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Isles of Scilly

Freewheeling around island lanes, messing around in boats and picnicking on deserted beaches; a holiday on the Scillies is like going on a Famous Five adventure, and just as varied. When the sun shines on this archipelago, 28 miles off the Cornish coast, it is almost Caribbeanesque with its white sand beaches and secluded bays.But when wild storms roll in from the Atlantic it’s more reminiscent of the Scottish Hebrides.

There are hundreds of islands and islets in the Scillies, but just five are inhabited. Of these, St Mary’s is the largest, but at just three miles across at its widest part, it’s a pretty small chunk of land by any standards. It’s linked to the others by regular ferries, but each of the islands retains an individual charm and character: St Mary’s is very much the hub, but there’s also the vast pearly beaches of St Martin’s, the lush gardens of Tresco, wild little Bryher and the western outpost of St Agnes. All of them repay exploration, and there are boat trips to a handful of the uninhabited isles too.

History

Legend claims that the Isles of Scilly once belonged to Lyonnesse – a land mass that extended west from Penwith, linking the Scillies to the mainland. Although the story may have some truth in it, the earliest recorded inhabitants are those that left an unusual amount of Bronze Age burial chambers dated between 1900 and 800 BC. From the 12th century, Benedictine monks ruled for around 400 years, leaving their mark in the form of a priory on Tresco. In 1571 the islands were leased to the Godolphin family, which held the archipelago for the crown until Augustus Smith took over in 1834. It is Smith’s descendants who still hold much of the land for the Duchy of Cornwall today.

While making a living on the islands has never been easy, historically kelp-burning, fishing, flower farming and ship building were the stalwarts of local industry. Cargo from foundered ships has also played its part in floating the economy in hard times. Flower farming is still a commercial activity, but inevitably these days the local economy is mostly reliant on tourism. The islands’ paradise beaches, abundance of wildlife and rugged coastline – once the haunt of smugglers and the site of more than 900 shipwrecks – has attracted visitors since the 1960s.

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Isles of Scilly

Part of Britain, yet so different. On a warm day, you could be in the Caribbean.
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