Letter from Europe

The Isles of Scilly (Tresco)

Issue no. 2008/26


In the Isles of Scilly, the spectacularly beautiful scatter of islands off the coast of southwest England, equinoctial tides often make for some formidably complicated schedules for the inter-island ferry service. We visit the Isles of Scilly and Tresco Abbey Gardens.

Dear fellow travellers

Land lubbers and city folk scarcely notice the equinoxes which so often play havoc with shipping schedules in some of Europe's shallower waters. Last week's abnormally low tides in Scotland's Outer Hebrides necessitated some rejigging of the ferries linking the islands, and the new moon at the end of the month will bring another wave of equinoctial tides, so low water sailings between Leverburgh and Berneray will once again be affected.

In the Isles of Scilly, the spectacularly beautiful scatter of islands off the coast of southwest England, equinoctial tides often make for some formidably complicated schedules for the inter-island ferry service. Unusually low tides around last week's full moon meant that the Firethorn, coming into Tresco en route to St Mary's, couldn't get into her regular moorings at either New Grimsby or Old Grimsby, so instead tied up at the improvised pontoon pier at Blockhouse Point. Tourists leaving the islands stumbled with suitcases over the sands to reach the black pontoon.

The Isles of Scilly (Tresco)

Visitors to the Scilly Isles during the second half of September find low tide paddling opportunities not encountered other than at the equinoxes. It is hard to beat a lunchtime barefoot stroll across the sands from Tresco to the neighbouring island of Bryher. Choose your moment carefully and you will scarcely get your feet wet.

But the equinoctial extreme tides bring hazards too. Three years ago, the islands were battered by September high tides that brought flooding to low-lying areas of Scilly. Little chance of that in 2008 with the islands enjoying a fabulous Indian summer of sun drenched days and gentle breezes. At times like this the Scilly Isles, and Tresco in particular, have an almost Caribbean demeanour, with turquoise seas lapping white beaches. True, the temperatures may be a shade lower than in St Kitts but Scilly sun, even in late September, feels gorgeous.

For first timers, Tresco is always a surprise. Wander through one section of the gardens around the old abbey and you might be seduced into believing that you are in Madeira. Head up towards the stern stone monument to Augustus Smith and you run into a dense grove of eucalyptus trees and a skyline dominated by Monterey pines. Tresco's eclectic botanical mix is largely down to Augustus Smith who settled on the island in 1830 and realised that Tresco had the potential to become a horticultural paradise. Smith was a young man in search of a calling and the horticultural tradition that he introduced to Scilly is still the hallmark of the islands today. Five generations later, and the Tresco gardens founded by Augustus Smith become yet more magnificent every year. Nowadays the Abbey Gardens, overseen by curator Mike Nelhams, rate as one of Europe's premier experiments in landscape design. Meanwhile, Tresco on these late summer days seems like a luscious jewel in the Atlantic.

If you were ever in any doubt as to the remarkable beauty of the Isles of Scilly, just take a look at the gallery of photos on our website. And we shall feature Tresco in the November 2008 issue of hidden europe magazine.

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