seems real. I could see my own house on there and still have the sense of feeling that it was in a make believe world far, far away. So seeing the Isles of Scilly on a map was very exciting and after a quick trip to the Tourist Information centre we found out we could get to the Isles of Scilly several different ways. With nothing much else to do in Penzance and with the fire of excitement in my belly we made the decision to head further south and a little bit west to St Mary's. Next decision was, how do we actually get there?
1) By ferry boat. It takes 3 hours to get there and with the slightest wind, tends to render any and all passengers green around the edges and permanently attached to the sick bag. This was the cheapest option.
2) By sea plane. This seemed the most popular form of transportation and travel time was limited to 45 minutes. It was a a small Cessna type aircraft with seating for approximately 40 people. It made 6 daily trips out to the islands and back and cost about £90.
3) By helicopter. Travel time was 25 minutes and you could fly to 4 different islands as it was not limited to the runway at the St Mary's airport. The helicopter charter company offered day trips where they would fly you out and back in one day with lunch on the island of your choice. It cost about £150. Or you could use them as a flight only and stay out on the island.
You can guess which one the budget travellers Davina and I were chose, can't you? Helicopters all the way!!!! They were large corporate helicopters, like one ones used to ferry celebrities and politicians around in. Inside was trimmed with cream leather with plush cream carpeting and an air hostess to explain the finer details of how to unfasten your seat belt when you are hanging upside down submerged in water after you crash.
Flying into Scilly, the first 15 minutes are just water views, with no land in sight at all. And then popping up over the horizon you can see a dot of green surrounded by even smaller dots. The Isles of Scilly are made up of six inhabited islands and numerous other small rocky islets (around 140 in total) lying 45 km off the coast of Land's End at the bottom of Cornwall. The four main inhabited islands are St Mary's, Tresco, St Martin's and St Agnes. Because of their global position the islands are more often than not battered by fierce rain storms, but very rarely see ice and snow. As a result they have a booming flower farming industry which supplies the mainland with flowers, especially daffodils, long before any of the flower farms up there have a chance of growing anything. Scilly has been inhabited since the Stone Age and people have been making a living off the land and the sea there ever since. Farming and fishing continue today, but the main industry now is tourism.
Davina and I caught an island taxi (someone has cleaned out an old Kombi like van and added a few extra rickety seats) into town for the hefty price of £3 each. We had booked the only remaining room on the island at a B&B (everyone's house is a B&B between May and October) and had had visions of being squished into a single bed together but were pleasantly surprised to find a room with two beds and an ensuite, even if the room tilted on a 30º angle!
As with Penzance, there is not much to do in Scilly. The shops that line the main street in Maintown (yep, that's the largest town's name) are geared towards tourists as you would expect. Davina found a fabulous dress which she later wore to Royal Ascot and I picked up a windbreaker vest to ward off the chill as it was on sale. I will probably find it too hot to wear anywhere else in the world, but it was perfect for the hike I did later on. I went up and about one of the walking tracks that took you around the main island. It was beautiful scenery and I felt something akin to the feeling I had at Nord Kapp last year, of standing on the edge of the earth and out there somewhere is a vast drop off into the unknown. I also ended up feeling sunburnt and managed to create a wonderful set of huge panda eyes where my skin had white sunglasses marks!
Around the top of one of the headland there is a nature reserve. You can open the gates and walk through it without too much hassle, but someone on the island decided to play a joke a while ago and put horses in there too. Now wild horses roam the nature reserves along with the tourist trekkers and they seem quiet and relaxed enough but I wasn't game to pat any of them. I later found out that the park ranger keeps them well fed and groomed although is reluctant to take them on officially.
For lunch Davina had her obligatory Cornish pasty as the Isles of Scilly come under the jurisdiction of the Duke of Cornwall (aka Charles, Prince of Wales) and when in Cornwall... After which we did what any self respecting traveller with time on their hands does - went to the pub for a quiet ale with the locals and a read of the well creased and dog-eared novel you carry at the bottom of your bag. Because in the end, it is at the pub that you hear the best gossip and keep up to date with the news of the town and it is also where Davina and I heard about the local quiz night being held at the pub near the wharf.
The pub near the wharf had recently (as in that day) finished it's major overhaul and refurbishment. I am not sure what it looked like before the overhaul but it was still odd looking after it. Everyone sat perched on these old and wobbly stools around tables that were equally strange looking. It added such a fabulous atmosphere to the place. A real eating adventure unlike anything I had ever done or am likely to do again.
I'm going to remember that place (even if I can't remember the name) for three very distinct reasons - 1) the fact that Davina and I scored the lowest quiz score out of everyone there and it was announced on the microphone, 2) Davina ordered a deep fried brie from the menu and when she cut into it there was no brie. Where did the brie go? and 3) there was a lady who brought her ferret to the pub for quiz night. When questioned by management about the inclusion of an animal in her party she replied "Your sign says 'No Dogs' and this is quite clearly not a dog!" Needless to say the ferret stayed. As did the dog who had been wandering in and around the tables all night without a mention or query at all.
The next day, after sleeping on an angle that night, Davina and I set sail on a tour of some of the other islands in the group. We got to see Puffins and some other different marine and bird life that flock to these islands as a safe haven. The best part however was getting close up to a seal as it ducked in and out of the combined wash of the boat and the waves that crashed up against the rocks. I have exactly 3 photographs of this water tour as it turn out my stomach and I do not agree on what is "good form" on the water. I had an excellent time and my devonshire tea lunch did not come back to haunt me later but it was touch and go there for quite some time (ok, until we got back to the wharf). But not to worry, the ice cream I had straight after sorted me out! :)
Not long after we got back to dry land we had to speed up to the airport in the island taxi again and lift off to get back to Penzance to meet my 6pm train to London Paddington (6.5hrs, ick!). Luckily I am much better in the air and on a train than I am on water!
I recommend the Isles of Scilly 100%. Going there was a spur of the moment decision based on a TV show I had seen 6 months earlier. It was wonderful walking around and seeing the places I recognised from the show and taking time out to slow down and absorb the culture of a society almost always forgot about by mainlanders. But apart from that, and the exclusiveness of the fact that not many people can say that they have walked the shores of Scilly, it felt good putting my money into an economy that so desperately needs it. More people move away from Scilly each year because of the hardship of trying to make a living there. Last year the tourist season was a write-off as the planes, boats and helicopters were grounded for the majority of summer due to weather and everyone on the islands suffered. I've been on Contiki trips and poured my money into the booming economies of Europe and Scandinavia, but this felt so much better and whilst I didn't see the big sights I did on those commercial trips, I felt so much more on those islands than I have in a very long time (and technically on their water too but I get the impression that might have been for a completely different reason!).