St Martin’s is the northernmost inhabited island in the Isles of Scilly. It is known in Cornish as Brechiek meaning “Dappled Island”. The island is approximately two and a half miles long, with an overall area of just under one square mile. Due to its proximity to the Eastern Isles it is considered by many to be the most beautiful of the islands.
It is connected to White Island by a tidal causeway on the north west side of the island.
Settlements on St Martin’s
There are three main settlements on St Martin’s
- Higher Town
- Middle Town
- Lower Town
Higher Town is on the Eastern side of the island with stunning views over the Eastern Isles. It has the high tide quay as well as the bakery, the island stores, the diving centre, and the extremely popular Adam’s fish and chips.
Lower town has the low water quay, and is to the west of the island with views across Tean, St Helen’s, Round Island, and Tresco. It is also home to the Seven Stones Pub, and the Karma Hotel.
As the name would suggest, Middle Town is in between Higher Town and Lower Town. It is home to the Campsite, and a number of holiday cottages.
The Day Mark
St Martin’s is the first island you see when approaching the Isles of Scilly from the mainland. However you approach the island, one of the most arresting sites is that of the Daymark.
A stone tower with a conical top that stands some eleven metres or thirty six feet high. It is painted in alternating red and white hoops and has a diameter of just under five metres.
The granite construction stands on the wild headland of Chapel Down on the north eastern corner of the island looking out over the water towards the seven stones reef, and on to the mainland.
It was originally painted white, but owing to confusion between it and the lighthouse on St Agnes the decision was taken to change the colour to red in the early 1800s. Red, it turned out, was not a striking enough colour, and so not long afterwards it was repainted again to the stripes you can see today.
Originally it was possible to enter the daymark, but the arched doorway has long since been blocked off. Above it is inscribed the date 1637, but this bears little relationship to the date when it was originally erected which was 1683.
The Daymark on St Martin’s is the earliest surviving example of a beacon in the United Kingdon.
Historical St Martin’s
Just like all the other islands in Scilly, St Martin’s has a wealth of historical sites. As you get off the boat on the quay in Lower Town the steep rise of Cruther’s hill looks down on you. On the peak is a series of three entrance graves. They are pretty standard fare for Scilly, but for anywhere else in the world they would be truly remarkable.
The headland of Chapel Down is covered in Carns, cist graves, and entrance graves. It also has a prehistoric statue menhir, discovered and promptly lost in the 1940s, and then discovered a second time in the late 1980s. Knackyboy Carn is in between Higher and Lower Town. Tinkler’s Hill contains a prehistoric cemetary and field system. The very western end of the island has a post-medieval kelp pit.
The fact is that St Martin’s is a good compromise between being a good size, and being more remote and less built up than Tresco or St Mary’s. That means that it has a genuine wealth of historical sites. Even the church dates back hundreds of years and contains the bell from a historical shipwreck.
The Beaches of St Martin’s
St Martin’s is an undeniably beautiful place, but the most impressive thing about the island is its beaches.
The biggest beach on St Martin’s is Lawrence’s Bay. It is a huge sweep of golden white sand running all the way from Lower Town to Cruther’s Hill. When the tide is right it is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. When the tide is fully out and the sandy flats are exposed, it is still breathtaking.
Par beach is sometimes known as Higher Town beach. It sits on the southern side of the island with views directly to the Eastern Isles. It is perfectly feasible to kayak or even swim across and explore the uninhabited islands a stone’s throw away. If that sounds like too much work, then sit back and relax on what is rated as one of the best beaches in the world, never mind the country.
The true beach connoisseur tends to consider Great Bay the very best beach in the islands. Which makes it, by default the best in the country. It is harder to get to being on the northern side of the island, and looks out over open water mainly. In a way reminiscent of some of the beaches on Agnes, Great Bay is a truly stunning place to spend your day.
Population of St Martin’s
In the 1841 census the population of St Martin’s was recorded as 241 people. It dropped slowly until 1911 when there was a small increase. Then after the first world way the population dropped sharply to 134. It has gradually declined to a low of 106 people until the start of the C21st when it rose slightly to 142. At the last count in 2011 there were 136 people recorded as living on the island.
St Martin’s is an amazing place. Just like the rest of the off-islands it has a remote feel. Somehow disconnected from the rest of the world in a way that you don’t quite get on St Mary’s. However the size of the island does mean it provides more chances for peaceful solitude than any of the other islands. Add to this the fact that it is also vibrant, and uplifting. As a centre for diving and snorkeling that has a great pub, a busy hotel, a great bakery, and even a vineyard it has something to offer everyone.
Whether you choose to stay there, or just take a trip across from one of the other islands you should make a point of going. St Martin’s is truly special.