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5 Things to do on St Mary’s

There are so many things to do on St Mary’s that it is impossible to do them all. At least not in one holiday.

However long you are there for you will definitely miss out on some things that you would have loved.  Here are a list of the five things that I personally recommend. These are the things I always make sure I do when I am staying on St Mary’s.

Things to do on St Mary’s 1 – Fish and Chips on Porthcressa beach

Things to do on St Mary's - Fish and Chips on Porthcressa Beach

One of the problems with Scilly is that there are too many stunning beaches. It is a pretty good problem to have for a toruist destination. There are so many it is hard to choose just one to spend time on.  There are some that are famous. Par Beach on St Martins is one. The Bar on Agnes is another. But there are others that deserve to be famous but for some reason are often overlooked.

One of these is Porthcressa.

It is a huge sweep of golden sand with crystal clear azure sea. It is a stone’s throw away from the bustling centre of Hugh Town.  There are public loos, and even fresh water showers for rinsing wetsuits.  But maybe it is exactly these that are its downfall.

It feels like a surprisingly quiet beach in any Cornish town.  Apart from the blue of the sky and the sea is a little bluer.  The white of the sand a little whiter. The gentle tickling of the shrimps on your feet when you stand still in the shallows a little ticklier.

There is one thing however that makes Porthcressa shoot up the list of things you should not miss.

The fish and chip van.

Throughout the week (not Wednesdays for some reason) from 5pm until 7.30pm the fish and chip van “Scilly Fish” parks up in the parking area behind the town hall.  The parking area right at the bottom of the steps up to Porthcressa beach.

There is something very special about eating fish and chips out doors, from the paper, with a tiny wooden fork.

There is something even more special about doing it on a stunning beach in one of the most picturesque places in the world.  Whether you want to sit on the sand, the benches along the walkway, or the grassy area byt the tourist information centre, it doesn’t matter.  If I was going to recommend one from all the things to do on St Mary’s it woud be this!

Things to do on St Mary’s 2 – John Bordeaux’s Pottery

Things to do on St Mary's - Bordeaux Pottery

If you walk through Old Town as if you are going to the airport, but instead of turning off up the hill, keep going straight.  You will get to the world famous Bordeaux Pottery.

It looks like a partially converted old barn, for the simple reason that it is a partially converted old barn.

Ignore the boxes, and sacks of clay waiting to be turned into objects of beauty, and step inside one of Scilly’s best kept secrets.

Shelves made of driftwood and old bits of planking hold hundreds, if not thousands of hand crafted pottery items.  Cups, plates, jugs, vases, sculptures and much much more cover every available surface, hand glazed pendants hang from old tree branches, and the walls are covered with paintings.

At the back, looking quite a lot like Santa Claus sits the master of the potter John Bordeaux. One of the loveliest, friendliest, and most generous people you could ever hope to meet John’s most remarkable skill is not his ability with clay,or any of a variety of stunning glazes.  It is his ability to recognize people immediately.  People whom he might not have seen for years.  If you have stepped foot inside his shop in the past, he will remember you.

The very first time I went to the islands with my girlfriend (now my wife) he recognized her as the girl who used to come with her family a decade or more earlier.  He asked after her grandparents by name, and unbeknownst to me he filed me away for future reference as well.

Now we have several small children, and like many others they insist on visiting John the Potter.  Every year he measures them on his wall, and reminds them that if they want anything they can have it at a pretty hefty discount.

He’s a lovely man, and he makes amazing things.  Our house is full of his work.

Go visit him, and tell him I said hi.

Things to do on St Mary’s 3 – Sunset over Samson from outside Star Castle

Things to do on St Mary's - Sunset over Samson

The first time I ever visited the islands we stayed on the Garrison.  It was foggy when we arrived, and stayed that way for several days.  When it finally cleared I remember standing on the hillside outside Star Castle looking across the sound towards Samson and quite literally being speechless.

I genuinely couldn’t remember a more stunning view.

It didn’t take long for me to find one.

If you stand on the hillside in front of Star Castle the sun sets behind the double hills on Samson.

The whole sky burns with an orange fire, and the light of the sun stretches towards you across the ripples of the water.  The dark silhouette of the abandoned island takes on a magic it never has during the day, and if you are really lucky a small boat sails across the water in between you and the hills.

Take a camera and a tripod, stand outside Star Castle, and take one of the best pictures you will ever take. Then frame it and you’ll have a beautiful reminder of your time on the islands

Things to do on St Mary’s 4 – Halangy Down Iron Age Village

things to do on st Mary's - Halangy down

We’ve spoken at length about Halangy Down Iron Age Village here. But it is definitely worth a mention here as well.

Whether you get to it by walking around the coast, or down through the well trodden path from Telegraph is doesn’t matter.

Stand on the top of a near perfect Neolithic Entrance Grave.

Walk along the entrance corridor of an Iron age courtyard house.

You can sit on a sleeping platform that was being used when Julius Caesar invaded Britain.

Walk along the empty white sands of the beach below the village and see the remains of prehistoric buildings and middens eroding out of the soil.

It is an amazing place, and at times it feels almost like you can feel the weight of history pressing down on you.  You can stare out over the calm waters at the barrows on the peaks of the hills of Bryher and the other islands and know people have been standing there, looking at the same things found many thousands of years.

Things to do on St Mary’s 5 – Sit on the Quay at dawn

Gry Maritha unloading early in the morning

The Quay on St Mary’s is the central hub of all the travel between the islands.  If you go there at mod morning as the first boats of the day are getting ready to take their passengers it will be crowded with people, full backpacks, sunburned noses, and slightly puzzled looking faces everywhere you turn.

When the Scillonian docks and the passengers start to disembark the not quite smiling faces of the local police greet them as if to remind them that they are still technically in England, and the law still applies.

The character of the quay changes from one day to the next, from one day to the next.  But there is a time when it is at its best.

First thing in the morning, as the sun begins to creep over the hillsides gently lighting the sky.  The mist dances lightly over the still waters. There isn’t a sound to be heard apart from the clinking of cables against masts as the moored boats rock gently in the sea. You can sit on the benches of the quay and slowly watch the island come to life.

Some mornings aren’t so quiet.  The Gry Maritha will be there sorting out the deliveries that keep the island functioning. Sometimes you might share a quiet “Good Morning” with a bleary eyed yachtsman coming ashore for a shower before breakfast.

But whatever else is going on, spending a short while watching the beating heart of the islands slowly come to life is an experience everyone visiting St Mary’s should make sure they enjoy.



Martin is the creator of About Scilly. He visited the islands for the first time 15 years ago and fell in love. He's been back every year since and would dearly love to live there.

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