Site icon Odyssey Traveller

Isles of Scilly, England

Isles of Scilly, England

An Antipodean travel company serving world travellers since 1983

Isles of Scilly, England

Aerial view of St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly.

Subtropical gardens, azure seas, and white sandy beaches: you might think you’re on the Amalfi Coast, in the Bahamas, or holidaying in the Maldives. But believe it or not, you might be in England, on the Isles of Scilly, just 15 minutes from the coast of Cornwall. Remote, relatively warm and extremely laid-back: the Isles of Scilly are one of England’s best hidden gems.

Odyssey Traveller includes a boat tour to the Isles of Scilly as part of our tour of Devon and Cornwall. Staying in accommodation in Hugh Town, we take you to explore the fascinating subtropical Tresco Abbey Gardens and give you to explore at your leisure.

Devon and Cornwall are among the most rewarding areas of England for travellers, home to the distinct Celtic culture of Cornwall and a stunning landscape shaped equally by history and mythology. Our tour delves into the legends of King Arthur, visiting Tintagel Castle on the north Cornish coast – held by many to be the birthplace of King Arthur – and Glastonbury Tor, with deep significance to Celtic mythology. 

England’s south-west is home of some of the country’s most striking scenery, from the moors of North Devon, to the granite headland of Land’s End, to charming seaside towns like Falmouth and St Austell and the quaint village of Lynton and Lynmouth, a luxury holiday destination in the late Victorian era. We take you down country lanes and along magnificent coastal cliffs. 

Odyssey Traveller has been serving global travellers since 1983. Designed for mature travellers who seek an informed travel experience, our tours are led by experienced program leaders and local guides chosen for their in-depth knowledge. We travel in genuinely small groups of between six to twelve like-minded people. 

Our tour price includes accommodation, entrance fees, and the majority of meals. If you’re interested, click here to learn more, and here to make a booking. 

Guide to the Isles of Scilly:

Scientists and historians suggest that the Isles of Scilly were, until quite recently, part of a singular island called Ennor. This is confirmed by Ancient Roman descriptions of Scillonia Insula, in the singular. Rising sea levels likely flooded the island between 400 and 500 AD, creating the current archipelago of 55 islands.

The islands have long been tied to the Kingdom of Dumnonia, or Cornwall, and were likely incorporated into the Kingdom of Engalnd during the reign of Æthelstan (924-938). Today, all of the land on the islands – with the exception of free holds in Hugh Town, the island’s largest settlement – are owned by the Duke of Cornwall (better known as Prince Charles).

A visit to the Isles of Scilly is rather like a trip back in time. With a population of only 2,200, Scilly is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone and locals reach out to visitors with a friendly smile or comment. Known as the ‘land that crime forgot’, the islands went viral in 2015 as ‘possibly the most enviable police posting in the UK or even the world’, as a job posting for a constable – responsibilities including rounding up lost seal pups and sensitively giving parking tickets to your spouse – attracted applicants from as far afield as Texas, Thailand, and Australia. The job’s previous owner, Sargeant Colin Taylor, has secured a book deal based on his experience, which we predict will form the basis of the BBC’s next quirky crime drama.

Hugh Town, the ‘capital’ of the Isles of Scilly.

Each of the five major islands has its own character and charm. St Mary’s is the largest and most populous, every visitor’s first port of call – whether arriving by ferry or plane from Land’s End Airport – thanks to the major transportation services of St Mary’s Harbour and St Mary’s Airport.

St Mary’s is worthy of a visit in its own right, however. Hugh Town, the ‘capital’ of the Scillys, is the size of a mainland country village, a charming assortment of stone houses, boutiques, and restaurants, overlooking the white sand of beautiful Porthcressa Beach.  

St Mary’s island is home to a greater concentration of historical sites than anywhere else in Britain, including Iron Age and Romano-British sites at Bant’s Carn and Halangy Down, and a Bronze Age cemetery at Innisidgen. The Star Castle – named because it was built in the shape of an eight-sided star – was a fortress built to protect the islands from the  Spanish Armada, now converted into a luxury hotel. Foodies will love the hotel’s restaurants and vineyard, with fish caught by the owner in the morning and served in the afternoon and evening.

Tresco is home to the Scilly’s most popular attraction, the subtropical Abbey Gardens, growing around the ruins of the 10th century Tresco Abbey. Thanks to the proximity of the Gulf Season, the area has mild, frost-free winters that allow subtropical plants to grow, including vibrant florals and palm trees from Brazil, New Zealand, and South Africa. Make sure to take a look at the Valhalla collection of ships’ figureheads, rescued from the many vessels that crashed on the islands en route to the Americas.

Beach on Tresco Island.

Tresco was bought from the Duke of Cornwall by Augustus John Smith in 1834, who created the Abbey Gardens. The island remains in private hands today, giving it a more upmarket feel than the other islands. It appeals to repeat visitors, many of whom own cottages on the island for annual summer visits.

St Martin’s is home to some of Scilly’s – and the UK’s – most stunning beaches. Head from here to the Eastern Islands to snorkel and play with friendly seals. Adam’s Fish and Chip Shop – one of the island’s few restaurants – is a favourite of locals and visitors, with the owner Adam catching his own fish in the morning and frying it in the evening, along with chips made from his brother’s organic potatoes.

The Scilly Islands are home to colonies of Atlantic Grey Seals.

The island of Bryher – with a population of 92 – is possibly the remotest and most beautiful of the islands. Hell Bay was given its name thanks to choppy waters and jagged rocks emerging from the sea – a major spot for shipwrecks in the days of trans-Atlantic trade.

While Cornwall might claim ‘Land’s End’, St. Agnes – the southwestern-most of the inhabited islands – really does feel like the end of the earth. While the west side is craggy and rugged, the rest of the coast is all sheltered coves and sandbars, ideal for swimming and exploring. The island is also a working agricultural community, dotted by small cottages and home to a (singular) pub, the charming (though perhaps not very charmingly named) Turk’s Head.

The remote charm of the Isles of Scilly comes at a cost: they’re not easy to reach, even for Brits. Though you can fly there in 15 minutes, our tour of Devon and Cornwall takes a three hour boat journey from the mainland town of  Penzance to St Mary’s so that you can enjoy views of the Atlantic Ocean. We stay the night in charming Hugh Town, and make a day trip to the Tresco Abbey Garden. For more information on our Devon and Cornwall tour, click here.

Verdant flora on St Mary’s.

Articles about England published by Odyssey Traveller:

For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.

External articles to assist you on your visit to England: