Introduction to St Mary’s
St Mary’s is the largest of the islands that make up the archipelago known as the Isles of Scilly.
It consists of one large land mass making up the vast majority of the island. As well as four small tidal islands that are connected at low tide. These are:
- Toll’s Island
- Taylor’s Island
- Newford Island
Just over 2200 people currently live in the Isles of Scilly, and over 1700 of them live on St Mary’s. Over 1000 live in Hugh Town, the largest settlement on the islands.
Settlements on St Mary’s
With the exception of Hugh Town there are ten official settlement areas on St Mary’s. They are:
Dating from the Norman period, this small town was originally known as Porthennor. At that time it consisted of little more than a castle, and a quay. Now the castle is nothing more than a few stones only visible from a small footpath through the lower moors nature reserve. However the original quay is still fully intact and visible in the still waters of Old Town Bay.
Pronounced Porth-Low, not as commonly thought “Porth Loo”. It is located about half a mile North East of Hughtown Porthloo is home to the island’s golf course. It is also home to Juliet’s Garden restaurant, several art galleries, and a beautiful beach. At the North end of Porthloo bay is Taylor’s Island, and to the South is Newford island. At low tide it is possible to walk to both islands.
Considered by many to be the most beautiful beach on St Mary’s Pellistry is on the opposite side of the island to Hugh Town. Also it is home to the tidal island of Toll’s Island, and also a council run camp site for school visits to the islands. A short walk away from the beach is the popular tea room Carn Vean.
At the Northern end of St Mary’s Trenoweth is home to the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust. A short walk from Trenoweth is Innisidgen, a tidal island that overlooks the remarkable intact burial chambers of Upper and Lower Innisidgen.
A small valley in the centre of the island, Holy Vale was originally known as La Val meaning low lying. Around the houses that make up Holy Vale are the fields of vines that make up Holy Vale Wines
Close to Pellistry and Holy Vale Maypole is home to the island’s riding stables. The only official road on the island, the A3110 runs through Maypole.
The island’s water desalination plant is based close to Normandy, which is also home to the only public swimming pool in the islands.
One of the smallest settlements on the island, Longstone is home to the Carreg Dhu Gardens. Covering an area of 1.5 Acres and set in a former quarry, Carreg Dhu is St Mary’s answer to the Abbey Gardens on Tresco.
Situated close to Porthloo and Longstone there is little of interest to visitors at Rocky Hill. Apart from the stunning beauty of the Isles of Scilly of course.
To the North West of St Mary’s, Telegraph is named for the Coastguard’s Lookout Tower constructed in the early nineteenth century. It was, and still is an ideal location for telecommunication. Today the communication to and from the mainland is dealt with here.
By far the largest settlement in the Isles of Scilly is Hugh Town. It mainly covers a narrow strip of land that links the main body of St Mary’s with the peninsula known as the Garrison.
Porthcressa bay forms one side of the town and is home to the Registry Office, as well as a truly stunning beach. The other side of the town is Town beach, which overlooks the sheltered waters of the harbor.
The quay forms the far side of the harbor and was originally built when the settlement was moved from Old Town. It was later extended to reach Rat Island and beyond to allow larger vessels to moor safely.
The Isles of Scilly lifeboat station sits on the rocky outcrop known as Carn Thomas. It separates the harbor from the next bay of Porthmellon. However the lifeboat itself is too large to fit, and so floats in the calm waters of the harbor.
Hugh Town is home to the islands’ only supermarket, a number of shops, and several pubs and reastaurants. It also contains a number of Hotels.
On the far end of the town is the steep hill up to the Garrison.
Standing on the hillside leading up to the peninsula formerly known as the Hugh (where the name for Hugh Town originated) is Tregarthens Hotel. An imposing large white building, that is many people’s first sight of the islands. It was originally home to Captain Tregarthen, the first man to introduce a regular boat service to Scilly from Penzance.
Originally built in 1593 under orders from Queen Elizabeth I in case of a second Spanish Armada the eight pointed star shaped fortress is now a hotel.
In the land behind the fortress lie the islands sports fields, home to the world’s smallest football league. Consisting of two teams, both from Scilly, they have hosted some famous names such as David Beckham.
The Garrison Campsite sits on the land at the top of the Garrison, sheltered by tree. From there a number of footpaths leading down to the fortifications on the perimeter of the peninsula.
Prehistoric St Mary’s
Due to the remoteness of the islands, and the inhospitable nature of much of the landscape Scilly is home to an incredible number of prehistoric sites. Some of which are still fully intact. St Mary’s is no exception.
The island contains numerous burial chambers, Innisidgen, Porth Hellick, and Bant’s Carn are some of the most well known.
On the hillside beneath Bant’s Carn is Halangy Down, an iron age village. There it is possible to walk down streets several thousand years old, and sit in the remains of an ancient courtyard house. On the fields nearby the walls have stood since Neolithic times.
In an unassuming concrete building on Church Street in Hugh Town you can find one of Scilly’s greatest treasures.
With a vast amount of fascinating information on life through time on the islands you can lose many hours here. You can read up on the history of Bishops Rock Lighthouse. You can stare at photos and reports of some of the many shipwrecks. See the world famous Bryher sword, the Roman shrine on Nornour, and much much more.
There is far too much on St Mary’s to cover here, but it is hard to think of a nicer place to spend time. Due to this whether you are a lover of nature, a history buff, or simply like stunning sandy beaches there is something for you.
In future articles we will look at some of the more notable places on St Mary’s. Also we’ll look into the stories behind some of the more famous shipwrecks that have affected the island.
For now however we’ll call it a day.