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Footprints in the sand

Exploring the wilds of Scilly, one step at a time.


Words by Hannah Tapping


The Isles of Scilly lie just 28 miles from the Cornish mainland and are known for their mild climate and white sand beaches. Only 2,200 people live here, across five inhabited islands and an abundance of uninhabited islands. Reached from Cornwall and Devon by plane, helicopter and passenger ferry, this tiny cluster of low-lying islands surrounded by clear waters offers a wonderful sense of wellbeing, a place where you have the space and freedom to do everything, or nothing; where life moves at an easier pace. In summer, you would be forgiven for thinking you had landed upon a tropical paradise.


However, before the main tourist season gets into full swing, the archipelago adopts a more mellow tone. As the winds of winter retreat and the temperatures begin to rise, island life in all its forms springs to life and with it comes Walk Scilly. Now in its 16th year, the much-loved annual walking festival is often considered the ‘opener’ for the island’s main tourist season. The festival celebrates the coast paths, beaches, tracks, footpaths, fields, gardens and farmland of Scilly. It offers visitors a chance to not only explore the islands including its uninhabited ones, through a series of carefully curated, guided walks, but also to meet some of the island’s inhabitants along the way


Reflecting Scilly’s intrinsic link to the natural world, wildlife and conservation will again feature prominently on the programme. Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust’s CEO Julian Branscombe will lead a walk around the Trust’s Higher Moors reserve, from Holgate’s Green via Salakee Down and ending at Old Town Bay. There will be an opportunity to look for plants, birds and insects, to learn more about the work of the Trust. As Scilly’s only local nature conservation organisation, the Trust manages around half of the land area of the Isles of Scilly – an area of nearly 700 hectares of land above the high-tide line, which includes coastal heaths, maritime grassland, wetlands and pockets of mature elm woodland.


Resident ornithologist Will Wagstaff will focus his attention on tiny isle of Bryher. This rugged island is one of two halves: exposed to the Atlantic on one side with more sheltered beaches on the other. Scilly has always been known for its seabirds and seals, and the popular Scilly Seabird and Seals walk will highlight. Birder and environment academic, Dr Rob Lambert will be joined by local St Mary’s Boatmen’s Association boatman Joe Pender, on a marine meander search of breeding seabirds, passage wading birds, sea ducks, divers, and Atlantic grey seals.



It will focus on the seabird city of Mincarlo (Norrard Rocks), which supports up to ten species of breeding seabird. It is also home to the largest colony of cormorants and puffin on islands, as well as being only one of only four sites in the archipelago for breeding storm petrel. This epic adventure will also include a trip to Annet, the second T

he Isles of Scilly lie just 28 miles from the Cornish mainland and are known for their mild climate and white sand beaches. Only 2,200 people live here, across five inhabited islands and an abundance of uninhabited islands. Reached from Cornwall and Devon by plane, helicopter and passenger ferry, this tiny cluster of low-lying islands surrounded by clear waters offers a wonderful sense of wellbeing, a place where you have the space and freedom to do everything, or nothing; where life moves at an easier pace. In summer, you would be forgiven for thinking you had landed upon a tropical paradise.


Resident ornithologist Will Wagstaff will focus his attention on tiny isle of Bryher. This rugged island is one of two halves: exposed to the Atlantic on one side with more sheltered beaches on the other. Scilly has always been known for its seabirds and seals, and the popular Scilly Seabird and Seals walk will highlight. Birder and environment academic, Dr Rob Lambert will be joined by local St Mary’s Boatmen’s Association boatman Joe Pender, on a marine meander search of breeding seabirds, passage wading birds, sea ducks, divers, and Atlantic grey seals.


It will focus on the seabird city of Mincarlo (Norrard Rocks), which supports up to ten species of breeding seabird. It is also home to the largest colony of cormorants and puffin on islands, as well as being only one of only four sites in the archipelago for breeding storm petrel. This epic adventure will also include a trip to Annet, the second largest of the uninhabited islands. This island is the main seabird breeding sight on Scilly, and while closed to the public to limit disturbance to breeding birds and Atlantic grey seals, its majestic inhabitants can be safely viewed by boat.


Turning their attention to what lies beneath the waters rather than above, independent Cornish-based business specialising in seaweed pressings, Molesworth & Bird (as featured in DRIFT 27) will be collaborating with St. Martin’s-based organic seaweed skincare brand Phoenix & Providence (DRIFT 10), for foraging walks along the pristine shores, followed by pressing workshops. Melanie Molesworth and Julia Bird share a love of nature and the outdoors, and press seaweed gathered near their homes. Foraging further afield, they will join Ella MacLachlan at low tide to collect some of St Martin’s delicate specimens in advance of the workshop.



It’s not just the flora and fauna of the islands that’s significant. Scilly has a venerable history and resident archaeologist Dr Katharine Sawyer will be speaking during the festival on the historic significance of the islands’ bronze and iron age periods; in particular the evocative post-medieval houses and the Bronze Age burial chambers on Samson. These walks are particularly special given they offer access to several uninhabited islands, where visitors are not usually granted permission. Teän has a long history of occupation and the walk here will take in sites from the prehistoric period to the 20th century. There’s a further Bronze Age burial chamber on Teän, as well as an early mediaeval chapel and cemetery and the remains of houses from the 17th and 18th centuries.

This year, the islands will play host to Raynor Winn, author of The Salt Path; a story of resilience in the face of life-altering events. Just days after Raynor learned that Moth, her husband of 32 years is terminally ill, their home and livelihood was taken away. With nothing left and little time, they made the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path. Despite Raynor and Moth having walked the entire South West Coast, the writer has never visited Scilly, so she will be exploiting the ‘unwalked’ coast paths of the islands and hosting a talk on St Mary’s.



The finale of the week is a much-loved low-tide event held between Tresco and Bryher. As the sand bar revealed at low tide, it becomes the location for a short-term food and drink festival. Guests can enjoy paella in crab shells and sip on an island gin whilst the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and Scilly Rockpool Safaris offer some educational family fun, before the tractor takes the tables, chairs and umbrellas away at the same time as the tide reclaims the ground underfoot.

Walk Scilly is held from 15th-21st April 2023. Full details can be found on the website. For a 10% discount on travel to the islands for Walk Scilly Weekend, quote WALKSC2023 when booking www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk.

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