Just45 kilometres off the coast of Cornwall,
this mystical archipelago feels a world away from mainland Britain.
Tales of shipwrecks and pirates abound, and these stories aren't
fairy tales but Scillonian history, backed up by real-life relics
in the islands' pubs and Tresco Abbey Garden's collection of 30 or
so figureheads, retrieved from merchant boats which met their
watery end here over the centuries.
There are five inhabited islands - St Mary's, St Agnes,
St Martins, Tresco and Bryher - and countless uninhabited rocks and
islets. Across these lie some of the UK's best-loved beaches, their
impossibly clean white sands washed by soft turquoise waves, and
home to seals and puffins. On a calm sunny day, the hidden coves
and powder-soft beaches look irresistibly tropical. Warmed by the
full force of the Gulf Stream, these unpolluted waters are
nevertheless freezing, even in comparison to Cornwall,
without the mainland's heat to warm them. Embrace the chill factor,
dive in and discover some of the best beaches in the Scillies.
Also known as Rushy Porth, this spit of chalky sand that appears
at low tide is so pale, it makes the sea glow an almost luminescent
green on a grey day. It's overlooked by a 16th-century blockhouse,
hence the name, with far-reaching views over the rocky outcrops of
St Helen's and Tean. A chilly morning dip off Blockhouse Beach is
best rewarded by a slap-up breakfast and proper coffee at The
Ruin beach café, just a short walk away in Tresco's Old Grimsby
A sheltered rocky bay on the southern shores of the island of St
Agnes, Beady Pool takes its name from the valuable ceramic beads
that washed up here in the 17th century, after a Dutch cargo ship
sunk offshore. Though they're increasingly rare, these little beads
can still occasionally be found on the beach, which makes for many
happy hours of treasure hunting.
Small and secluded, Rushy Bay is a fairly well-kept secret on
the smallest inhabited Scillonian island of Bryher. It's framed by
seagrass and has a tropical glow when the sun shines. Bring a
picnic and settle in for the day - this beautiful spot is only
accessible by walking along sandy footpaths, so tends to be quiet.
The sea here is perfect for swimming, sheltered from wind and
Perhaps the most picturesque of all the Scillies' beaches,
Appletree Bay is everything you could expect from a holiday in
Tresco: almost a kilometre of soft milk-white sand and
crystal-clear waters, with plenty of space for running around and
splashing in the shallows. If there's a southerly wind blowing,
have a go at windsurfing or dinghy sailing here, too.
On St Mary's, the largest Scillonian island, rolling grass hills
meet the sea with a sandy peninsula leading out towards Toll's
Island. You can wade out there at low water, but swimming isn't
recommended as the tide can turn quickly. For those staying on St
Mary's, this is a great place for a day trip away from the crowds.
Stop off for lunch at Carn Vean café, just back from the beach,
where you'll find freshly caught crab, tea and cakes served up
within a beautifully kept garden.
Great Bay and Little Bay are in essence a continuous stretch of
creamy sand on the remote and exposed northern shores of St
Martins, the former having recently been voted the best beach in
the UK. This side of the island is undeveloped and wild, leaving
the beach utterly unspoilt.
Stepping foot on the deserted island of Samson feels like
something of an adventure. Abandoned farmhouses are somewhat
spooky, but the shallow turquoise waters of Samson Flats at the
northeast of the island are too inviting to resist. There's no
proper quay here, so hiring a little motorboat and pulling it up
onto the beach is the only option if you want to explore its
The tiny Covean is a secret gem. So secret, in fact, that it
doesn't even appear on the map. Head instead to Covean Cottage Café
and Guesthouse and follow a tiny green path down to the sea. A
snorkeller's paradise awaits, with a sheltered cove hemmed in by
rocky outcrops teeming with marine life. Just around the headland
is The Bar, a stretch of sand that at low tide connects the island
to Gugh, and at high tide all but disappears.