I’d stayed up a little before bed in order to try and catch a glimpse of the International Space Station passing over. The sky a few nights before had been clear and the true beauty of the heavens was visible. Only in these truly dark places can the amazing number of stars be seen and the vastness of it is just beyond my comprehension. I looked forward to similar and my first view of the ISS but the night had clouded over. A few stars and constellations drifted into sight but drifted out again just as quickly. I persevered and stood patiently waiting for the ISS to appear above the horizon on StarWalk. It seemed to take forever and then when it was above the horizon it moved with incredible speed into the east and vanished without a single glimpse attained. I retired to bed.
This morning was similar to all others on this holiday. I was awoken, as I had been several times overnight, by a small foot in my face. This was accompanied by the duvet being pulled from my shoulder as littlest scrambled towards wifey and delighted to inform her he was awake. Contrary to the previous mornings where the response has been similar to “Get off. Can’t you sleep a little bit longer for Mummy” it was actually somewhat more positive and telling him what a good boy he was. Foot now removed from my face I glanced at my watch to see it was 8am. I lie in!
After pulling myself out of bed I unzipped the tent entrance and wandered across the field to the toilet block. The sky was an upturned bowl of bright blue from horizon to horizon. The sun was already warm and the dew on the grass evaporating quickly. The promise of the day to come. We enjoyed a slow start to the morning and managed to get a few domestic chores done after breakfast whilst the girls played with their “holiday pals”. The sun continued to beam down and slowly we began to discuss the plans for the day. We concluded that it was an “off island” day but could not decide which one to visit. We were too late for the first boats at 10.15 so chose to walk down into town and grab a coffee first.
There are many reasons why camping on Scilly and especially on the The Garrison are so good but one in particular is the walk down the hill into town. You cross the football field and then follow the lane toward the Star Castle Hotel and suddenly a vista opens up in front of you. Looking down to town you can see the harbour wall and all the yachts, boats and launches bobbing gently in the water beyond. The buzz of a twin otter winding up at the airport briefly increases in pitch as it commences its take off roll. It’s soon airborne and climbing into the blue sky heading back to the mainland. Off to my left is a view of breathtaking beauty. The water coruscating in the sunshine is a variety of shades of blue and green and the off islands are basking in glorious weather. The beautiful sandy beaches draw in your eye and invite you to visit whilst outcrops of rocks are surrounded by white halo’s where they disturb the water. Small boats and launches are motoring between the islands and a yacht having left the harbour is running out toward St Mary’s Sound with just the jib to catch the breeze.
We walk through town to Porthcressa beach. The white sand is being gently lapped by the tide in the bay and a gentle cooling breeze is now blowing in from the west. We sit at an outside table at Dibble and Grub and realising it’s now too late for the 11.15 boats too we choose to have brunch. Wonderful coffee along with pancakes cooked to perfection served with natural yoghurt, fresh fruit and maple syrup make the whole scene and experience feel somewhat indulgent… and why not!
Over brunch a family discussion takes place and we conclude that St Agnes will be the island to visit today. We have chosen to bring the buggy today and not the back carrier for littlest. Whilst we have greater independence with the latter he doesn’t get his mid morning sleep, or as much of one, as he does with the former. The sad bit is that not all parts of the islands are accessible with the buggy so unless we choose to carry him or he walks a bit, then our options are limited. We head to the quay and embark on our launch. “Surprise” heads out from the harbour. The sun is still shining. The boats have gradually grown on littlest and he now stands on the seat peering over the gunwhale pointing at other boats or the water making bold statements of “boat” or “fishes”. We enjoy the journey across and in no time at all the boat is pulling alongside the quay at Agnes.
After disembarking we head up past the pub and to the point where a path forks away from the road. The road carries on into the island and the path drops down to the sandbar between St Agnes and the island of Gugh. At lower tides you can walk between the two islands. Littlest is about to nod off and the buggy cannot get over the sandbar so wifey heads off with him for a walk and the girls and I head onto Gugh. We have to be quick as the boatman told us the bar would be covered by 2.30pm. We head off around the island. The wildlife on here is stunning. Black backed and yellow legged gulls circle all around and a nesting site in the heather is clearly visible on a small hillside. A well defined path leads us around the coastline to the southern most tip of the island. The wind has now shifted to a south westerly and has brought some cloud and a light mizzle with it. We continue to walk for a while but soon decide it may be better to turn back and find some shelter. We find a huge rock shaped by years of wind and water erosion and stand in its lee sheltered from the rising wind and rain. Despite the change in weather it is still warm and we watch the gulls swooping across The Cove and a Cormorant diving under water and then reappearing a good distance away. The sheer tranquility of the island washes over you. The mizzle stops and I peer around our shelter to see that a brighter sky, albeit cloudy, is now with us and we can see the rain passing over the sound to St Mary’s.
We decide to do a quick seal hunt and dash across the island to Dropnose Porth. This is a wing and a prayer suggestion and luck needs to be with us. The wind has dropped again and as we approach the bay the water within has smoothed to a flat surface ruffled only by the waves crossing the unprotected mouth. We look out with expectation and hope. We are not disappointed. Over the course of 20 minutes we sit and watch 3 seals popping their heads up above the water before diving below and then reappearing. The girls are thrilled and the excitement in their voices takes me back to my childhood and fond memories and experiences with my parents. We finally leave, cross over the sandbar and join wifey at a beautiful cafe next to the coastguard cottages. This is view from the garden…
The cloud has remained and is starting to hint at more rain. We head off for a short walk around the island and end up at Periglis beach. Here we have an uninterrupted view of the amazing western rocks and the stunningly impressive Bishop Rock lighthouse beyond. This place is wide open to the ravages of the wind and sea yet even here there is some safe sanctuary for smaller craft that are moored within the bay. A huge old block concrete boat shed dwarfs the two minor slips that run down into the water. I believe this is the old, now abandoned lifeboat station. The ravages of the weather here are instantly apparent in the number of boats pulled onto the quay that are in various states of repair or disintegrating.
The mizzle begins again and by the look of the cloud this is set to stay for a while. We, like all other island visitors make our way back toward the main quay. We are early for the return boat and the Turks Head, Britain’s most southwesterly pub becomes and impromptu waiting room that also serves beer! Result. I pop out and look across the water to see “Sapphire” approaching. There are more on the quay already queuing than she can take so I return to the pub and explain to wifey we have an hour to wait. However, the SMBA chaps carefully count people on and off their boats and are also experienced enough to know that when the weather turns everyone wants to get home. Just behind “Sapphire” comes “Surprise”. We head down to the quay and get into a much less crowded boat to return to St Mary’s. The rain has stopped again but the wind remains. The waves across the sound are now much bigger and the boat is tossed around a little as we chug back. Littlest finds this amusing and takes advantage of the space on the boat to walk around and clamber on seats and enjoy the motion.
We arrive at St Mary’s and walk back to the campsite without any further rain. We settle in and prepare dinner. Once done the girls are itching to get back out and play with their friends. We prepare littlest for bed and then I commence “drive-time” by pushing him down to town and back again to engender sleep. I take a look at the latest weather info in the tourist office window. We already know the Scillonian ferry is cancelled tomorrow due to the weather. I can see why. Strong winds, heavy rainfall and high seas. I walk back up the Garrison. I am protected from the wind and the channel between St Mary’s and Bryher/Tresco (The Road) is calm and tranquil. The sun is hid by clouds but the temperature is still pleasantly warm and the last boats of the day are hurrying back to their respective anchorages. The view here now is totally different to that of the morning but no less beautiful. No less breathtaking.
We continue to the top of the hill and as we pass the football field we feel the might of the wind that is building. As we turn into the campsite we are protected by a bank of conifers and the air is still around the tents. I can hear the children playing beneath the trees on the far side of the site where they have built their den. All is well.
I sit and type. The children are still playing and if I look out of the window I can see torch light dancing around under the trees. The only other sound is that of the gas lamp burning brightly, my keyboard tapping and the occasional page turn as wifey reads her book. The tent is still. Unruffled.
The trees protect us from the force of the wind but they cannot deny its presence by the sound of it rushing through their tops. The clanging of the bell on the Spanish Ledge bouy gives final confirmation that the weather is on the turn. We have seen two different sets of islands today and both are beautiful, both breathtaking and both majestic in different ways. Come rain or shine… this is an amazing place.