bunn (bunn) wrote,

It Is a Very Scilly Place...

We went on holiday! To the Scilly Isles, which technically are, yes, in the same county we live in.

But getting there involved a two and a half hour drive to Penzance, an overnight stay (in order to be there to catch the ferry first thing) and then two and a half hours on a ferry travelling from a land of chill and heavy cloud into a land of turquoise seas and sparkling sunshine, full of silver sandy beaches and strange succulent plants and cormorants everywhere. So it felt like we had come a very long way.

The ferry was a bit of a trial. The sea was large, and the Scillonian III, being built for the shallow quay on the largest Scilly,  St Mary's, pitches like mad.  The dogs found this strange and wrong, and so did poor Pp (it turns out that whatever those magic anti-nausea tablets from Iceland were, they were not Dramamine, alas.)  Luckily for me, the upside of my weird approach to motion sickness that renders me unable to play most computer games is that I almost never get travel sick, so I enjoyed the sunshine and the views of the sea, which sometimes went down... And sometimes went up.


However, everyone perked up once we'd arrived, particularly once we had trundled our cases along to the flat we were staying at, just at the other end of the beach. I went and grabbed some food shopping in Hughtown, which is the only town available, and really only a town by virtue of being the place where all the supplies arrive from the mainland (mostly on the Scillonian, like us, although there is one other boat which also delivers freight. It seems a strangely tenuous connection to the mainland, particularly as the Scillonian only runs in the summer.).

We went out in the evening and found Harry's Walls, an unfinished sixteenth century fortification,begun very magnificently but never completed. For a bunch of tiny islands in the middle of the ocean, the Scilly isles do have their fair share of fortifications. Az celebrated being on Terra Firma once again by doing his celebrated impression of a dying fly.

IMG_20130918_163324 (1)

We took things gently for a couple of days and hung about the flat.  Someone had plonked a house in the middle of a good bit of the view, but there was still enough of it to sit in the garden and try to draw.  I haven't photographed my drawing, may add that later.


By Saturday, we felt that we had got over the ferry ride sufficiently to venture to another island, and wandered along to the quay to see what was there. We went past a pub that was absolutely crammed with blokes all singing 'The Sloop John B.' at the top of their voices.  Outside, a couple of people were muttering darkly about how it wasn't a REAL sea shanty, which seemed a little joyless.

We chose an island randomly, and went to St Agnes, which is about 15 minutes away on a tiny ferryboat. Because the inter-island ferry timetable was chalked on a blackboard and confused us, we ended up only being there for an hour and a quarter, but this was long enough to walk around and admire most of the island, particularly as it was quite foggy, and to get a drink at one of the cafes. There were, I think, three cafes and a pub, which on an island you can walk mostly around in an hour, struck us as quite impressive.

Az was quite worried on the boat out - it was crowded, with rather a lot of noisy kids, which he finds worrying - but much better coming back, and Brythen did very well, and seemed to be becoming something of a sea-dog. St Agnes is really beautiful. St Mary's is a quiet sort of place, but St Agnes was really quite other-worldly, little more than a crest of sand and rock covered in heather and tiny fields, held together by a network of tall, wiry hedges to diffuse the wind. It was a little foggy the day we visited, which added to the feeling of having slipped into a different universe.


When we got back, the mist had retreated a bit, the sun was hot and Porthmellon beach was full of brightly coloured gigs setting off to do some racing. We watched for a while, but it was taking them a while to get going and we were thirsty, so we gave up and went in.

I think this is Newquay, the away team, in the red gig, and Bonnet, one of the home teams. Both boats were originally built in the first half of the 19th century, so rather lovely to see them still in use.  I suspect both are the same boat in something of a 'my grandfather's axe' sense, but none the worse for that.

Apparently the word 'gig' is of Viking origin! Which casts an interesting historical light on these low, fast, clinker-built wooden boats, which can be either rowed or sailed.    The museum on St Mary's is full of tales of old shipwrecks, often where the ship in question ends up on the rocks, and then the local gigs pop up, apparently unbothered by the swell and willing to conduct great feats to rescue passengers (and of course, salvage.  At least one of the gigs we saw had been bought and paid for with salvage money).

Shortly afterwards the weather gave up too - I had been hoping we could watch the gigs from the garden, but the mist came down again before they were far enough out that we could see them. At this point, the singing began again, from somewhere out of the mist - not a song I knew this time. I don't know if they were singing in the gigs as they raced in the mist, or if they came straight back because of the fog and then had a sing-song on the beach - but I wondered if the people on the beach were singing so that the gigs could hear where to come back to. Maybe that is ridiculous, but that's what it sounded like. No amplification, just voices by the sea through the mist, it was a bit special.

Continuing the Ancient Boat theme, I spotted this cutter from the Garrison.  It seemed to make a nice contrast with the modern(ish) ferry in the foreground.


St Mary's is a place with truly monumental numbers of Memorial Benches.  I mean, there really is one everywhere you turn.   It struck me that the benches would rot away eventually, leaving nothing but the plaques. If that doesn't look Probably Ritual to future archaeologists, I don't know what will.

That improbable flower in the foreground is a Nerine.  I couldn't get used to seeing these strange, exotic bulbs growing as naturalised garden escapes all over the place.  We don't get them naturalising on the mainland as it is too cold, but on the islands it never gets that cold.   For some reason (maybe it's the island theme) they made me think of the line from The Farthest Shore: "These are the silk-fields of Lorbanery, where it never gets dark... "

I can't think of a particular reason to post this photo, other than that these rock formations are amazing.  Look at the one that is like toes! And the one with a sort of snout!  They are like sculptures!

I can't remember which day we walked half way around St Mary's but that was the day we saw the huge flock of cormorants.  We'd taken a wrong turning and ended up at a dead end on the coast, so we decided to stare at the sea for a bit before we went on.  And then Pp noticed that there were quite a few cormorants on the rocks, and then that some of them were coming our way.  And then, suddenly, there were more cormorants than you could hope to count, swimming at first, and then taking off rather clumsily, with no sound but the splashing as their wings touched the water.   This doesn't really convey the numbers: we were sitting on a rocky point sticking out into the sea, and all around us were cormorants...


On that same walk we saw some seals, and they saw us too! Seals are so interested in people, they hang out along the coasts, peoplewatching... The blowing seamist meant that nobody could see far, and I failed to get a photo of the seals.  I don't know if they managed to get a photo of me.

The Bronze age entrance graves proved easier to photograph.  This one is the upper Innisidgen grave.  Az checked it out (actually, he checked out all the entrance graves. He seems to like them.)   This one is set dramatically on a headland looking over the sea now, but probably when it was built, all the Scilly Isles were one big island and it looked out over low-lying farmland in the interior instead of waves.

We found an Iron Age settlement too, Halangy Down Ancient Village, which is thought to have been occupied from the second century BC through to the seventh AD.  I think this is the Roman era house, built in the second century AD.   Tiny by Roman standards of course, but like Chysauster on the mainland which is from about the same period, it had a rather comfortable pleasant  feeling about it:
 "O small cold hearths, so old, so old
yet you could light a fire in them tonight.
It would be the same fire.
We don't need very much:
Water and warmth and walls, the flickering ring of faces."

In what I can't help but think of as the back garden of the Roman era house, there is Bant's Carn  - a Bronze age entrance grave.  I wonder what they made of it, back in the second century AD, when it was already a thing from forgotten ages past.  It was excavated in 1900, and was almost empty -  just four piles of cremated bones were found.

Although there are few obviously-Roman bits on St Mary's, there was a brilliant find on the now-uninhabited Eastern Isle, Nornour, of 300 Roman brooches, which we saw in the tiny museum.  The thinking now seems to be that these were votive offerings at a temple site , but I can't help feeling that the temptation to weave a story of Roman Pirates and their treasure trove is very strong...


On our way back from the Bronze Age, we stumbled across a somewhat incongruous Bavarian Kaffeehaus, so we stopped for a plate of smoked sausage, and I took a photo of a particularly cheeky sparrow.  There were huge numbers of sparrows on the islands, and thrushes too, all of them very friendly and confiding. Apparently there are no foxes, weasels, stoats or badgers, which may help explain their confidence and numbers.

That evening, I thought the dogs would be too tired to need another walk, but they insisted that actually they DID need a walk, so we strolled along the beach. There, Brythen learned that when the tide comes in, it is no longer possible to go out onto the rocks and find the place where there was a dead seal yesterday. Also that lurchers cannot run on water.  He got very wet!

The next day, we thought we should try another island, so we went to Bryher.  This is an island you can only get on and off at high tide, and they land you at Anneka's Quay, which sounds like it is a remnant of some Danish saga, but was actually built by the Challenge Anneka TV show back in the 90's.  Seems an excellently permanent and useful legacy for a TV show to leave.


We had hoped to hire a boat there, but there was too much risk that the sea-mist would come rolling down on us to do that, so we walked around the island, spotting some seals, egrets and the ever-present cormorants. We had lunch at the Hell Bay Hotel - it was noticeably un-Hellish.IMG_20130923_130100
Then wandered around the rest of the tiny island. We ended up at the Vine Cafe, as we had to wait for the tide to come back before we could catch a ferry. While we were waiting, we met some bird watchers who told us that we had just missed spotting a peregrine falcon.  Poot. Az  was very upbeat on the ferry ride home, both dogs now seem to be settling nicely into the idea of travelling by boat.

The last evening.  We saw a seal here too, and it was watching us with great care, but I didn't have my long lens with me.

Thankfully, the crossing back was calm, so although Pp tried several new travelsickness remedies, we cannot know which if any of them worked, or if the sea was just kinder that day.   I am torn between relief, and the desire to experiment by sending him cruelly to and fro on the high seas until we have a final verdict on which combination of pills, ginger, headphones etc was most effective.

Oh, and I saw some dolphins from the ferry, just as we were coming in to Land's End!
Tags: holidays, photos, wildlife, wittering

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  • Theo the Small Gentleman

    Last week, Theo was castrated. I had thought of letting him stay entire for a while longer — the thinking now seems to be that…

  • Dogs, Beach, etc

    It was probably a bit rash to venture to a sandy beach in August, but this one has a lot of dunes,and not that much car parking, so most of the…

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