Weekend in the Isles of Scilly 9-12 October 1998
A very select group of members gathered at the Star Castle, a splendid hotel located in the sixteenth-century fort on the Garrison in St Mary's, on Friday evening for the start of what proved to be a memorable weekend. After an excellent dinner we visited the museum in Hugh Town which was specially opened for us by the Curator, Steve Ottery, and his wife to whom we express our thanks. Established in the 1960s after the discovery of a large collection of Roman artefacts on the now uninhabited island of Nornour which the islanders were reluctant to see go to London or Truro as had happened in the past, this is now a thriving museum with excellent collections covering all aspects of life on the Isles of Scilly. We spent most time studying the material relating to shipwrecks and the maritime activities of the area but there was plenty for those interested in social and economic conditions, natural history and art.
Saturday morning, having been joined by one member of the party who had been stranded in Penzance overnight due to fog, after a hearty breakfast we set off in Martin Bond's motor launch Flying Cloud to explore. Having sailed around the southern end of St Mary's to see Peninnis Head with its strange rock formations and the steel trestle lighthouse of 1911, Porth Hellick where Sir Cloudesley Shovel was temporarily buried and the site of the wreck of the Cita, we continued to the Eastern Isles and anchored in the small cove between Little and Middle Arthur. Here we were taken ashore by dingy and, accompanied by Martin's enthusiastic spaniel Scout, we walked up to the highest point of Little Arthur and along to Middle Arthur where we saw a splendid Bronze Age entrance grave with a boat-shaped chamber. On reboarding Flying Cloud, we had coffee and biscuits before sailing around Nornour to see seals along the north-east side of Great Ganilly. We then returned to anchor in the shelter between St Martin's and Teän where Martin served us lunch of soup and rolls. Suitably refreshed, we proceeded to St Helen's where we landed again by dinghy. Most of us went first to the ruins of St Elidius' Hermitage where the remains of a chapel, church and living cells date to the eighth, eleventh and twelfth centuries. A service is still held annually at the site near to the feast day of St Elidius on 8 August. We climbed to the highest point where there is a wonderful view of all the islands and a close sight of Round Island with its lighthouse of 1887, 46 ft high itself but 180 ft above sea level. Continuing around St Helen's, we saw the ruins of the Pest House, an isolation hospital built in 1764 to accommodate seafarers suspected of having the plague, and the slipway and quays constructed to serve it. On reboarding the launch, we enjoyed tea and biscuits before returning to St Mary's.
On Sunday morning the weather was threatening but it cleared quicker than expected and justified our decision to set out at the intended time. That day we did the inhabited islands and the tide decreed that we started on Bryher. Some of us crossed the island to see Hell Bay and other sites included the Church of All Saints of 1742 and the ruins of the watch house which (alongside the more recent obelisk) has stood high on Watch Hill since at least the late eighteenth century. Next came Tresco where most of the party visited the renowned Tresco Abbey Gardens and the figure heads (and cresset from St Agnes lighthouse) in Valhalla while two explored the north of the island including King Charles Castle (actually 1550's) and Cromwell's Castle (1651-2) which we had earlier viewed from the sea. Among all the wonders of the luxuriant gardens, the things which impressed us most were the protea's growing to a remarkable size outdoors and the new gazebo which is being decorated with shells in a most attractive manner. A late lunch was taken moored at Carn Near Quay, on the southern tip of Tresco, and by then the wind had abated sufficiently for us to go to St Agnes. Here the items of interest included the lighthouse of 1680, the first erected by Trinity House and now superseded by Peninnis Head light but still functioning as a daymark, and the striking coastguard houses of about 1929. Supposedly laid out in 1729 by the bored son of the lighthouse keeper but possibly with earlier origins is Troy Town Maze. And low tide made it possible to cross the sandbar to Gugh to see the Old Man of Gugh, an impressive 8 ft high menhir; Obadiah's Barrow, a large well-preserved entrance grave; and two houses of about 1920 with strange curving concrete roofs designed to resist damage due to lifting in severe gales.
The weekend provided a wonderful taster of the Isles of Scilly and left us all determined to return and visit at greater length the places which particularly attracted us. We are all very grateful to Julia Creeke for arranging such a splendid weekend (including excellent weather) and to Martin Bond who did us proud - even though we had exhausted both him and Scout by the end of the weekend!
Reported by Celia King
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