I consider myself quite lucky for being able to spend 9 months on the british Isles of Scilly, specifically Tresco, that so many are just dreaming about. Sure, I saw it from a very different perspective than they ever will – it was a worktime for me. I spent those 9 months as a cottage cleaner, worked a lot and quickly and it was quite stressful sometimes, so it was hard to find time and strength for everything that there is to explore.
But I still got my chances and experienced some really nice days or just afternoons there, which made me think about the best ways how to truly experience Scilly.
Now, I will be actually talking about Tresco most of the time, because that’s where I’ve been anchored, but some of the points will be referring to other islands, too.
I’m hoping this article could be of help as a nice little summarization from someone who actually lived there, and a place where to start. But at the same time it’s for me and all the other hard-working people who had been there or still are. When you stay on an island as small as Tresco for so long and it is your workplace as well, it can make you feel caged a bit, which is all the more reason for remembering to see the beauty of your surroundings and the benefits of the location.
The islands are beatiful, there is no question. You can read a lot about them online, for example check several posts about them by my favorite Hand Luggage Only travel blog. I wouldn’t go as far to call them the „English Caribbean“ as we once heard, but they do have a lot of charm and a lot to offer.
These are some of the things that I think everybody should experience when visiting Isles of Scilly. I haven’t personally experience all of them because sometimes I just couldn’t, since the work schedule, but if I’d have a second chance, I probably would.
- Walk through the whole island or rent a bike or golf cart – Bike and golf cart options are definitely available on Tresco, but there could be bike options even elsewhere, look for them. Some of the islands are quite tiny, so walking or bike is enough, but let’s say on St. Mary’s you’d do much better with a bike, or even a car.
Anyway, be sure to explore as many roads and paths as you can! You never know what will be just behind the next tree and what secret places inside the forests will you find. They could easily become „your places“ and a good reason to always come back.
There are countless great sites, views, architectural points of interest, landmarks, important lighthouses, castle ruins and so on.
And you can also geocatch here. There is at least one catch to find on Tresco that I know of, I’m sure there are some more on other islands, too 😉
- Tresco Abbey garden – A very special place where you will find the strangest trees and plants and you might feel like you have been teleported into the dinosaur age at some points because those trees are huge! The garden is well cared for, it is very relaxing, has some water ponds and small falls, there are some great spots for photography and nice hidden spots where you can lay down on the grass, or sit on the bench, and relax.
The garden is also home to the famous red squirrels and golden pheasants which look like shiny colorful parrots and are curious enough to come really close, if you can be patient and have some goods for them. Hint: try oats, they love them. But try not to be seen by the staff, they might not love it that much…
And if that is not enough, the garden has a nice little cafe with a gift shop and an outdoor terrace which is just FULL of birds (and sometimes the squirrels, too). Be careful, though, they are really after the cakes and you will probably have a full table of them if you let them 🙂
- Bird Watching – It is a big thing here, Tresco has not only the seabirds to offer (seagulls are guaranteed), but also thanks to the big lake under the castle, there are plenty other sorts, from a robin to a swan, from a puffin to a sandpiper, so be sure to have your binoculars and cameras ready. Many of the cottages, if you are staying, have books about the birds to spot in their library, but you can always ask about it in the office or buy it in the gift shop for yourself.
And what’s more – around the cottages you can always see some friendly regular pheasants or partridges, especially around the Sea Garden.
- Dare yourself to a quick swim! – Ok, this is one of the things that this almost paradise misses for me – warm seawater 😀 It is really cold, I’d say freezing in the colder months, but still very, very cold in the summer. You could hire a wetsuit on the beach, but c’mon, where is the fun in that? Run in at least once, it will be worth it 😉 I’ve seen some people properly swim in the sea for longer time but I think for that you have to be a bit trained and cold-resistant.
- Watch a sunrise on the beach – Even if you are not an early bird, get up at least once and do it, you will not regret it. The sunrises are often very colorful, pink, purple, flaming orange, just beautiful <3 I was lucky enough to briefly witness many on the way to work, but never really had enough time to sit down and watch them whole which would surely be much beter. And don’t miss them, they are gone quickly.
- Watch a sunset from the rocks high above the sea level – In the North of the island you can find beautiful rocks or the ruin of a castle to sit at and watch gorgeous sunsets while listening to the rumbling of the waves bellow. From there you can also oversee pretty much everything else, that is the rest of the island, but also other islands up to St. Mary’s. Totally must-do. Most poetic thing.
- Go barefoot on the beach. There are plenty sandy beaches that offer you the best opportunity to get in touch with the nature and truly realize where you are. Go barefoot, duck and grab the sand in your palms, let it run through your fingers and watch it sparkle in the sun. Spend some time just sitting there, being with the ocean, breathing the salty air. Appreciate the tranquility, and feel „alive“. Sunbathe if you can, but remember that Isles are pretty windy so it might not be as easy and warm as you think.
- Collect shells – Whether you take them with you or not, this is just relaxing thing to do and you might find some really pretty ones. There is also a big chance for some crab bits. I have never found one alive but who’s to say you will not get lucky. You might also run into jellyfish taken out by high tide so it’s not a bad idea to have a bucket or something, so that you can save them and toss them back 🙂
- Piper’s Hole – For the adventurous kind there is this cave that you can explore. There is a legend about it that it leads to another island but we couldn’t confirm that 😀 But! Before you go, discuss the tide times with locals because the tide here is super-high and quick, you might not have long time to stay and you do NOT want to get stuck in the cave. Always let someone know where you are going, bring good shoes and a torch and expect to go through some really cold water just after few meters. It can get up to the waist so a suit or at least swimsuit and some flip-flops come in handy.
- Tresco Triathlon – it happens every summer (in June I think) and if you don’t feel like doing it, at least watch it, it’s fun and it’s big 🙂 You can always dare a friend to do it with you. And remember, it’s not important to win, but to participate.
- Walk Scilly (don’t you just love the name? Tehee…) – another anual big thing that happens here, but this time in spring (April). Many many guided walks around the islands, fun things to discover and do, special talks by ornithologists and other wild life specialists – in other words if you really want to learn anything about the islands, don’t miss the Scilly Walk.
- Seal snorkelling – Ok, this one needs some courage but again, very worth it. It takes place around St. Martin’s but you can order a pick-up from other islands. They will then take you to St. Martin’s where they provide the wetsuit, fins and snorkels as well as some info and guidance. Then you are taken by a boat to a spot nearby where are some big rocks and a colony of seals is permanently living there. They are completely free and in their own environment but they are also very friendly and curious. You will definitely see them, and you might even touch them or have them nibble your fins (they favorite thing to do, it seems). If you can, get yourself a Go Pro or another waterproof camera in order to catch some footage from this experience.
A tip? Don’t chase them! If you really want them to come, just hover and let them come. They are curious and will come on their own.
After the snorkelling you kinda have to take a long walk through the island to a boat going back to your island, so you can enjoy the views, stop at the fruit and veggie Organics farm and eat at one of the few restaurants (also check them out on Tripadvisor). We ate at Seven Stones and as much as I did like the view, the food wasn’t much to talk about and when my friend ordered coffee, they only had the instant stuff to offer. On top of that, the waitress spilled it and never came back to wipe it. Probably not a place that I would visit for a second time even if I still could.
- Speed boat/glass bottom boat… – Beside the seals there are other experience things that you can do, like get a ride on a superfast boat or a boat with glass bottom so you can see what is underneath you. I think both would be fun thing to do but if you have a budget and are looking for something truly great to remember, I’d go for the seals.
- Kayaking, wind surfing, gig rowing, boat hire… – on Tresco you will find a sailing school so even if you are a beginner, you have a chance to learn how to do this. Very fun thing to do for families with kids. As for gig rowing, it’s like „the thing“ here for the islanders so if you are into it, ask about the option to try it or even join the game when the next match happens. Or just to watch. You can also borrow a boat and go fishing, crab chasing or looking for shrimps (that is even without a boat, just ask some locals how to do that).
- Food – Even on such a small island as Tresco there are few restaurants worth checking out, in the Abbey garden cafe you can enjoy some good cakes and coffee, there are tapas choices, pizza, seafood, and if you go around the other islands, you will definitely see more choices. Don’t forget to check out the famous cornish pasty while you’re there.
There are also some other lovely local things to check out – ask about local ice cream, fish market in the New Grimsby, wines or Ales of Scilly. The New Inn hosts events like ale festival, for example, or there was a seafood festival when we were there. Follow the leaflets, Tresco’s website or FB, they are always up to something.
If you browse Tripadvisor, you will definitely find dozens of tips for places where to eat or drink on IOS.
My favorite? Dibble and Grub at the Porthcressa beach on St. Mary’s. They don’t look like much but have superb tapas and I had the best flavored cappucino ever there! Also nice beach view if you sit outside but be aware, they are VERY popular.
- Arts and culture – There is a small gallery on Tresco, all holiday houses are filled with hundreds of paintings and drawings by local artists or artsy visitors (even famous people) and around whole island you can also admire these big oil paintings. Worth taking a picture with them and the landscape behind.
- Relax after excercise – there are pools and spa so after all that walking and exploring you can properly relax there, if you are not in a mood for beach or the weather sucks. You can also play tennis, table tennis, badmington, footbal, you name it.
- On St. Mary’s you can go horse riding or golfing.
- Or visit their Camera Obscura and Cabinet of curiosities in the Buzza tower.
- Or go for one of many walks – around the Garrison walls, by The Strand (Porthcressa beach), to The Old Town, you choose.
Whatever you do, have fun and know that you are on a special piece of land that even plenty English people don’t know about, but those who do, consider it super unique and fancy. It’s a favorite spot to go on vacation even to the people who live in likes of Cornwall or Dorset, so you know, probably worth visiting 😉