28 miles off the Cornish coast, the Scilly Isles are renowned for their Caribbean-esque beauty: the entire archipelago of 200 islets, islands and rocks is designated an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) for both its dramatic landscape and surrounding turquoise waters.
Nevertheless, it’s wise to pick a good weather-window for your trip to the Scillies, as it quickly loses its appeal in bad weather, with no anchorage or mooring offering complete shelter.
Anna's itinerary in the Isles of Scilly
Everyone has their favourite island. The Royal Family frequently holiday on Tresco, which is part of the Prince of Wales’ Duchy of Cornwall estate. For us, it’s impossible to choose between the islands of St. Martin’s and St. Agnes, so I’ve suggested anchorages in both – quite different places but equally special!
Islands and their anchorages
The Island of St Martin's
St. Martin’s is the third largest island in the Scillies, and not only does it have the most incredible white beaches flanking its shores, but you’ll find plenty of onshore gems too. We always head to the Seven Stones Inn at Lowertown, although we’ve heard good things about Adams Fish & Chips in Higher Town (but have never been able to get a table there to find out!). St. Martin’s also boasts a rum distillery, vineyard, and not one but two working farms: selling grass-fed beef from the island’s pedigree herd of Red Ruby Devon cows, and a flower farm that ships Scillonian narcissi to the mainland.
The island’s bakery makes incredible organic bread, rolls and pastries – including traditional Cornish pasties. And if you’re craving a bit of luxury, head to the Karma St Martins hotel on the beach at Lower Town for a top-notch dining experience or visit to their spa.
Great Bay & Little Bay
On the northern shore of St. Martin’s is one of the Scillies’ most epic golden beaches, where the sand seems to stretch endlessly into the distance and the crystalline water looks more like a well tended swimming pool than the sea. If this is your first visit, enter at low tide so you can see the submerged rocks on the outer approaches – easily spotted in the clear water here. You can then anchor either in Great Bay or adjacent Little Bay and soak up the paradisiacal beauty and peace of a shoreline unencumbered with facilities (therefore attracting less visitors).
Most of the island’s eateries are situated on its southern shores, but it’s not very far to walk anywhere on St. Martin’s, if you choose to overnight in this anchorage and walk across to Lower Town (the nearest grocery store is a little further afield in Higher Town).
East Porth, Tean
You may find this anchorage just south of Tean Island convenient if you wish to access St. Martin’s Lower Town, when all the mooring buoys opposite the Karma hotel are taken. It’s a peaceful spot, protected by westerlies, and though the uninhabited island of Tean is small, it’s delightful to walk ashore and take in the views across to the surrounding islands.
A moderate dinghy ride will take you round to Lower Town on St Martin’s, where you can enjoy a good coffee in the charming hotel gardens, or walk along the white sandy beach skirting the island’s south-western shore.
South-east of St Martin’s lie the uninhabited Eastern Isles. The only residents you’ll find here are seabirds (puffins, gulls and cormorants) and a large Atlantic Grey Seal colony. Ganilly Sand Bar, between Frenchman’s Rock and English Island is exposed at low tide, but otherwise keep an eye on your depth gauge unless you have a shallow or lifting keel.
Of the eight small islands that make up the Eastern Isles, Great Gannilly is the largest and provides good shelter to swell and all but easterly winds from anchoring along its south-western shore. There are no facilities on Great Gannilly, but it’s a peaceful spot to stretch your legs and drink in the glorious views across the islands.
At low tide you can walk across a boulder causeway to Nornour and explore the remains of prehistoric settlements and a Roman religious shrine. It’s also not unfeasible to motor (by tender) across to Higher Town Bay on St Martin’s from here, should you want more land-based action.
Saint Agnes & Gugh Island
Saint Agnes is the UK’s southernmost settlement – the last point of land before the Atlantic Ocean! Though small, it has much to commend it. At only one mile wide, you can walk round the entire island in an hour or two, taking in an art gallery, gin distillery, old lighthouse and honesty stalls laden with homegrown produce.
Wherever you go, be sure to stop at Troy Town Farm to sample its superb ice-cream, produced from their own dairy herd (they also sell a small selection of pork and beef). The Turks Head pub, overlooking Porth Conger, is a justly popular watering hole, serving real ale and fresh seafood.
You can anchor in the southern bay between Saint Agnes and Gugh islands, although it can often be a little swelly (a small price to pay for a visit to this little slice of paradise). The Gugh sandbar links the two islands at low tide, but this is completely submerged at high tide, so don’t get caught out if you go exploring!
The water throughout the Scillies is renowned for its clarity but in The Cove it really is crystal clear (and icy cold thanks to its proximity to the Atlantic). This anchorage also makes a good starting point for early morning passages back to the Cornish coastline.
This is the end of our sailing journey in the Isles of Scilly with Anna, we hope you’ve enjoyed it and that it will inspire your next adventures! You can follow Anna’s adventure online, on their very own blog SailingExeat.com. If alike Anna, you are a Navily member wishing to share your sailing tips and experience, reach out to the Octopus at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Fair winds Captain,
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