IT’s hard to believe that a short plane or boat hop from the west coast of England can take you to a sub-tropical paradise but the Scilly Isles are said to be probably Britain’s best-kept secret.
The five inhabited islands in the archipelago, 28 miles off Lands End in Cornwall, bask in the Gulf Stream and boast white sand beaches and flora and fauna you don’t see in England.
One of the most exciting ways to arrive is by the Skybus which flies to the islands from Land’s End, Newquay and Exeter.
It offers spectacular views and a ride you won’t forget easily in a Twin Otter 16-seater plane.
On landing at St Mary’s Island, one of the first things I noticed was the ubiquitous and fascinating aeonium plant.
This large rubbery multi-headed succulent, which looks like a cactus sprouting cabbage heads, comes in green and red versions and basks everywhere in the greenery of Scilly as proof of its claim to a sub-tropical climate.
The Scilly Isles are places of great contrast and Tresco, the second largest island, is perhaps the best example of this.
The Abbey Gardens, in the sheltered southern tip of the island, is able to support a range of wonderful southern-hemisphere plants.
Yet the exposed granite outcrops of its northern shores are sculpted by fierce Atlantic gales during the short winter period, creating a rugged and heather strewn landscape more familiar to Britain.
The gardens were started in 1834 and also house the Valhalla marine museum of figureheads reclaimed from the ancient shipwrecks the island was once notorious for.
There are some interesting north of England connections here with some of the ships built in the region. One was the River Lune, an iron barque of 1,172 tons built in Wallsend in 1868.
Although only 11-years-old, her wreck fetched no more than £55 after she went down on the rocks.
Cars are not allowed on Tresco making it an ideal spot for a complete getaway and the best way to enjoy the island is either by walking or cycling. The coastal rambler pathways and beaches beg you to explore them.
St. Mary’s is the largest island of the Scilly Isles at 2½ miles by 1¾ miles and is home to about three quarters of Scilly’s population.
This is where all visitors arrive and either stay or are filtered out by boat journeys to the other islands – Tresco, Bryher, St Martin’s and St Agnes.
St Mary’s is served by three means of transport – a steamship company and a heliport are based in Penzance. Flights operate from Newquay, Exeter, Bristol and Southampton airports.