Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Top 10 best British islands: No. 2 – St Mary's

Everyone had told us how good the Isles of Scilly are but its charms just seemed too obvious and too easy compared to the remote, less popular, Scottish isles. After all, the archipelago has everything going for it – being the most southerly of the British islands and enjoying its own balmy microclimate. A place of gorgeous sandy beaches and clear, shallow water that seems more like the Med than a corner of Britain. Where was the challenge? We turned up thinking we knew exactly what to expect and yet still the place was a surprise, managing to win over our cynical hearts as soon as we docked at St Mary's on the rickety old Scillonian III.

In many ways the islands fulfil every expectation of what an island should be. The key basics of rock and sand, turquoise water and blazing sunsets are all present and correct. Most importantly there is the feeling of escape – adrift from the mainland you are immersed in the elements: sea, sun, wind and rain in a vast arena of big sky and distant horizon. This small collection of modest islands are connected by the toing-and-froing of open-topped boats, conveying the hoards from St Mary's to St Agnes, Tresco, Bryher or St Martin's. Each island an individual, yet part of the whole.

We loved St Mary's best of all. Despite being the hub of the archipelago and so the most populous, it combines a calm, agricultural interior with a craggy, gruff shoreline that has plenty of lonely spots to while away the hours. We snorkelled in the freezing water and spotted autumn lady's-tresses spiking the old garrison walls, we criss-crossed the island's country lanes and never tired of the view from our cottage across the harbour. So, when asked about the Isles of Scilly, we'll be giving the same predictable answer as anyone else who's ever visited: "You have to go."

St Mary's is in the top 10... for offering a tropical getaway on British shores

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