Lying only 28 miles off the southwest coast of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly are a world apart from mainland Britain. With a sub-tropical climate and turquoise seas you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the Maldives, and in lots of ways the islands are not so different: the archipelago (one of the world’s largest, with more than 150 islands) has a wondrous array of wildlife. The islands are a mecca for birdwatchers, and there are some fascinating subspecies of animals indigenous to Scilly.
There’s no better way to explore the archipelago than by boat, and the shallow inter-island waters make a sea kayak the ultimate means with which to get off the beaten track.
Set out from Porthloo beach, just north of Hugh Town on St Mary’s, and follow the curve of the bay around the head of Taylor’s Island. Follow the coast around to a prominent reef of jagged rock called Creeb, then cross over to Tresco, aiming for Green Island. This is the shortest crossing, at around 1¼ miles, and it shouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes if you maintain steady strokes and keep a straight line. Watch out for boats (check the times of the Scillonian III as this won’t move round you) and if you’re paddling in a group, stick together so you are more visible to boats.
Paddle along the south coast of Tresco, then head southwest, through the shallows to Samson, the largest uninhabited island in the archipelago. Enjoy exploring this shallow water, where even the flat-bottomed pleasure launches can’t venture at low tide.
During very low tides you can walk between Samson and Tresco.
The approach to Samson is one of the highlights of the day, and when the sea is calm you can see down to depths of 5m (16ft) and more as you skim across great forests of seaweed known as mermaid’s hair.
Beach yourself on Samson (pull your canoe further up the beach if the tide is coming in) and explore the island. The island was once inhabited, but in 1855 Augustus Smith, lord proprietor of Scilly, evicted the remaining dwellers and tried to turn the land into a deer park. The deer escaped.
Take time to explore the remains of the 19th-century houses, as well as prehistoric chamber tombs scattered about the island.
From Samson, push off towards Tresco, passing Puffin Island. Keep an eye out for birdlife: oystercatchers jostle noisily on the tiny islets, as do puffins and shags, among others. You may also be lucky enough to see Atlantic grey seals and basking sharks.
Pull in to the beach at New Grimsby on Tresco. The tropical gardens in the south are well worth exploring, but to get a real feel for the island, head north on a cliff path that hugs the coastline and passes Cromwell’s Castle and King Charles’s Castle. Tresco is an island of two halves – while the south has beaches and palm trees, the north offers a rugged wilderness and breathtaking views over the Atlantic. Loop back round to the harbour.
From Tresco, follow the coastline of the island south to Green Island then paddle the crossing back to St Mary’s.
Suitable for fit paddlers with experience. The sea can get choppy between St Mary’s and Tresco – check the weather conditions before setting off. Don’t attempt the route unless you are an experienced paddler – Kayak Scilly can organise a guide to accompany beginners.
HOW TO GET THERE
By public transport:
Fly to St Mary’s by Skybus from Land’s End, Newquay, Exeter, Bristol or Southampton, or travel by ferry on the Scillonian III from Penzance.
0845 710 5555
Alternatively, fly from Penzance by helicopter to seven destinations on Scilly, islesofscillyhelicopter.com
The Boat Shed
Porthmellon, St Mary’s
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 101.
Grid ref: SV 909 113
Abbey Gardens, Tresco
Kayak Scilly hires boats and offers guided tours. Double sea kayaks £45 per day.
Isle of Scilly Tourist Board, www.simplyscilly.co.uk
St Mary’s Tourist
Hugh Street, St Mary’s