Isles of Scilly – St Helen’s Island and Tresco

Monday, 28th June: to St Helen’s Pool

We weighed anchor just before 6pm and set off from The Cove to go to St Helen’s Pool on the rising tide.  Dominic had planned the trip very carefully, including the traditional transit lines that we would use today (on top of the modern chart plotter!).  It was quite difficult to get the first northerly transit, but it was easier sighting the Daymark on St Martin’s with Creeb on St Mary’s, and Dominic used the line between Crow Rock buoy and the tv mast on St Mary’s when we went north across what is land with rocks in abundance at low tide.  A very successful passage and we anchored in St Helen’s Pool after 7pm.  As per the Pilot: ‘This anchorage offers seclusion, fine views and good holding in 2m to 7m sand for those prepared to put up with a complete lack of nearby facilities.’  Perfect.  It is surprisingly sheltered here despite us being only a small island away from the Atlantic.   But we are in fact surrounded by banks, rocks and islands, and it will all be revealed at low tide tomorrow afternoon.  There are a handful of other boats here, and plenty of gulls.  We went to bed with the squelching of the water lapping against the hull and the soft roar of the ocean in the background.

Tuesday, 29th June: St Helen’s Island

St Helen’s Island with Men-a-Vaur to the left and Round Island lighthouse behind on the right

We enjoyed a very calm morning with WiFi courtesy of the mast right ahead at St Mary’s!  The morning cloud cover lifted and as the tide fell, we watched the rocky world slowly emerge around us.  Some of the yachts around us are familiar, both from our trip along the South Coast, but even more from our previous anchorages in Scilly.  We can see the cluster of houses in Old Grimsby not far away on Tresco, St Helen’s and Round Island with the lighthouse behind us and Teän between us and St Martin’s.  And a huge mass of named and un-named rock formations!  We’ve noticed that the tidal streams here in Scilly aren’t strong enough to turn the boats at low and high tide, so we lie mostly to the wind.

Just before low tide we set off to investigate our nearest island, St Helen’s.  Our curiosity took us first to the remains of a building we’d seen and it was the Pest House, an isolation hospital built in 1764 to quarantine plague cases from visiting ships.  It was much smaller than we had thought when we read about it. It’s hard to imagine how these people would have felt, being very ill and forced to stay in this house on a small island away from whoever they had travelled here with.

A lovely walk on the water-smoothed rocks took us to the west of the island where we saw gulls everywhere, one with its chick sitting on a boulder.  We had a wonderful view towards Men-a-Vaur, an impressive rock formation taking the brunt of Atlantic winds and waves.  I wondered where the remains of the St Elidius Hermitage might be and saw there’s a plateau in front of the hill.  And yes, a hardly noticeable path through waist high greenery took me to the granite blocks that are the remains of what was once a place of shelter, prayer and pilgrimage.

We had a long chat with a man and his dog, who come here to Scilly every summer, to just be.  And in the evening we really enjoyed the England – Germany win in the Euros but felt the Sweden – Ukraine game turned really rather brutal towards the end. And obviously a real shame that Sweden didn’t win!

Wednesday 30th June: Tresco

We normally take the tender when we go ashore, but today we thought we’d try out the kayak and it worked really well.  You do get a bit wet, but with so much sunshine that’s not a problem so off we set to Old Grimsby.

Tresco is different to the other islands in that the The Dorrien-Smith family, descendants of Augustus Smith, still live in Tresco Abbey and all the properties and businesses on Tresco are owned and managed by the Tresco Estate.  We saw when we landed in Old Grimsby that this is more like a well-managed resort area.  A completely different feel to St Agnes for example.  There’s even a spa.  It looks a really rather amazing holiday destination, especially if you come here with children.  Take a look here:

We ambled up to The Old Blockhouse, built in the 16th century to protect Old Grimsby Harbour.  It is impossible to describe, or photograph just how outstandingly beautiful it is here.  And it is really hard to believe that we are, in fact in England!  Sandy white beaches, see-through water shimmering in green and blue hues. Small islands and rocks and then the blue ocean as far as your eyes can take you. 

Following the well kept paths, along with a few other people on foot or bike, we continued to be astounded by the views and the sheer beauty of all we saw.  The Great Pool freshwater lake is quite massive (the reason the monks built the Abbey here in the first place) and the woodland is peaceful with massive old trees shading the path.  We arrived at Tresco Abbey Garden together with a large number of people from the cruise ship that we’d seen anchored in St Mary’s Road but the gardens are so large that you all get swallowed up.  These tropical gardens within a garden were all we could have asked for; a stunning display of colours, shapes, smells and vistas.  We even saw red squirrels and a pheasant with 6 chicks!

Tresco Garden was created in the early 19th century by Augustus Smith. He realised the islands were blessed with a wonderfully mild climate. With the remains of the Benedictine priory as a starting point, and a shelter-belt of Monterey Pine and Cypress shielding from the Atlantic gales, he set about creating the garden gaining considerable plantsman knowledge along the way. The garden has seen a few natural disasters but the five generations of the family have restored and replanted each time.

Hunger and thirst dragged us away from this paradise of impressions and we headed up to New Grimsby on the west coast of Tresco.  The pub was full, so we bought a picnic lunch in the cosmopolitan-like supermarket. We found an empty bench with views over the harbour and the beach, and we sat there seeing it all slowly dry out so you can see how you can actually walk across to Bryher, the island right next door.  But that’s for another time.

We had loosely planned on going back for swimming on the beach but rested and enjoyed the warm sun on the boat instead.  Another extraordinary day in Scilly!

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