England’s Almost Tropical Scilly Isles

Let me make one thing clear, the North Atlantic is not like the South Pacific, which is famous for its balmy days and tropical islands which boast sandy beaches and superb diving in coral-encrusted lagoons.

No, the North Atlantic is better known for its gusty storms and rough seas. However, not all is bad, as can be attested by those who live on and visit the Scilly Isles which form an archipelago of the southwest tip of the Cornwall Peninsular.

The Scilly Isles may not be exactly tropical, but there are temperate and quite comfortable, being warmer in winter and not quite as hot in summer as the island nation of the United Kingdom to the northeast.

There are ten islands and 45 islets that are part of the Scilly group, with only five of the islands harbouring human residents.

Of the five inhabited islands St Mary’s is the largest, both in terms of size and population. With a population of less than 2,000 scattered in a few communities, the largest of which is Hugh Town, St Mary’s has some delightful white, sandy beaches and some great coastal walks.

The second biggest island is called Tresco, and one of its main attractions is the Tresco Abbey Garden, a tropical garden which thrives in the mild climate. The garden boasts over 20,000 plants, few of which would be able to survive the much harsher climate of the mainland. Tresco too has some wonderful beaches, with the most popular being Rushy Porth, Appletree Bay and Pentle Bay.

The other inhabited islands of St Martins, St Agnes and Byher are smaller and less populated than their neighbours, but each island does have its own charm, and St Martins even has a vineyard which produces good quality wines.

These days tourism accounts for the majority of the islands’ income, but they do have quite a chequered history, and have been settled by humans since the Neolithic age. You can still visit the ancient monuments and burial chambers that are scattered around the islands and a megalithic village at Bant’s Carn.

There are scheduled flights to St Mary’s from several cities in England, and helicopter services between Penzance in Cornwall and both St Mary’s and Tesco islands. Most visitors, though, take the ferry from Penzance and Land’s End to St Mary’s where they can connect to inter-islands ferries for forays onto the other islands.

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