Words by Andrew Forster
Touching down on a subtropical island paradise for a day’s exploration to settle mind and body.
We have yearned for the sun on our faces. We have longed for the feel of sand between our toes. We have dreamed of plates of fresh fish enjoyed with an ocean view. We have pined to be pampered. What if there was a place where all of this could happen without the need to be herded and jostled through a busy airport? Imagine reaching paradise in the time it takes to sip a morning coffee… The day trips of my youth resembled an excerpt from an Enid Blyton novel; all of us piling into the back of our Ford Maxie with piles of sandwiches, a flask and “lashings of ginger beer”. Nowadays, my tastes are more discerning and in my hunt for a day that would deliver discovery, relaxation and rejuvenation in luxury surroundings I was drawn back to the Isles of Scilly, and in particular the subtropical gem that is the island of Tresco.
The archipelago that makes up the Isles of Scilly is less than 30 miles from mainland Cornwall, but a world away when it comes to what it offers in terms of the ultimate relaxation destination. It’s hard to describe the magic of Scilly to those that have not visited before, but I can assure you it is a place where all your cares seem to melt away. The gateway to paradise is Penzance Helicopters who operate daily flights to the islands, landing on both St Mary’s and Tresco.
Their ethos that ‘travel shouldn’t just be about getting somewhere – it’s part of the adventure’ is borne out by the swift check-in time and short hop to the islands aboard a state-of-the-art Leonardo AW139 helicopter. The flight may only be 15 minutes long, but it is one that will take your breath away. We felt like rock stars, personally greeted on arrival and chaperoned across the runway for boarding. With just 12 ergonomically designed seats and huge cabin windows, we were afforded breathtaking views in an aerial journey that will be one remembered forever.
As we banked for our approach, the islands revealed themselves, outlined in white sand beaches set against clear turquoise waters; a vision that blurred the lines between reality and a dreamscape. Upon landing we took the electric shuttle to the Island Office – a reflection on how the island protects its peace. Our transport for the day was also suitably eco-friendly in the form of a pair of e-bikes. While the island is only two and a half miles long and a mile wide, so easily walkable, bikes would give us scope to cover more ground.
The delights of Ruin Beach Café
No day trip should begin without coffee and cake so, The Flying Boat Café and Deli was our first port of call. Mouthwatering Bryher Bake Box cake, from just across the water, was savoured with a Cornish Origin coffee. Newly opened this year, a seat here watching the boats bob in the harbour is where you’ll find your cares start to ebb away. Days on Scilly take on a different pace; we chose for our cares to be soothed a little more with a visit to the Tresco Island Spa. Floating gently in the pool before a restorative treatment allowed for quiet contemplation and an easing of mind and body.
A gentle cycle across the spine of the island led us to the Ruin Beach Café for lunch – when I mentioned we were easing ourselves in gently, I wasn’t lying. This is one of our favourite haunts on Tresco and dining here, looking out across Old Grimsby Harbour, rivals any Mediterranean lunch terrace. Although we could have whiled away the rest of the day here, today’s trip was about exploring the island and its famous Abbey Gardens. From Ruin Beach we pedaled towards Pentle Bay, breathing in the heady scent that is unique to Scilly; a combination of sea, sand, sweet ferns and foliage in the high hedgerows carried on the warm air. On Tresco’s eastern coast this idyllic bay, with sand so white it hurts your eyes, has been named as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. We couldn’t pass without sitting awhile, letting the fine sand run between our fingers before the lure of the bay was too much and we dipped into the crystal ocean.
The gentle warmth of end-of-summer sun dried us off before the road took us back almost full circle, and we were thankful there was still time to experience the Abbey Gardens. Think Kew without the glass and you’ll appreciate the scale and beauty of this hidden horticultural gem. Home to 20,000 plants from over 80 countries, the gardens were established by Augustus Smith in the 19th century around the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey. The gardens are in flower all year round, with even the winter solstice offering over 300 species in bloom. The winding paths invite gentle strolling, as the senses are overloaded with the sights and sounds of this subtropical haven. No visit here should be without a visit to the Valhalla Museum, whose collection of over 30 figureheads, name boards and decorative ships’ carvings hark back to the golden age of sail.
Tresco Abbey Garden
Feeling as if we are a world away, the two-minute walk to the heliport seems incongruous; how can such beauty and peace be so easily accessible? The return flight is as spectacular as the outbound one as we cross the water before hugging the Cornish coastline. Seeing the iconic Minack Theatre and Tater Du lighthouse from the air fulfils our dreams for the day.
Why is it that enjoyable experiences always go in a flash, albeit a brilliant one? As with every Scilly trip, we wish we could have stayed forever. Sadly, real life is calling, but we resolve to escape to the islands from the air very soon. With 2022 flight schedules recently released for both day trips and longer stays, it won’t be long before we are able to relive the magic of Scilly.