St. Mary's is made for walking, biking, and exploring -- casual, relaxed sightseeing, nothing too demanding. The attraction of the island is its natural beauty. It is 5km (3 miles) across at its widest point, but its coastline stretches for 15km (9 miles). We've spent an entire day just wandering this beautiful, cove-studded coastline. If along the way you stop to chat with a local Scillonian fisherman, so much the better.
Hugh Town, the main settlement, deserves at least an hour or two of your time. It was constructed on a sandbar that lies between the principal part of St. Mary's and a hill in the west, called the Garrison. Constructed in the mid-1700s, a guard gate here gives access to the Star Castle Hotel . We recommend a stroll inside the ramparts for one of the greatest views of the Scilly Islands.
From Hugh Town, you can see the island's highest point, Telegraph Tower, rising 48m (158 ft.). This is a memorable walk, and you can also pass on the way a stone burial chamber, Bants Carn, dating from the 3rd century B.C.
To get around St. Mary's, cars are available but hardly necessary. The Island Bus Service charges £2 for adults from one island point to another; children ride for half fare. Bicycles are one of the most practical means of transport. St. Mary's Bicycle Hire, the Strand, St. Mary's (tel./fax 01720/422289), is the only bike-rental outfit. They stock "shopper's cycles" with 3 speeds, hybrid bikes with 6 to 12 speeds, and 18-speed mountain bikes. All are available at prices ranging from £8 to £12 daily; a £20 deposit is required.
For the best selections of island crafts, visit Phoenix Stained Glass Studio, Portmellon Industrial Estate, St. Mary's (tel. 01720/422900; www.phoenixstainedglass.co.uk). At this studio, you can watch original artifacts being made into stained glass. The shops also sell a wide assortment of gifts, including jewelry and leaded lights and souvenirs.
Isles of Scilly Perfumery, Porthloo Studios, St. Mary's (no phone), a 10-minute walk from the center of Hugh Town, is packed with intriguing gifts, made from plants grown on the Isles -- everything from a delicate shell-shaped soap to fine fragrances, cosmetics, potpourri, and other accessories.
Isles of Scilly Museum, on Church Street in St. Mary's (tel. 01720/422337; www.iosmuseum.org), illustrates the history of the Scillies from 2500 B.C., with drawings, artifacts from wrecked ships, and assorted relics discovered on the islands. A locally themed exhibit changes annually. It's open from Easter to September Monday to Saturday 10am to 4:30pm; off-season hours are Monday to Saturday 10am to noon. Admission is £3 for adults, £2 seniors and students, and £1 for children.
No cars or motorbikes are allowed on Tresco, but you can rent bikes by the day; the hotels use a special wagon towed by a farm tractor to transport guests and luggage from the harbor.
St. Agnes lies farther southwest than any other community in Britain and, luckily, remains relatively undiscovered. Much of the area is preserved by the Nature Conservancy Council. Because the main industries are flower farming and fishing, it has little pollution; visitors can enjoy clear waters that are ideal for snorkeling and diving. Call David Peacock at tel. 01720/422704 (www.st-agnes-boating.co.uk), about boating and snorkeling possibilities. Little traffic moves on single-track lanes crossing the island; the curving sandbar between St. Agnes and its neighbor, the island of Gugh, is one of the best beaches in the archipelago. The coastline is diverse and idyllic for long walks along a relatively flat, shrub-dotted landscape. A coastal trail leads to any number of sandy coves, granite outcroppings, flower-studded heaths and meadows, and even a freshwater pool. Sunsets are romantic and are followed by a brilliant showcase of the night sky.
The widest choice of boat trips of the Scilly Isles is offered by the St. Mary's Boatmen's Association (tel. 01720/423999; www.scillyboating.co.uk). In summer, boats heading for St. Agnes leave St. Mary's at 10:15 and 11:45am and 2pm, returning at 2:12, 4, and 4:45pm. A day trip costs £6 to £12.
Many places in Britain claim to be unspoiled, but St. Agnes actually is, measuring about 1.6km (1 mile) across a somewhat flat terrain broken in parts by green hills. In the western part of the island are granite outcroppings, and the scenery here is much wilder than in the east, with sandy coves and rock pools. Beachcombers in the sands can find beads from 17th-century shipwrecks. The island is known for its daffodils in the spring; its birds, butterflies, and wildflowers in the summer; and its migrant birds, including many rare species, in the fall.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.