Our Isles of Scilly Adventure: One Week Camping in England’s Secret Tropical Paradise

By Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor August 24th, 2019 Posted in Destination, Europe Travel Blog, Travel Blog, Travel Guides No comments

The Isles of Scilly have captured our imagination for years, but due to one thing or another, we’d never managed to visit. We’d heard wonderful stories of unspoiled beaches, clear water, and tropical weather all within the British Isles. So when this chance came along, we couldn’t resist!

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Getting there from London takes a little planning. While you can fly, we wanted to go overland which means getting the train to Penzance, staying overnight and taking the Scillonian III ferry the next morning. Penzance is a lovely Cornish Town that neither of us had visited before with a beautiful traditional promenade. We found no shortage of affordable Airbnb’s near the harbor and would recommend the town’s oldest pub, The Turk’s Head, for dinner and a drink. 

When getting the ferry you need to label all your check-in luggage with tags provided. And, if staying on an island other than St Mary’s you also need to add another tag for it to be transferred directly to the connecting boat going to the onward island. Our Scilly Adventure One Week Camping in England's Secret Tropical Paradise

Try to arrive early so you get a good seat on deck (assuming the weather allows). We met lots of passengers who’d visited plenty of times before who amongst other tips told us to keep an eye out for dolphins from the boat over the 2.5-hour ferry ride. We didn’t see any, unfortunately, but there was always the return journey!

Extra Note: Isles of Scilly Travel operates scheduled Skybus flights to Scilly from Exeter Airport between March and October which reach the islands in an hour. There are year-round Skybus flights from Newquay (30 minutes) and Land’s End (15 minutes) Airports. Prices start from £178 adult return from Land’s End.

The Scillonian III passenger ferry sails from Penzance to Scilly up to seven days a week between March and November. Prices start from £110 adult return.

To book, call 01736 334220 or visit www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk  

On arrival, our luggage was taken for us to The Garrison Campsite by tractor, while we made our own way up the hill. It’s on the site of the historic fort that guarded the islands for hundreds of years, including through the English Civil and Second World Wars. Our pitch was spacious with sea views and surrounded by walks along the fort’s walls with fantastic views of the Archipelago.

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Later we rented bikes from St Mary’s bikes and explored the island a bit, its clear beaches, and inland villages. Remember the water is chilly! We visited in July and enjoyed lots of very short but refreshing swims however lots of people bring wetsuits, if you’re not used to the English coast you may want to bring one too! We finished the first day with a bbq back at camp and an early night.

After breakfast of pain au chocolate courtesy of the campsite, we caught the ferry to Tresco. Getting boats to the different islands is very easy, you just head down to the quay and check the board for the day’s boat times, and buy your tickets from the kiosk which are £10 return for each island. It was a short ride over to Tresco where we headed straight to the botanical gardens, widely considered to be some of the best of their kind in the world and we certainly agreed. Look out for the red squirrels introduced a few years ago and the cute Benedictine abbey. 

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Later we had lunch at the Flying Boat. The food was excellent quality and we’d recommend the lobster and crab risotto. After lunch, we took a relaxing walk around the north of the island with its deserted beaches and not one, but two, castles. 

Tresco is the second largest island and privately owned. Cars are banned and the only vehicles are golf buggies and bikes. For this reason, it’s very family-friendly, both for little kids and older relations with accessibility issues. The private nature of the island gives it a resort feel, that would suit some more than others. 

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Back on St, Mary’s we had dinner at The Beach Restaurant right on Porthmellon Beach, which is the perfect spot on the island to take in the sunset. After a full day of exploring we were looking forward to their generous grill menu but it also seems to be a popular spot to enjoy the view with a cocktail or cold beer. The menu was a mixture of grilled meat and seafood which was just what the doctor ordered. We tried the fresh mussels, monkfish kebabs, and the steak and were blown away by it all.

Day 3 began with an early boat to St Agnes, the southernmost populated island of the UK! Smaller than St Mary’s and Tresco it just has one quay next to The Turk’s Head, the only pub on the island. We pre-ordered one of their famous traditional Cornish pasties on our way to cross the sand bar to Gugh, St Agnes’ smaller neighbor which is only accessible on foot during low tide.

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We spent a couple of hours exploring the rocky coves around Gugh, watching the nesting seabirds diving for fish and swimming in the clear shallow water between the two islands before heading back to collect our lunch and wait for Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and St Agnes Boating to pick us up for our wildlife safari. 

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The tour is by boat starting from St Agnes and exploring the Western Rocks and Annet, protected islands are known to be home to cormorants, Manx Shearwater and puffins among many other types of rare seabird. We were really excited to see puffins for the first time and we’d only just set off when the Wildlife Trust guide pointed out a pair of them flying overhead! We’d forgotten our binoculars but they kindly lent us a pair so we could get a closer look. 

We definitely recommend going out on the front deck and risking getting a bit soaked by the sea spray for the chance to look out for the many Atlantic grey seals sunbathing on the rocks and bobbing up and down in the waves. 

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After an hour and a half, the boat docked back at St Agnes where we spent a couple of hours wandering through the little lanes to Troy Town Farm at the south tip of the island and enjoyed their homemade an ice cream looking out over the Atlantic before heading back for a home-cooked meal at the campsite.

After 3 nights on St Mary’s, it was time to pack up our tent and head over to St Martin’s for the last two days of our trip. St Martins is known for its long curved white sand beaches, which we immediately saw as our boat pulled into lower town quay. 

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We were met by the very friendly Ben and Caroline who run St Martins campsite who collected our luggage on their trailer. We followed on foot so we could take in the views of pretty cottages and stock up on locally grown vegetables and freshly caught fish from the little stalls outside the islander’s houses.

St Martins Camping is set over several fields with paths leading straight down to the beach. We set up our tent and headed straight to Par beach to rent kayaks from St Martins water sports. We paddled over to the little islands Nornour and Little Arthur, home to lots of friendly and curious seals. 

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From our kayak we could see them really close up as they popped up all around us and playfully ducked underwater again, one even followed us all the way across from one island to the next and even posed for a picture with us!  This was definitely an experience we won’t forget soon 🙂

We’d been really lucky with the weather until now but our fifth day was rainy nearly all day. In the morning it was only light rain so after more pain au chocolates (courtesy of the new campsite) we were still able to have a walk around the island’s coast, and even took a bracing dip in the islands deserted north beach. 

Our afternoon’s activity of seal snorkeling had to be canceled with the bad weather so we did the most sensible thing we could think of and stayed dry in the Seven Stones Inn, read our books and played board games. Over the afternoon we watched the tide come in, slowly swallowing up the islets between St Martin’s and St Mary’s. 

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At dinner time we made our way down to the Karma Resort, part of the Karma Group which is known for luxury resorts in the most beautiful locations around the world. Make sure you book a table to ensure one with a delightful view of the harbor. The food was real gourmet stuff with a tropical twist. Our favorite was the complimentary crab Hors d’Oevre. Although we just spent the evening there the Karma Resort looked like just the place to experience the Isles of Scilly in luxury, with elegant but comfy lounges, spa treatments, and a well-stocked bar.

On our last morning, the fine weather had returned. We packed up our bags which Ben, the owner, drove to our connecting boat to St Mary’s. Once there we took advantage of the sun with one last dip in the sea in Hugh Town before our ferry back to the mainland. After getting a little worried we weren’t going to see them, one hour into the journey we were lucky enough to see 5 dolphins splashing in the distance! 

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Back on the mainland, we had a wonderful sunset stroll along the Victorian promenade with fish and chips. We took this moment to reflect on our magical past week. It sounds cliched, but the Isles of Scilly really had a little bit of everything: spotless beaches, tropical palm trees, delicious food, varied history, amazing wildlife, outdoor activities, and cozy pubs. What struck us, above all though, was the warmth and the friendliness of everyone we met, the staff in our campsites, the restaurants, the locals in the pub and the other tourists who had also fallen in love with the islands. A common refrain from the old hands was that we would be back, and it’s true, we’re already planning our next trip!

Disclaimer: We were invited guests by Isles of Scilly Travel however all opinions and text are mine! Thank you to Isles of Scilly Travel for all their help and guidance in planning this trip.

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Written by Two Monkeys Travel - Contributor

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