Mark Gillett

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Archive for June 2007

The Scillies – No matter the weather

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I have just returned for my second visit to the Scillies in 6 months.

Last October was my first venture to these beautiful islands off the coast of Cornwall. As a boy my family visited Cornwall on many occasions spending holidays with an aunt I Penzance. Most of our trips were to local beaches like Porthcurno and Kenneggy. St Michaels Mount was also a favourite. We visited so many places over the years but one memory that stayed with me and that has become synonymous with Cornwall was that of the helicopter pad that we passed daily on our family expeditions to various parts of the tip of Cornwall. My parents could never afford for us to take a ride on the chopper to the Scillies but they did tell us how lovely it was and that they spent their honeymoon there. My aunt Rene had also been before and I remember stories about Tresco that place with the same name as a local food store!

Everyday we passed the pad, we would look out of the window to see if the chopper was taking off or landing; our necks craning for a better view and the three of us fighting in the back seat to get the best sighting wondering what it was like on those tiny islands off the coast.

There was a boat to that we watched from my aunt’s window. It was called the Scillonian. A scruffy looking ferry with a crane on which left daily at around 10 in the morning. Not nearly as exciting as a chopper though.

Penzance was and still is a lovely town and we stayed in Newlyn, a little fishing bit of the same place really just a bit further on. I would fish daily off the quay and watch the Scillonian and Chopper and dream of the day I would get to go to the mysterious isles.

35 years on, I booked a holiday to the Scillies and could not wait. As with my family we could not really afford the extravagance of the Helicopter plus we had booked to camp and not stay in one of the lovely hotels. We booked a campsite on Bryher.

We drove down to Penzance and booked our car into one of the car parks. This was all arranged with the campsite owners, which made it so easy. We showed up at the dockside, off loaded our camping gear and canoe, and then parked the car. From that point it was sort of all done until we arrived at the site.

The crossing pretty much lived up to its reputations. It was very bumpy and lots of people were hanging over the side of the boat heaving and hoing!. Never the less we arrived two and a half hours later on St Mary’s. We sailed through the islands for a bit and the raw beauty of the place already left me awestruck. Stuck in the middle of the Atlantic (or as good as) these islands are almost Caribbean like but a little cooler. We passed beautiful long white beaches with so few people on. The sea inside the shelter of the islands was eerily calm and it was a pleasure to sail through after the main part of the journey.

Finally we docked and disembarked. Our kit was transferred for us as we had labelled them with the final destination. We waited about an hour and jumped on to our shuttle to Bryher. As we arrived on this little island the tractors and Landrovers came scurrying down the beach to help with luggage. The only hotel, the Hell Bay Hotel had landrovers collect the luggage of guests and the campsite had tractors!

Our time on the Island was spent watching the children play in the fields, in the trees, on the beaches with the freedom and independence that we grew up with 40 years ago and just took for granted. Now this is just not possible back in leafy Surrey. My daughter will go the to the tennis club, gym or stables for her activity and we will pay gargantuan amounts for the pleasure. Yet they are so much happier just being.

It was not just about the children, though. The islands are truly wild and unspoilt. I ran daily around Bryher that was about 5 miles if I stuck to the coastline. And plenty of hills too. White beaches surround all the islands and the flotsam is just some of the most awesome you will find anywhere. For photography or bird life the isles are second to none too. Everything works too. There are boat trips, seal watching, puffins, sailing boats to hire but none of the boarding or marketing that you would get on a normal beach. You just ask where you can get whatever and there will be someone with a little business that sells it. Failing that you can just be lazy and watch everyone else.

There is a shop too that services the campsite and locals. It has pretty much everything you will need so loading up with food before your arrival is not really necessary. Its worth checking if it will be open on arrival though. Bank holidays are not good!

If you require a pint from time to time there is the Fraggle Rock, which is the only pub on the island. The food is good too and a local band often plays ring the evenings. Its not quite the cuisine of the Vine Café which is the only other eating place on Bryher. It’s a large shed like building in the middle of the island but you need to book for an evening sitting. During the day though, you can get cakes and tea without too much trouble.

Well, that was the first trip. Going back in the May half term seemed like a great idea. The weather should be better going into summer and a little warmer. Well that what we thought. I arranged a trip back with my 7-year-old daughter and some friends. The start was pretty much as in October and our arrival was swift and without problems. I texted some other friends to say what a great time we were having and that they really should have come with us. They were very jealous!

That 1st evening the weather closed in and the wind got up, the rain started falling and the wind got stronger. And stronger. By 6am our tent was wet inside but not too bad and it was blowing a Hooley outside. This Hooley decided to turn into gale force 8 by 8 am and as I stuck my head out of our very wayward Millets summer tent, I was really wishing I had bought my mountain two man geodesic. Out of the 12 other tents on the site there were only four left standing and we were one of them. Thank you Millets!

I still decided to do what everyone else was doing and move our gear to the community centre to dry out and sit out the storm. Emily was first then I returned for the kit. When I got back my tent had flattened too!

With over twenty refugees in the community centre the camaraderie was really quite unique. Everyone sorted themselves out into areas and just got on with camping indoors. It had now been confirmed at gale force 10! Wow!

The storm faded that night and by the second morning the sun was beginning to appear! Again the children all found mates and began to run happily in the fields and down to see Billy the goat. While they were playing I decided to go down to check out my canoe and set it up for a ride. When I got to the beach it was gone! I could not believe it. We had the wettest of nights; I had carried 30 kilos of kit and my daughter to the community centre. My tent was no longer and now my canoe had been stolen! I just laughed. I then asked one of the local boatmen who told me he had seen it blown away in the gales but I did not believe this at first. This is a 40 kilo sit-on-top 3 seater tank of a canoe! He could see it on an island over a mile away where is had washed up onto the rocks. I could not for one believe this had happened and two that I would be able to recover it. Well I did and it was sin fine shape with the paddles still tied to it.

Our week continued and was a beautiful time. Emily did not want to return and neither did I. Since I have been back my mind has only been on getting back for my next photography commission as soon as possible. I am now booked to go back in two week’s time. I can’t wait.

Written by markgillett

June 9, 2007 at 9:04 pm

Posted in Travel, Uncategorized