A little less than thirty miles off the tip of Cornwall lie the Isles of Scilly. The Isles comprise approximately 140 islands, only five of which are inhabited. Many of the others are little more than small rock formations which have been the cause of many shipwrecks over the centuries, giving rise to the building of the Bishop Rock Lighthouse.
The total population is just over two thousand, more than three quarters of whom live on St Mary’s. The smallest populated islands are St Agnes (population 73) and Bryher (population 78). The other two islands are St Martin’s and Tresco.
Each of the smaller islands (the ‘Off Islands’) has a single track road stretching from one side to the other or, occasionally, looping round to rejoin the main track. None of them has any semblance of a pavement with curb. The only motorised vehicles are those essential to the livelihood of the residents – tractors, buggies, the odd ancient van or landrover.
In many ways these islands belong to a world that time forgot. Income Tax was not introduced until 1954 followed by Vehicle Tax in 1971. Vehicles are exempt from MOT regulations. Law and order is maintained by a police sergeant and two PC’s, a Community Support Officer and a Special Constable. The Isles have the lowest crime rate in England and most residents routinely leave their doors unlocked.
The Scilly Isles are reached either by boat (the Scillonian III) from Penzance, by small fixed wing Skybus planes, or by helicopter. Travel between the islands is provided by local boat services.
These islands are the southern most part of the UK and the climate is tempered by the Gulf Stream. Frost is rare – a factor contributing in the past to the growth of the early Spring flower trade with the mainland. Each of the Islands has its own distinctive character. All have white sandy beaches – especially Tresco.
Unsurprisingly, the Isles of Scilly are officially designated an Area of Outstanding Beauty.
This channel separates the islands of St Martin’s and Tresco. At the time of the extreme Spring tides intrepid walkers wade through the shallow waters from one island to the other, and similarly from Tresco to Bryher. The sheltered turquoise waters and near-white sands are breath-takingly beautiful and evoke a mood of calm and tranquility.
For a novel set on St Agnes read Narwhal by Margaret Gill