21. Isles of Scilly: Bryher and Merlin's Handiwork - 5 miles circular - OS Explorer 101
Relatively easy going.
Bryher, is one of the smaller occupied Scilly isles, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with stunning landscapes, great art, delicious food, and my favourite island pub, Fraggle Rock.
Taking the morning ferry from St. Mary’s quay (£12 return) you’ll be dropped off at The Town (it's a hamlet really).
From the beach head inland to the first building on your right. Island Fish café’s crab and lobster is a treat not to be missed in whatever form it comes. It’s so popular they often sell out early. To avoid disappointment put your order in as you pass. By the time I called-in they only had potted crab, but it was great potted crab and I forgave them.
Now continue up the road to cross the island to Hell Bay Hotel. The best Westcountry artists past and present are on display here and we always call to take peek. A free treat, and the tea's good too. You might even see someone famous.
On the way you’ll pass another café and a little shop/post office that sells virtually everything, including plastic ponchos for a couple of quid if it happens to rain. And sometimes it pours!
The hotel is the perfect place to start your trek around the island. My map doesn't show the trail from here because the coast path is obvious.
We went anti-clockwise, skirting the beach of Great Porth before turning west to circle Heathy Hill. Here, alongside striking views out to an ocean littered with island rocks (a sailor's nightmare) you’ll find a couple of trees festooned with hammock nets, ladders, buoys on ropes and other makeshift swings. A pop up playground if it takes your fancy.
Moving off this spit of land you come to a delightful beach.
A perfect swimming spot if you can bear the water which is considerably colder than waters of Devon and Cornwall. Toe first is a good rule. Wear a wetsuit is a better one. Otherwise, just relax on the soft fine sand and soak up the atmosphere.
After the beach the path leads inland and joins the road you came down. Rather than retrace your steps take a lane on your right back to the coast and turn left. It also comes to the ferry pick-up point but is a pleasant diversion and passes the island's little church. A cutie.
Back at Island Fish, don't turn left up the main island road but go straight on (north). This little road ends at Fraggle Rock, a little pub with excellent ales and good food. I've enjoyed many a perfect hour here keeping the sparrows company.
It’s best outside where you can enjoy the macabre view of Hangman Rock. And yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. At the summit is a gallows, and beyond it there’s Cromwell castle on nearby Tresco.
Built in 1651, rumour has it the gallows overlooking it were used by the roundheads stationed at the castle on smugglers, mutineers and dastardly Danes.
Talking of rumours, here’s one about how the Scilly Isles came to be:
First a bit of history to make some sense of the nonsense I'm about to tell you. In the fifth century the Romans pulled out of Britain and left the ruling Celts who’d cooperated with them at the mercy of those who hadn’t. To hold onto power, these Romano Celts brought over a Saxon mercenary called Hengest and his Anglo and Saxon warriors to defend them. Rather than help the Romano Celts, Hengest helped himself to the country.
Here, history ends and legend begins. King Arthur was one of those Romano Celts. In retreat from the Anglo Saxons, he’d taken refuge at Tintagel. The Cornish were no lovers of the Romans or their friends, and Mordred, one of Arthur’s knights (and Arthur's son by Arthur's sister – I know I know, it's shocking) spotted an opportunity to overthrow his pop. On a filthy day with the Atlantic crashing against the cliffs below, Arthur and his famous knights downed the last of the grog, placed their empty goblets on the round table and went out to confront Mordred and his army. Hopelessly outnumbered, he and his most famous knights were slaughtered, leaving the rest to flee westward for their lives.
At this time, Cornwall supposedly stretched thirty miles further into the Atlantic than it does today (no it didn’t but don't ruin a good story), but Modred didn’t give up the chase. With the peninsula narrowing and land's end (not today’s Land's End but mythical 6th century land’s end) coming into sight, all looked lost for the exhausted rag tag of not-famous-knights. But in a literal cliff-edge ending, Merlin stepped in. After a bit of eye to eye with Mordred, he caused the land beneath him and his army to collapse into the sea, and all were drowned.
The knights, finding themselves on a newly created archipelago, thanked God and settled down to the simple life of growing daffodils.
Quite a story, and if you want a taste of the turbulent hell Merlin created that day, now’s you chance. Leaving the Fraggle Rock with your thirst quenched, continue around the island.
The track from the pub peters out at a beach but resumes at the end of it and rises through thick bracken.
As you near the summit the bracken disappears and is replaced by wild moorland littered with granite outcrops. Views east toward Tresco and the placid waters between the two islands contrast with a view west to Hell Bay. There the ocean heaves and smashes against rocky islands, throwing spray high in the air.
Suddenly this cosy lived-on island appears neither occupied or cosy, and why these islands were a ships graveyard is as crystal clear as the ocean. This small section of wilderness is a marvel. A must see. Unfortunately (damn) it was a placid day and my photos from this year do it no justice.
Soon enough you can go no further because of a deep ravine barring the way to the last of the Island.
We took the west coast path back toward Hell Bay Hotel and up the lane back to the ferry. Don’t be late. They don’t wait.