20. Scilly Isles: Tresco - 6 miles circular - OS Explorer 101
These Scilly posts don’t tell you how to get around the islands. That’s easy, it’s an island with clearly marked paths and walkable in the time between the morning boat from St. Mary’s dropping you off and the evening boat picking you up. What they do is tell and show what to expect along the way with bits of info. to help you enjoy the experience.
Where they drop you will depend on the tide. For this post I’ll assume it’s Appletree Bay, close by the famous Abbey gardens, set amongst the ruins of a Benedictine priory.
The café and toilet there may be just what you want before starting your hike, or you may want to explore the gardens with their red squirrels among the flora.
Frankly, there’s stunning plants to see along the perimeter of the estate for free, some looking scarily like triffids with thick arms and conical heads. What is also free is a fabulous museum with figureheads from local shipwrecks. The star is a carved section in the form of a Roman warrior from the stern of the Galleon Colossos, sunk off the island during a storm in 1798.
As often as not, you’ll be picked up for your return journey to St. Mary's at a different location called New Grimby, just north of your drop off. If so, it makes sense to start your walk south along the perimeter of the estate (the helicopter pad to your right) turning off and back up to the coast to Pentle Bay and beach as you pass an impressive square tower on your left. If you’re yearning for the sand at Appletree Bay, don’t worry, there are more impressive sands to come.
Coming to the west of the island you look over to dozens of other islands, the largest St. Martin's with its equally fine stretches of sand. Now it’s a walk on gloriously soft sand with few people about and the company of oyster catchers and gulls, maybe low flying swallows too.
A scramble over granite rocks brings you to another beach equally as lovely. Well worth settling down to take it in. Try a paddle and discover how cold the clear water is before risking a dip.
It’s much colder that the waters off the mainland and the shock’s been known to kill people foolish enough to dive in without acclimatizing. Think on taking a wetsuit.
This beach ends at Old Grimsby and the Ruin, a posh café surrounded by expensive chalets and the least ruin you’ll ever see. It’s not grim. The helicopter pad was a clue. Tresco is the Scilly Isle wealthier visitors tend to frequent. But don’t be put off. It’s a friendly place with a very good takeaway shack if the café’s full (it often is).
Among the chalets you’ll see a sign to the coast path. It also points to Piper’s Hole, which I find odd. Unless you know where it is, you’re unlikely to find it, hidden as it is amongst the granite shoreline. Many who search assume it’s a large and obvious cave. It’s not. It’s before that.
Only a few feet in diameter, it is partially blocked by boulders that you have to scramble over to get in. Once in, a passage leads to a pool. My Scilly born partner showed it me (her uncle showed it her as a child). In her day there was a small boat here to get to the other side and further along.
Fascinating, but even she took over an hour to find it. No matter. Great fun to be scrambling over the rocks.
This exposed north end of the island is heathland, very different from what went before, and to your left there’s a ruined castle. Built by Charles I, dear old Oliver Cromwell had it knocked down and replaced by the latest design, round towered so cannons from attacking Danish ships would ricochet off.
You’ll spot it as you round the island and turn south.
It sits alongside a sheltered channel between Bryher and Tresco, looking as impressive as the day it was built. Opposite, Hangman Rock with its gallows atop (yes, really) is a reminder of its dark past and purpose. Great view if its going to be your last, though. Always a bright side. It’s free to explore.
Dragging yourself away from this 17th century marvel, push on through high bracken to New Grimsby.
Looking older than Old Grimsby, one of the first buildings you come across is an elderly toilet, so basic I had to include a picture. Smells as it looks.
A little further along is the Island’s only pub, the New Inn. A fine unpretentious one serving good ales and simple food at fair prices. Great local ice cream too. There should be plenty of time to enjoy it before your boat arrives.
If you’re not being picked up here but near Tresco gardens again, it’s another ¾ of a mile further south, so leave plenty of time to get there. If you miss the boat the only alternative is a water taxi. Expensive.
Ps… if you want to know the legend of how these islands were formed, see my Bryher post. Drowning everybody (not just King Arthur’s enemies) between here and Land’s End, Merlin deserves to be tried for war crimes.