The most remote of the inhabited islands of Scilly is St Agnes. Separated from the rest of the islands by the deep waters of St Mary’s Sound, St Agnes is the most southerly habitation in the United Kingdom.
Connected by a tidal sand bar to The Gugh, some people consider them one island, some two. If you subscribe to the latter view then The Gugh is both the smallest, and least inhabited island in Scilly with only three residents at the last census. However most people consider them both one island.
Covering an area of 366 acres the island is one of the smallest after Bryher, and unlike the other islands has no hotel. There are however other places to stay, and things to do on the island known simply as Agnes.
The main centre of population on Agnes is simply known as Town, with Higher Town, Middle Town and Lower Town referring to areas of the island according to Ordnance Survey Maps.
St Agnes Lighthouse
The most recognisable building on Agnes is the Lighthouse. Originally built by Trinity House in 1680 it was sited on Agnes as the closest inhabited point to the Western Rocks. An area famed for its many wrecks throughout history.
The lighthouse on Agnes was originally fired by coal, but in 1790 was converted to Oil with a 21 revolving reflectors.
When the lighthouse was proposed harbor officials from the Isle of Wight objected that they would lose valuable revenue as it wouild make Scilly a safer place for shipping. More surprisingly the Governor of the Isles also complained that he would lose revenue from the many and various wrecks that were a staple of life on the islands.
It ceased operating as a lighthouse in 1911 and became a private residence. It was superceded by the lighthouse on Penninis Head on St Mary’s. Today it serves as a day mark for shipping in the area.
Historical St Agnes
There are many sites and places of historical interest across St Agnes.
400 Years ago a Venetian trading ship floundered and went down among the western rocks. It sank without record sending its precious cargo of many thousands of hand made glass beads to the bottom of the sea. Ever since they have washed ashore in a small bay on the eastern aspect of the point known as Wingletang Down.
This bay is now known as Beady Pool, and is a regular haunt for visitors looking to find one of the famous Venetian beads. Some years ago a storm brought massive numbers of beads to the surface, many of these are now on display in the Museum on St Mary’s. Nowadays it is not common to find beads there, but lucky searches may still find the odd one, or a small fragment of a bead.
On the western side of the island, overlooking the treacherous rocks out towards the Bishop’s Rock Lighthouse sits the famous Troytown maze.
Thought to be originally constructed by the son of the lighthouse keeper in 1729 the maze is made from cutting channels from the turf and laying local rocks.
Said to resemble the walls of Troy, a city who’s walls were, according to legend, so confusing that invader could never find their way in and out again.
Troytown on Scilly is one of only three remaining examples in the UK, the other two being in North Yorkshire, and Oxfordshire.
The wild promentary on the southern aspect of the island is known as Wingletang Down. It was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the plant life that thrives there and no-one else in the UK.
As well as this 43 Bronze age cairns have been recorded. Thought to be burial chambers some are linked by prehistoric walls.
On the far side of Beady Pool a rusting shipping container sits on the headland a reminder of the wreck of the MV Cita in 1997
St Warna’s Well
To the west of Wingletang Down sits St Warna’s Cove, home to St Warna’s Well.
A stone lined well, dedicated to St Warna, it is thought that offerings to her were given to provide in times of hardship. It is thought that throwing in crooked pins attracted shipwrecks to the islands shores. Bringing some form of prosperity to the remote community.
N 1841 there were 241 residents of the island recorded on St Agnes. By 1971 this number had dropped to 63. However since then it has crept back up slightly to 85 in the 2011 census.
Troy Town Ice Cream
The most westerly settlement on the island of St Agnes is Troy Town Farm. This is home to two businesses. The first is one of the most beautiful camp sites in the world. The camping fields literally end at the water’s edge, and offer views across the western rocks. The other, to the delight of the campers, is Troy Town Ice Cream. The farm has a dairy herd, and the milk from them is turned into a range of delicious ice creams. You can get them all over the islands, but they taste best in the place they are made.
The Turk’s Head
The most south westerly pub in the United Kingdom is the Turk’s Head. Ocupying a former coastguard’s house above the quay it has a well deserved reputation for good food and beer. Because of the pub’s unique location is has one of the best views in the country.
If you can avoid the attentions of the gulls, you won’t find a better place to enjoy your evening meal. For visitors to other islands it is possible to get an evening “Supper boat” across to Agnes.
St Agnes Church
The original church on Agnes was destroyed in a ferocious storm in the 1700s. The current stone built church was funded from the sale of a wreck on the island. Even the bell in the church tower was salvaged from that same wreck.
The history of St Agnes is intrinsically linked to shipwrecks. Some of the greatest maritime disasters in history happened in the waters off Agnes. The Naval disaster of 1707 is probably the most famous in the UK. The wreck of the SS Schiller is Germany’s Titanic. And the wre3ck of the packet ship Nancy was a genuine tragedy. These few are just a tiny handful of the terrible wrecks that were part and parcel of life on Agnes. It is impossible to ignore this aspect of the island’s history. The ever present lighthouse on the island is a permanent reminder. Not to mention the famous Bishop’s Rock Lighthouse still flashing through the night to warn sailors of the danger.
St Agnes has a truly unique character. The distance between it and the rest of the islands give it a more remote feel than the others. This has also enabled it to become the largest inhabited island in the world to be completely free of rats. That has lead to it having some unique wildlife.
As if this wasn’t enough there are some amazing sites on the island. Some of the best swimming and snorkelling beaches are found on St Agnes. Also there is enough history to keep even the most avid researchers happy for a long time.