Isles of Scilly
The Isles of Scilly (Cornish: Ynysek Syllan)  is a small archipelago of islands in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Cornish coast in the South West part of the United Kingdom. The Isles of Scilly were designated an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1975.
There are five inhabited islands:
| St. Mary's |
By far the most populated island, the commercial and tourist centre with the boat dock and airport.
| Bryher |
The smallest of the inhabited islands is wild, windswept and quite magnificent.
| St. Martin's |
The most easterly of the islands and therefore the most sheltered from Atlantic storms; many small holdings growing flowers and vegetables.
| St. Agnes |
The southwesternmost inhabited outpost and perhaps the most charming of all the islands; the island of Gugh is joined to St Agnes at low tide and usually treated as part of it.
| Tresco |
The 2nd largest island is very grand indeed with the Abbey Gardens and an upmarket timeshare resort.
And a large number of smaller uninhabited islands and islets:
| Uninhabited islands |
These include Annet, The Eastern Isles, The Norrad Rocks, Samson (formerly inhabited), St. Helen's, Tean and The Western Rocks.
St. Mary's is the largest island with a population of around 3000. Most commerce is centred here as is the vast majority of the tourism related infrastructure. Hugh Town is the main centre. Tourist numbers are naturally limited by the spaces on the boat or planes, so in Scilly you can leave Cornwall's tourist hordes behind - and arguably enjoy even finer scenery.
The other four inhabited islands, collectively known as the off islands, are home to between 30 (Bryher) to 150 (Tresco) people.
Much of the land is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, a royal estate intended to provide an income for the heir to the throne, and you'll spot the characteristic signs of estate management here and there. It also means these quiet islands are frequently used by minor royalty as a holiday home where they can lead a normal life without being besieged by crowds.
The Isles of Scilly have a temperate Oceanic climate, amongst the mildest and warmest climates in the United Kingdom. The average annual temperature is 11.6 °C (for comparison the average in London is 11.0°C). Winters are amongst the warmest in the country due to southerly latitude and moderating effects of the ocean. Summers are not as warm as on the mainland. This is perhaps the sunniest area in the UK with on average 7.6 hours per day in July. On average there are less than 2 days of air frost per year. This balmy climate has resulted in the islands developing a thriving flower industry.
The passenger ferry MV Scillonian III runs from Penzance to Hugh Town on St Mary's and the crossing takes about two hours and 40 minutes. This service runs from March to the end of October. It leaves Penzance in the early morning and returns late afternoon/evening. It is possible to take a day trip (with four hours onshore, longer on some days when there is a double sailing). Open returns are £95 with day trips from £25 — at off peak times check for vouchers in The Cornishman newspaper.
Fixed wing planes operated by Skybus  fly from Land's End, Newquay, Exeter, Bristol and Southampton to St. Mary's Airport, priced from around £125. Flights to and from Newquay normally connect with the Ryanair and Airsouthwest services to and from London Stansted/Gatwick.
A helicopter service  runs from Penzance Heliport to St. Mary's Airport (ten flights daily in summer, three in winter) and to Tresco (five flights daily in summer, one in winter). It takes about 20 minutes.
The air route between Penzance and St. Mary's has been serviced by a helicopter since 1964, and is the world's longest running scheduled helicopter service. The Tresco service was subsequently inaugurated in 1983.
Open-return flights cost around £170, but cheaper tickets are available if you travel mid-week.
No transport of any nature is available to or from the islands on Sundays. This also means that Sunday papers arrive on Monday.
Between the islands
Each island is serviced by a network of inter-island launches that run daily from 1 April through to the end of October each year. Apart from direct trips between the islands, circular sightseeing tours are also offered giving the opportunity to look at the extensive wildlife in and around the islands, particularly the large colonies of Atlantic seal and sea bird colonies. For example, a Three Islands day tour would visit Bryher, Tresco, and St Agnes, giving an hour or two time ashore on each for walking and exploring.
One of the most popular trips is to see the puffins who arrive to nest in late April, leaving the Isles in early August.
The boat service in winter is governed more by wind and tide, but daily, direct trips still take place with the occasional circular journey when the weather is sufficiently benign.
Transport on St. Mary's
Scilly is made for walking, and the relative lack of cars and other motorised transportation creates an atmosphere that is a luxury few can enjoy in their home towns. St Mary's is larger than the other islands, but a walk to furthest reaches and back to Hugh Town is easily manageable for most people.
An infrequent bus service operates between Hugh Town and the airport.
There are a few local taxi operators and these are best looked for in the centre of Hugh Town. Like everything else on Scilly, these are rather laid back and seem to be not working more often than not!
Bicycle hire is widely available and if you are not up for walking everywhere, are the best way to see the islands.
Transport on the off islands
There is no public transport available for day visitors. However, transport is normally provided to and from the quay or heliport (on Tresco) to your accommodation. This ranges from old land rovers to golf carts. On Tresco there are tractors with trailers, and it is often said you won't ever find as many millionaires riding on the back of a tractor as you do on Tresco!
Bike hire is available on all the islands, but again walking is easy and very pleasant.
- Isles of Scilly Museum Church Street, St. Mary's +44 1720 422337 http://www.iosmuseum.org/ £0.50-2Many exhibitions on the essence of the islands and their place in history. Very much worth a visit.
- Abbey Gardens Tresco +44 1720 424105 http://www.tresco.co.uk/see/abbey-garden/ Impressive botanical gardens with a range of sub-tropical plants growing healthily outdoors. You will wonder just how you can possibly still be in England.
- Cromwell's Castle Tresco This coastal Gun Tower was built by Oliver Cromwell in 1651-1652 on a promontory to guard the anchorage between Bryher and Tresco. It is administered by English Heritage.
On the water
- Boat trips: large number of boat trips are available from wildlife watching to island circular tours. On St. Mary's look out for the notice boards of the boatmen's association  at the quay. On the off-islands check with the island boat companies.
- Fishing is popular pastime. Full blown specialist charters are available , or you might wish to try your hand at surf-casting from the shore.
- World Pilot Gig Championships  are held every year in May. Over 100 crews of traditional Cornish wooden rowing boats compete. The last night party is legendary.
Exploring the islands on foot
- St Mary's - from Hugh Town the outcrop of land to the west contains an eight-pointed star castle known as the Garrison, while the main bulk of the island to the east contains a coastal path.
- St Agnes - a very hospitable island, stepping ashore you are faced with the island's only pub, the Turk's Head. The two main features to see are the lighthouse, built in 1680, and the connected island of Gugh which is accessible across a sandbar at low tide. The sandbar provides a lovely clean beach.
- Bryher - walk across the island to Hell Bay to see the Atlantic waves crashing in and for a hot chocolate at the Hell Bay Hotel, then back along the eastern shore where you can see Hangman Island, allegedly a gallows site in the English civil war.
- Tresco - walk a circuit round the southern part of the island culminating at the Abbey Gardens.
Keen birders will need no introduction to the Isles of Scilly. This is the Mecca of birding in Great Britain and probably the whole of Europe. The islands are ideally positioned to be the point of landfall for many scarce migrant species in spring and especially in autumn. Each October, many hundreds of expert birders from Britain and further afield converge on the islands.
The slightly less keen will still find plenty to interest them in the summer months as the islands host several important seabird colonies.
Lots of locally produced food and gifts are available. Scilly is famous for its flowers, and a wide variety of bulbs are available. St. Agnes wildflower honey, St. Agnes ice Cream, St. Agnes eggs, Scillonian soap, island beef, locally caught fish and shellfish, and the list goes on.
If you are staying in self-catering accommodation on one of the off islands, you really should stock up with groceries from the Co-op supermarket on St. Marys. The shopping facilities on the other islands are very limited.
There are banks with ATMs on St. Mary's (only).
- Picnic on the beach. The Co-op on St. Mary's or Tresco Stores on Tresco are the best food shops.
- Good pub food available on all the islands. Be sure to try a pasty at the Turk's Head on St. Agnes.
- Cream teas are done well on the islands, and should not to be missed.
- St. Martin's on the Isle on St. Martins
- The Island Hotel on Tresco
- Hell Bay Hotel on Bryher
Each of the inhabited islands has its own pub, and St. Mary's manages to support five. The opening hours of all Scilly pubs vary greatly according to season. In the low season (November to April), many do not open at lunchtimes.
- Atlantic Inn Hugh Town, St Mary's +44 1720 422323 The poshest pub on St. Mary's which serves notably decent food.
- Bishop and Wolf Hugh Town, St. Mary's +44 1720 422790 These days seems to concentrate on food as much as as drink. Serves St Austell ales.
- Mermaid Hugh Town, St. Mary's very close to the quay +44 1720 422701 Every traditional British coastal town has a pub which looks fit to be the haunt of crusty old sea dogs, with nautical decorations that look unchanged for the past 50 years. This is the one on Scilly. Do not expect any frills! The Ales of Scilly brands are very popular.
- Old Town Inn Old Town, St. Mary's +44 1720 422301 http://www.oldtowninn.co.uk/ The only pub on St Mary's away from Hugh Town.
- Porthcressa Inn Porthcressa Bay, Hugh Town, St. Mary's +44 1720 422405 Nice view over the bay and Skinner's Ale on tap
- Fraggle Rock Bryher +44 1720 422222 Bryher has a tiny resident population which could not support a full time pub. This charming little place therefore doubles up as a cafe. Serves Doombar and Timothy Taylor's real ales.
- New Inn Tresco just above the quay at New Grimsby +44 1720 422844 Like everything else on Tresco, this hotel bar has an air of being rather posh.
- Sevenstones Middletown, St Martin's +44 1720 423560 http://www.sevenstonesinn.co.uk/ Formerly a really nice pub, but as of April 2010 it is up for sale and looking very unloved.
- Turk's Head St Agnes +44 1720 422434 Many folks rate this as the best pub on the islands. Great location overlooking the Atlantic close to the quay. Their home made Cornish Pastys are absolutely legendary.
Most accommodation is on the largest and most populated island, St. Mary's, which has plenty of accommodation of all kinds. The other islands have more limited accommodation. Demand for accommodation exceeds supply, so prices are high, even by English standards, and early booking is advisable.
With the balmy climate, camping is a great option on Scilly and of the inhabited islands, only Tresco does not have a camp site. During the height of summer (June to August) booking is a must.
- Bryher Campsite Bryher +44 720 422886
- St. Agnes Campsite Troytown Farm, St. Agnes +44 720 422360 Facilities include showers and a drying room. Some fine fresh produce is available from the farm.
- St Martin's Campsite +44 1720 422888 http://www.stmartinscampsite.co.uk/ An English Tourist Board four star rated campsite, right by the beach. Facilities include toilets, hot and cold water basins, coin-operated showers and hair-dryers, baby-changing facilities and washing-up sinks. They limit numbers to 50 pitches.
- St Mary's Campsite The Garrison, St. Mary's +44 1720 422670 http://www.garrisonholidays.com/camping.html A nine acre camp site with facilities which include toilet blocks, hot showers, t washing up facilities, laundry, supplies shop and a limited number of electrical hookups (must be reserved in advance).
- Various B&Bs and pubs on St. Mary's £60-100
- Tregarthen, St. Mary's, £150-200
- Hell Bay Hotel +44 1720 422947 http://www.hellbay.co.uk £135-300 A lovely hotel with an outlook over the wild, crashing ocean. Noted for the quality of its food and for supporting local artists. Owned by the same family as the Tresco Estate.
St. Agnes is the only inhabited island without a hotel, and is therefore the quietest, with just a handful of few bed and breaksfast and holiday cottages.
- Covean Cottage 44 1720 422 620 http://coveancottage.com A charming little guesthouse with just three rooms. Has a cute little cafe attached which goes out of its way to use as much locally grown produce as possible.
- The Parsonage +44 1720 422370 A small number of bed and breakfast and self-catering rooms available.
- St. Martin's on the Isle Hotel, £200-500
Tresco is a private estate which runs an upmarket timeshare resort, and has a hotel and a pub.
- Holiday cottage rental on Tresco, £800-3000 per week
- The Island Hotel Tresco, £200-500.
- The New Inn on Tresco, rooms for around £100.
- Timeshare cottage on Tresco, range from £20k for a week off-season to £50k+ in August or during school holidays (you get "your" week every year for 25 years).
Local people do not use - and do not like - the expression "The Scillies". Local usage is to refer to "Scilly".
The islands are nearly crime-free. The biggest dangers are probably from bicycle theft or from the odd rowdy group of drunken visitors. Don't leave your bike unlocked outside a pub on a Friday or Saturday night. If it does go missing though you'll probably find it returned the next morning.
You won't want to leave! Only way out by public transport is back to Cornwall on the mainland. It'll feel strange when you return.
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