There are five inhabited islands on Scilly – St Mary’s, St Agnes, Bryher, Tresco and St Martin’s. Each has its own particular character and choosing the island that suits you best is all part of the fun of visiting. The largest island is St Mary's and this is probably the safest choice. It’s the central hub of Scilly with a wide choice of accommodation, shops and restaurants. St Mary’s is a stepping stone between the mainland and the more undiluted 'off-island experience'. The smaller off-islands are easily accessible and you will be able to explore them all in the course of a week. Good for the first-time visitor to Scilly.
The four smaller off-islands of St Agnes, Bryher, Tresco and St Martin’s are reached by ferry from Hugh Town Quay so your journey from the mainland will take a little longer (unless you take the helicopter direct to Tresco), however your reward will be a more distinctive experience. St Agnes is the smallest of the inhabited islands. Its character is shaped by its location right on edge of the group as it directly faces the Atlantic. Sitting on Pelistry beach in the evening and looking over to the Bishop Rock Lighthouse is a Scilly highlight everyone should experience once in their lives. Good for people who like the edge of the known world/full off-island experience.
Bryher is the next smallest island and like St Agnes it has a rugged flavour from its location facing the westerly Atlantic weather. The coast around Great Par and Rushy Bay is the most beautiful mix of sandy bays, bracken covered hills and granite carns. Where it differs from St Agnes is in its close proximity to Tresco which is just a five minute ferry ride away, close enough to allow you to easily pop over for lunch or to visit the Abbey Gardens.
Tresco is sheltered by surrounding islands and although it has a wild northern end on Castle Down, its southern part is one long beautiful beach – Pentle Beach is often cited as one of the UK’s best. Penzance Helicopters fly to Tresco, the only off-island with a direct service to Cornwall. The Abbey Gardens attract many visitors so, at least for brief periods when boats and helicopters land, it can feel surprisingly busy. However, an empty beach is never far away. This is a good choice for those who like to amble along well made paths dipping into gallery, gift shop and cafes along the way – easy living the Scillonian way.
St Martin’s has two very different aspects, to the north around Chapel Down, Turfy Hill and Top Rock it’s a wild, uninhabited coast of high cliffs and coves, the most impressive coastal scenery on Scilly. The south by contrast is all sand dunes, beaches and fields running down to the water’s edge. This is great place for young families wanting to mess around on a kayaks and a good choice for those who like longer walks. A self-contained island big enough to spend days exploring.
See our Isles of Scilly Collection for more information and a choice of maps and books. Photo: Old Grimsby on Tresco