Bryher, meaning “Place of Hills” is the smallest of the inhabited islands in the Isles of Scilly. It is situated to the west of Tresco, across the narrow channel that used to be the main anchorage for the islands.
The entire island is only just over half a square mile, with an area of 330 acres. There is only one main settlement on the island, known simply as “The Town”. However there is a lot to talk about on this tiny island.
The Quays on Bryher
There are two quays on Bryher. The original one is known as the church quay and is constructed of locally quarried stone. It leads directly to the only real road on the island giving access to the town. Byond the town is the world famous Hell Bay Hotel. Despite this Church Quay is completely inaccessible at low tide.
During extreme low spring tides it is possible to start walking by Church Quay on Bryher, and finish on Tresco. You will likely have to roll your trousers up a little, but no more than that.
Due to the inaccessibility of the island at low tide a new quay was built in 1990.
This has a number of names. Most commonly it is referred to simply as “The Bar”.
It was the subject of a television programme called “Challenge Anneka” where the 80s celebrity Anneka Rice took on large challenges with extremely limited timescales. One of these was to build a low water landing point for the island.
The team, lead by Anneka Rice managed to build a wooden jetty in less than 4 days. The new quay, sometimes know as Anneka’s Quay, or simply Anna-Quay allowed much easier access to the island regardless of the tides.
It lasted 18 years before being replaced by a slightly longer concrete quay that is daily use
At the Northern end of the island lies Shipman Head. A promentary that sits exposed to the atlantic, with nothing to the left but rolling waves until you reach Newfoundland. On the stormiest of days waves sweep into Hell Bay and crash right over the headland.
The entire approach to the headland is littered with prehistoric sites. There are 134 carns, most of which are assumed to be ancient burials, but could possibly the result of ancient field clearance. More impressive that these however is the Iron Age cliff castle.
The remains of two ramparts stretching across the headland are all that is now visible. The largest of which stands just short of one metre high. It is estimated to have been four metres thick when it was built.
The Bryher Sword
In March 1999 a local farmer on Bryher found his tractor wheel had become stuck in one of his fields. To free his vehicle he had to remove a large stone. However as he did so he exposed a large cavity in the ground. He reached into the cavity and pulled out an intact, iron age sword.
After talking to the British Museum he took the sword to the Isles of Scilly Museum on St Mary’s. English Heritage then funded a proper excavation of the site revealing a truly unique thing.
He had found a cist burial in the style of those found on Scilly. The body was aged approximately 25 years old, however it was impossible to determine the sex. The acidity in the soil had destroyed the DNA to the point where it could not be accurately analysed. This should not have been a problem as swords are only ever found with male burials. But there was also a polished bronze mirror with the single body. And bronze mirrors are only ever found with female burials.
Both of these artefacts are available to view in the wonderful museum on St Mary’s.
In 1841 121 people were recorded as living on Bryher. In the 2011 census this number had dropped to 84. Technically this makes it the least inhabited of the islands, as St Agnes has the grand total of 85 residents. For some reason the numbers on Bryher increased during both world wars. This is unlike the other off islands where the population has been in gradual decline.
Hell Bay Hotel
No description of Bryher would be complete without mentioning the world famous Hell Bay Hotel.
The Hotel has the distinction of being the most westerly residential point in England, with only Northern Island and some of the Hebrides more westerly in the United Kingdom.
Offering a selection of self contained suites, the hotel is rated as 4* by the AA, and has a 10/10 rating with Review Pro.
With views stretching across the rugged Atlantic coast out towards the Western Rocks it is no surprise that this Hell Bay Hotel attracts visitors from all over the world.
This island of contrasts has a character all of its own. Despite being so close to Tresco it feels remote and disconnected from the rest of Scilly. The tracks around the island are dotted with stalls selling fruit, veg, and the extremely popular Veronica Farm Fudge. None are manned, honesty boxes are the Bryher way.
Some years ago one of the honesty boxes was found to have been stolen. After searching for some time it turned out that the person who purchased the last product from the stall had take the cashbox to the home of the owner to make sure it stayed safe.
That, more than anything else sums up Bryher.