Tag Archives: Scilly Isles

Scilly Markers

Because of the proliferation of rocks and islets the waters around the Isles of Scilly have always been hazardous to shipping, especially in the days of sailing ships when vessels were at the mercy of the winds.  Waters were less well charted and navigational aids were limited in their effectiveness.

The first lighthouse on the Islands was built on St Agnes in 1680.  It was coal fired until 1790 when it was converted to oil.  It stands 23 metres tall and is located at the highest point of the Island, some 500 metres or so inland.  It was eventually decommissioned in 1911 when the Peninnis lighthouse was built on St Mary’s.  The St Agnes now stands as a quite prominent daymark.

The daymark on St Martin’s is a distinctive feature of the landscape and is very conspicuous with its red and white bands.  It was erected in 1683  and is the earliest surviving dated beacon in the British Isles.  It is 11 metres tall and stands at the edge of Chapel Down, overlooking the north east coast of the Island.

By far the most important lighthouse is Bishop Rock.  Its importance to shipping approaching from the south west and, indeed, to those passing by on other busy routes, cannot be overestimated.  It was built with great difficulty in the treacherous seas in 1858 and reaches a height of 44 metres above the mean high water mark.  It is the second tallest lighthouse in Britain.  It was capped with a helipad in 1976 and became fully automated in 1992.  Its light flashes every 15 seconds and has a range of 20 nautical miles (37 km).

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The Isles of Scilly

Bishop Rock Lighthouse

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.

St Martin’s Flats

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.

See also scillywebcam.com, Scilly Rocks 1, Scilly Rocks 2, Scilly Rocks 3, Scilly Rocks 4, Scilly Rocks 5, Pebble Tower

For a novel set on St Agnes read Narwhal by Margaret Gill

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