The Scilly Isles: the tropics on our doorstep

Just 28 miles west of Cornwall, the Scilly Isles may as well be south of the equator given how little most people know about them.

Taking a trip to the Isles of Scilly? "Don't forget to take your euros," one friend mistakenly advised me. The Scillies are a mere 28 miles west of Cornwall, the last stretch of England to dip its toes into the Atlantic. But they may as well be 2,800 miles south of the equator given how little most people know about them.

And that's all the more reason to catch a boat, plane or helicopter over there. The windswept cluster of 200 islands, only five of which are inhabited, is one of the few places in the world where you'll get a white, sandy beach to yourself at almost any time of year. Sure, things can get a bit busier in the summer. But with just 2,500 beds for tourists and around 2,000 permanent inhabitants, you're more likely to bump into a puffin than a gaggle of ramblers. Throw in a healthy dose of sunshine (it's home to Britain's only tropical garden that's not under a glass roof) and you have an island paradise just a short hop from dreary old Blighty.

After an hour and a quarter's flight from Southampton, we landed on St. Mary's, the largest and most developed of the islands, then headed straight for the smallest, Bryher. The most westerly point in England, the island is historically known as a graveyard for ships; more than 100 wrecks are washed up around its reaches, victims of the giant Atlantic rollers washing eastward. Weather permitting, you can join a scuba-diving trip and explore one of the wrecks. The other key attraction is bird-watching. The Scillies are home to 570 varieties. Or, if you're not an avid twitcher, you can simply enjoy the peace and quiet of roaming the almost vehicle-free coastal paths and meadows.

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After a hard day of doing very little, the island's solitary hotel, Hell Bay, is the ideal place to put your feet up and relax. A collection of cottages and suites on the west side of the island, it's a short walk from the beach. The hotel is also home to a fantastic seafood restaurant, with two AA Rosettes to its name. Our accommodation was in a two-room suite, built in the style of one of the island's traditional 'gig' sheds. Long, narrow six-oared boats made from Cornish elm, the gigs can still be seen in the summer months, when locals race them against each other around the islands and even as far as Cornwall.

From Bryher, it's just a five-minute boat ride (not by gig, sadly) to Trescoe, where we spent a day exploring the island's Abbey Gardens. Here you'll find 20,000 varieties of exotic plants from over 80 countries. We spent the night in the Island Hotel, a sleek colonial-style hotel built in 1960. We ate freshly caught lobster in the hotel's bar, while gazing out at the surrounding bay through its full-length windows. Our suite was at the end of the hotel's garden wing, with its own elevated wooden deck, and steps down onto the hotel's private gardens. And, of course, as far as the eye can see, lonely beaches, open just to you.

Skybus flies direct to St. Mary's from Southampton, Exeter and Newquay from £78.50 one-way. Visit, or call 01736-334220.

Scilly Isles holidays: the best bolt-holes


Hell Bay is set in a secluded bay at the end of the island of Bryher., the smallest of the Scilly Isles. Rooms start from £155 per night.

Call 01720-422947 for more details.


The Island Hotel is a colonial-style hotel situated on Trescoe. It boasts its own private beach and seasonal sailing club. Suites start from £210.

Call 01720-422883.


A B&B on Trescoe, which has its own swimming pool. Prices start from £75.

Call 01720-422844 for more.

Jody Clarke

Jody studied at the University of Limerick and she has been a senior writer for MoneyWeek for more than 15 years. Jody is experienced in interviewing, for example in her time she has dug into the lives of an ex-M15 agent and quirky business owners who have made millions. Jody’s other areas of expertise include advice on funds, stocks and house prices.