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The Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly from Space

The Isles of Scilly is a small archipelago of islands approximately 30 miles of the tip of Cornwall.  There are over 140 islands in total, but only five are currently inhabited.

They are a popular holiday destination, with a regular boat service from Penzance running through the summer months. As well as this there are also flights from Lands End, Newquay, Exeter to the small airport of St Mary’s – The largest of the islands.

The inhabited islands are: St Mary’s, Tresco, St Martins, Bryher, and St Agnes.  Previously a number of the other islands have been inhabited, most famously the island of Samson.

St Mary’s

Porthcressa, Isles of Scilly

The Majority of the population of Scilly (never referred to as the Scilly Isles by those in the know) live on St Mary’s. This is where the Scillonian ferry docks, and where the planes land.

There are technically two towns on St Mary’s, but even Hugh Town which is commonly referred to as the capital is tiny by mainland standards.  Old Town which is only 10 minutes walk away is small even by Scillonian standards, though does have a nice pub and a couple of cafes.

There is nowhere on St Mary’s that you cannot walk to.

The entire island only has a total area of 2.5 square miles, yet does have several miles of proper roads.  There are quite a few cars on St Mary’s, but you are unable to take your own.  You can however hire bikes, or road legal golf buggies in Hugh Town.

Read more about St Mary’s here.


Tresco - Isles of Scilly

Probably the most famous of the islands is Tresco.

The Abbey Gardens are world renowned for the variety and quality of plants that grow there.  There are a large number of specimens growing happily there that cannot be found anywhere else in the UK, mainly down to the more temperate climate of the islands.

The entire island is privately leased from the Duchy of Cornwall by the Dorrien-Smith family. However it is possible to purchase time shares for many of the properties there, securing your place to holiday for decades.

There are lot of amazing things on Tresco, it has two castles, both in ruins.  It has two small towns, a spa, a well supplied shop, and a collection of figureheads from ships wrecked on the islands.  It also has a private heliport, and like the rest of Scilly it has some of the best beaches you are ever likely to see.

Read more about Tresco here.

St Martin’s

St Martins - Scilly

Some say St Martin’s is the most beautiful of the islands, and it is easy to see why.  With its stunning views over the Eastern Isles and its sweeping white sandy beaches it is truly magnificent.

With only 136 people living on the island at the last census it surprisingly has 3 settlements, two quays, and a surprisingly good vineyard.

Despite this it also has the highly rated Karma Hotel.

St Martin’s attracts divers and snorkelers from all around the world.  The crystal clear waters, the abundant wildlife, and the countless wrecks littering the seas around St Martin’s make it almost as beautiful underwater as on land.


Hell Bay, Bryher - Isles of Scilly

With a population of significantly less than 100 people Bryher is one of the only islands to not have its own school.  Primary age children travel to Tresco, Bryher’s nearest neighbor. Senior school children live in a boarding house on St Mary’s through the week returning home at the weekends.

Bryher is an island of contrasts, on one side it is sheltered by Tresco. At extreme low tide it is possible to walk across the sand banks from one island to the other without even getting your shoes wet.

However a short walk away on the other side of the island lie Hell Bay, and Badplace Hill.

There rough seas crash right over the top of the hills to swamp the whole end of the island.

Hell Bay Hotel has a global reputation as a place of beauty, and has been used as a location for many films.

Rushy Bay, overlooking the deserted island of Samson is rated one of the best beaches in the world.

Read more ebout Bryher here.

St Agnes

The Turks Head, Agnes - Isles of Scilly

The most remote of the islands is St Agnes. Known locally simply as Agnes it sits apart, separated from the rest of Scilly by deep water.

It has a population similar to Bryher’s, yet manages to support a pub, a dairy farm, a campsite, and an ice cream company.

Agnes is home to the Troytown maze. It also has the very best views across the western Rocks out towards the lighthouse on Bishop’s rock. Known to most people as the big lighthouse from the BBC adverts.

Read more about St Agnes here.


A beach in Scilly

The fact is, that whichever of the islands you choose, they are all beautiful in their own way.

Most visitors to Scilly find that one or the other of them suits them the best.

If you like remoteness, then it’s going to be Agnes.

If you like easy access to shops, restaurants, and the usual amenities, then St Mary’s is your best bet.

People into horticulture, or who simply like to return to a familar place where they will be pampered prefer Tresco.

Peace and quiet?  Try Bryher.

Stunning views and glorious beaches that go on for ever?  St Martin’s.

Scilly is a stunning place, yet still most people know nothing about it.

Any way you look at it, it is Cornwall’s best kept secret.



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.

2 thoughts on “A Summary of the Isles of Scilly

  • August 21, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    HI Martin, we have been visiting the Islands for over 26 years and love the Islands so much. This site you have created is fascinating. I really enjoy the posts. We are back again n September and can’t wait. Just praying the weather will be kind.

    Thanks again for a great website.

    Martin Filer

    • Martin
      August 24, 2018 at 11:46 pm

      Thanks so much for the kind comments. We were out in July this year and it was the hottest I’ve known.

      I hope you get great weather too.



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