It was nice to be home. The garden had grown a bit! I enjoyed a few days doing very little except washing and mending my kit. Everything (including me) was getting a bit tired. For example: the rubber was wearing off my walking poles, my t-shirt had developed an irreparable hole and I had to order a new one, my shorts needed sewing up yet again, and my sandals had to be washed and soaked 3 times to rid them of their foul smell.
I also took the opportunity to visit my mum as I hadn’t seen her for over 6 months and I don’t want to be written out of her will. Plus, she’s good at sewing. Love you mum.
I’m not sure how I was persuaded to spent a week camping in Cornwall, but I was. I admit I wasn’t thrilled at the thought of camping, but Cornwall had gotten under my skin and I was struggling to tear myself away. Anyway, I’m now the expert on choosing where to visit.
It was nice to have a week off walking, and blog writing (no wifi and little phone reception were the cause). I was also secretly pleased that I seemed to have taken the rainy week as a holiday – the only time I’ll be pleased about that.
I caught up on sleep, swam in the sea, visited friends, ate BBQs and relaxed. Bliss.
3 nights at St Martin’s and 1 night at St Mary’s campsites
Several people had told me that I must go to the Scilly Isles, how beautiful they are, how clear the sea is, how lovely the beaches are and how cold the water is. So I caught the (very expensive) ferry from Penzance to find out.
I arrived at St Mary’s harbour, in Hugh Town, and, on a whim, caught another ferry to St Martin’s in order to camp there. It was a beautiful campsite, sheltered by big hedges and about 40m across the dunes from a beach. I stayed for 3 nights before spending my last night on St Mary’s.
The Scilly Isles are an archipelago of more than 200 low-lying granite islands and rocks. Only 5 islands are inhabited; St Mary’s and Tresco are the main islands and St Martin’s, Bryher and St Agnes are referred to as the “off-islands”. They are 28 miles SW from Land’s End and face the full force of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Scillies have a temperate climate, with high rainfall, high humidity and a small temperature range. I happened to visit at the end of an unusually long dry spell and had a couple of days of fantastic sunshine. I’m sure the sun burns more here than on the mainland.
I packed as much as possible into my 4 days and managed to get to all 5 islands. They are all different, but also the same. On the off-islands in particular it felt like I’d gone back in time. Time also slowed down. I think much of that feeling has to do with the lack of vehicles on the roads. The islanders do have cars (or tractors, or golf buggies), but none of the tourists do. Life is centred on the sea and, if you live here, you should definitely buy a boat before you even think about getting a car.
I managed to go swimming several times (the water was a bit colder than Cornwall’s but not that cold). The sea was clear, but I didn’t think it was any clearer than Cornwall’s or West Scotland’s, it was just shallower and therefore you could see the bottom easier.
I hired a kayak and paddled from St Martin’s, around Tresco, to Bryher. The sea ‘inside’ the shelter of the islands seemed really shallow, mostly sandy-bottomed, but with lots of seaweed. I have never thought of seaweed as beautiful, it often looked like mermaid’s hair rising from the deep and floating on the top of the water.
The shallowness of the water meant that the land expanded significantly at low tide, such that I couldn’t find a way back around Tresco and ended up hauling the kayak over some rocks. I suspected that if the sea level dropped by 10-20m then the Scillies would become one island. (At low Spring Tides it is possible to walk between St Martin’s, Tresco and Bryher.)
Everyone commutes by boat and the information board at the campsite entrance was updated daily with sailing times and destinations. I took a day trip to Tresco, ostensibly to see the famous Abbey Gardens (the only place in the UK where tropical plants grow outside) but the entrance fee was £15 and I knew it wasn’t worth it for me. I read all the information and decided I didn’t want to wander around gardens with plants from places like South America. Instead I went on a free RSPB guided walk and glimpsed the gardens from the outside. Besides, a cruise ship was docked so the gardens were very busy (the RSPB man was not!).
The bird life around the Scillies is much less way of humans than on the mainland. In fact it’s positively cheeky. I always had thrushes (much more common over here), sparrows and blackbirds hopping around my tent looking for any scraps I might offer them. Sitting outside cafes I often shared my cream tea with a bird or three.
I did walk around much of Tresco and took in Cromwell’s Castle (a round castle for Roundheads) which replaced King Charles’ Castle (just above it) in 1651. They both defended the channel into New Grimsby Harbour. There was some really old graffiti in Cromwell’s Castle, the oldest I could find was dated 1755.
Tresco is the “posh island”. It’s leased to the Dorrien-Smith Estate and I was told it is where the merchant bankers holiday. Everywhere was signposted, all bins hidden in wooden boxes, an information centre, and plenty of workers running or driving around (there seemed to be more staff than clients around the accommodation). Holidaymakers staying here had the luxury of golf buggies and a concierge service to book everything for them. To me it had the air of an incredibly posh Butlins. Excellent service in the cafes, as I would have expected.
Three evenings in a row I sat outside the Seven Stones Inn on St Martin’s admiring the view of dinner and a pint. It was a wonderful setting. St Martin’s is the island most associated with white, sandy beaches and stunning blue, shallow sea. There is pretty much one road (more like a tarmac’d track) that connects Lower Town to Middle Town and Upper Town. It takes about 10 minutes to walk the length of it.
Aside from the pub and campsite, there is also a post office and general stores, a very good bakery, a hotel, a couple of cafes and various vegetable plots and flower farms. The extra small fields, many lying fallow, with high hedges are designed to protect flowers from the wind.
On the 4th day it rained. Undeterred I carried on with my plan to pack up and get the boat to St Mary’s. I re-pitched my tent in The Garrison campsite and then caught another boat (all within an hour) over to St Agnes, the most Southerly of the islands. I spent the day walking around this rugged island, which reminded me of West Penwith with its impressive rock formations covered in green algae. Fantastic names too; I walked across Wingletang Down to see the punchbowl rock.
St Agnes and Gugh, the small island connected to St Agnes by a beach causeway, were declared rat-free in February 2016 after an extermination project. Since then Manx Shearwaters and Puffins have started re-colonising the islands. I saw a shearwater burrow that was being monitored.
I stayed on St Agnes into the early evening especially to dine at The Turk’s Head, Britain’s most Southwesterly pub. It had been recommended and didn’t disappoint. I also made a point of visiting Troytown Farm for one of its homemade icecreams; another Scilly delight.
Friday was Men’s Pilot Gig race evening. I managed to secure myself a ride on one of the supporter boats to watch the race. Pilot Gig racing is the Scilly Isles’ national sport. It originated back when gigs used to ferry pilots out to big ships so they could guide them into the Scilly waters. The gigs raced one another to each ship as the first pilot there got the job. Nowadays the gigs race without the pilots. The Bonnet, with a St Mary’s crew, won the race I watched in the oldest pilot gig boat, built in 1830 and still going strong.
I spent my final day hanging around Hugh Town and The Garrison. St Mary’s feels very busy compared to the off-islands. You shouldn’t really walk down the middle of the road here as there is traffic on it. Hugh Town has the only petrol station in the Scillies and nowhere has the luxury of mains gas, it’s all bottled.
I hadn’t booked my return ferry and wasn’t able to because booking was closed until the passengers who had been scheduled to fly on the previous day, when poor visibility had meant flights were cancelled, were sorted out. It took until early afternoon before I could book a space. I didn’t mind because I had picked up a stinking cold and just fancied relaxing in the sunshine.
I walked around The Garrison headland, designed to protect St Mary’s. The Star Castle, now a hotel, was built inside The Garrison in the 1590s. I decided to have lunch there and enjoy the commanding views across to the other islands. I ate on the castle ramparts of this posh hotel, which was better than sitting in the dungeon on a hot, sunny day. It was a perfect end to my little holiday.
How nice to have a personal delivery of my next set of maps and an excuse to stop for the weekend, particularly as the weather was so good. Sally collected me from Pete’s house in Ilfracombe and we drove to Woolacombe for a relaxing weekend at the seaside.
I don’t know why I was surprised by the large number of people on the wonderful, long, sandy beach and in the sea. There were lots of surfers, even though it was really quite calm. I didn’t see anyone in the water without a wetsuit though – everyone’s soft these days!
Sunday was a bit of a busman’s holiday for me as we ended up walking along the 2 mile length of the beautiful Woolacombe Beach, over the hill to Croyde Bay (even more surfers here) and then around Baggy Point headland on the way back. I walked in my sandals today and it felt like a holiday.
After such a long walk it was bliss to go for a late afternoon swim at Barricane Beach, next to Woolacombe, and then eat a curry on the beach. The beach cafe is run by a Sri Lanken man who makes curries on nice summer evenings and they are very popular. What a great end to a lovely, relaxing weekend.
I watched the media reports from the comfort of home as storms Abigail and Barney touched the Welsh coast. I don’t think it was as bad as predicted but photos of waves crashing over the front at Aberystwyth, reports that Aberdaron suffered 85mph winds and the suspension of the coastal rail service from Machynlleth for a couple of days due to the sea battering the trains did make me feel happy with my decision to take a break.
I did nothing (except get a haircut). Lots of sleep, I watched some films and rested my feet. After a week not only did I have a serious craving for exercise, but I felt ready to get a job and start working. I need to remember that feeling when I finish this walk!
Firstly, a huge thank you to Diane, Colin and their children for inviting me into their home and making me so welcome. Colin did a great job of guiding me around the Isle of Man and I had a fantastic 4 days of sightseeing, made even better by unexpected sunny weather most of the time.
I visited the towns of Douglas, Castletown, Port Erin and St John’s, and the City of Peel.
I saw Tynwald Hill at St John’s, where the oldest continuous parliament in the world annually announces its laws to the people.
I caught the train to Laxey (saw the huge waterwheel named Isabella) and then up Mann’s mountain railway to the top of Snaefell.
I walked bits of the coast, particularly out to Langness Point and to the Chasms (huge splits in the rock at the South of the island).
I visited Cregneash Village (a crofting community maintained as it would have been in the 19th Century), Rushen Castle (one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Europe) and Mull Hill Neolithic burial site.
I visited the Manannan and Manx museums to learn about the history of Mann.
I sat in the cafe at Calf Sound and stared at the Calf of Man.
I ate Manx kippers, Manx cheese, Manx honey, Manx Queenies and drank the local Okells beer.
Amazingly, amongst all of that activity I managed to chill out a bit, enjoy the company of my hosts and deliver a hockey training session to the Buchan School under 12 girls.
The Isle of Man is a fantastic place; a small island with a big mentality (a bit like the UK then!). It seems to me that it is most influenced by its Viking history, when it was at the centre of the Viking world. In the 11-13th Century the King of Mann and the Isles (most of the Western Isles if Scotland) was a very influential ruler. Modern Mann seems quite wealthy – more big houses and SUVs than I’ve seen anywhere else – but then it does have a very low tax rate.
The main thing is, when Diane drove me to the ferry on Friday morning, I remembered to say goodbye to the fairies as we drove over the fairy bridge. Hopefully this means I’ll stay safe and be allowed back again!
Week off in Shetland
South Voxter Lodges, Mainland
What a wonderful week in Shetland. It began with the overnight ferry from Aberdeen and I lay down with my eyes closed for 14 hours as the weather was bad and the sea rough. The tactic worked as I did get some sleep and I wasn’t sick. Glad to arrive.
If you include all the tiny islands with no inhabitants, there are over 100 Shetland Islands (enough reason not to walk around Shetland!). I visited 6 on my trip: Mainland, Yell, Unst, Bressler, Noss and Mousa.
Shetland reminded me of the Falklands a bit; barren and treeless moorland, small communities, hilly, water everywhere and fantastic views. I didn’t have the best summer weather (I wore all of my clothes all week) but it didn’t matter. Although it was occasionally annoying to hear on the radio that the rest of Britain seemed to be in the grip of a heatwave. Oh well, they didn’t have sea otters!
There were many highlights of the week and these are a few:
1. Visiting the most Northerly point of the the British Isles, Muckle Flugga and Out Stack. I made to the far North of Britain, awesome!
2. Sea kayaking down the Mainland coast on the only sunny day. The sea is so clear and the wildlife abundant. We saw 3 otters and plenty of seals were in attendance.
3. So much wildlife to see, including: seals, otters, gannets, bonxies (great skuas), arctic skuas, black-backed gulls, herring gulls, arctic terns, curlews, shags, cormorants, fulmars, kittiwakes, rock pipits, ringed plovers, sandpipers, storm petrels and, of course, puffins and oyster catchers.
4. St Ninian’s tombolo beach is possibly the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. Just fantastic. I went for a swim here in the freezing cold Atlantic Ocean.
5. Taking a late night boat across to the small island of Mousa to visit the best preserved Broch on Shetland (an ancient building probably built by Vikings but no-one knows what it was used for) to watch the storm petrels returning from feeding at sea. This is a nightly occurrence at dusk (about midnight in June). They nest in the cracks between the Broch’s stones and they swoop all around as you stand there; pretty amazing to watch and hear.
6. The views. Everywhere there were views of the sea and dramatic coastline.
By the end of the week I felt like I’d seen quite a bit of Shetland and it is a wonderful place. The people are really friendly too and I even went to a Sunday afternoon tea in Cunningsburgh Village Hall. I think the village hall must be the heart of the community because there weren’t really any pubs, nor were there many cafes (and those there were weren’t always very good, like the one that consisted of a microwave and instant coffee in the entrance to the community shop). At times it felt like the tourist trade was 20 years behind the rest of Britain as places were highlighted in brochures but then were difficult to find and nothing made of them. A quirky place.