Waking up in the Isles of Scilly is like waking to find you're still in a lovely dream, well for me it certainly is. After checking out a few shops for sea-faring attire, we decided to wander into the Old Town, so called because it was once the main hub of St Mary's, the island that we stay on. We found a little stand of bulbs (mental note made of types and prices as fully intended to stock up now I have my own garden!) and made our way down a shady corridor of trees to the Old Town churchyard. The church itself, as you may imagine, is tiny and lit only by candlelight in the evening. A slight mist in the air and this would truly be the mysterious setting for a story or two! The churchyard too is very pleasant and historically interesting as many of the lichen-embellished stones bear the names of sea-farers who lost their lives in the tumult of rough seas or were shipwrecked on some of the islands' treacherous rocks. Harold Wilson, a former Prime Minister, is buried here for his love of the Islands. A very modest, self-built bungalow is his former holiday residence, suggesting that the islands themselves are truly the reason people stay here. This is not a place for modern buildings, instead the islands have the highest concentration of ancient sites anywhere in England and this too pulls you back to a dim and distant past, still much of which lies undiscovered.
We emerged from the churchyard onto a path which leads beside Old Town beach. At low tide the beach stretches out some way leaving small boats stranded and stationary on a blanket of seaweed. It is a great beach for some safe rockpooling and one on which I have often found chalky cuttlefish remains. We continued on past the cafe and the Old Town pub, stopping occasionally to admire plant life clinging to dry stone walls in some miraculous defiance of earth and moisture. Aeoniums grow apparently sustained by crag and crevice alone, drinking in the light and warmth of the sun. Out of season one or two things close around the Islands but we happened upon a farm shop selling local produce. Perhaps it might be better described as a small shed and a table inside, laid out with veg, eggs, jams and marmalade. We made our selections for future breakfasts and put our money into the honesty box, a very common means of payment on Scilly. This old fashioned and utterly trustting concept thrills me and I hope it never changes. Extremely pleased with our purchases, we carried on to Farmer Brown's bulb shop, just a slightly bigger shed this time(!) and so comfortingly the same each time we go. It is so often our shelter from the rain and a place we return to just to see the same fit-to-burst boxes and bags of plump bulbs, the same dusty workshop and random objects which I believe really do stay in the same place, year on year, gathering dust, as though time stood still while we were away. I bought a huge bag of very reasonably priced mixed narcissi, farmed locally, and an agapanthus which which will have to be overwintered indoors if it is to survive our Yorkshire frosts!
After returning home with our goodies, we set off to walk around the Garrison which was the last Royalist stronghold of Hugh Town, the 'capital' town of St Mary's, Hugh Town. The Garrison, surrounding the 16th century Star Castle (now a hotel), is of historical importance naturally, but it also affords the most beautiful views towards the other Islands of Tresco, St Martins, St Agnes and the uninhabited Samson. It is a good place to get your bearings in terms of how the Islands are situated to one another and the relative compass points. The views are especially beautiful at sunset and while we walked up the steep hill via the gatehouse and then along the fern-lined pathway, we stopped often to look out to sea, to the sun melting behind Samson's heather-covered peaks, bending to observe a wild flower or butterfly or scanning the panorama of St Agnes and the craggy Western rocks, bathed in a pale shimmering light. The binoculars came into their own as we spotted a crowd of cormorants bickering and chattering on a rock just off the South-West side of the Garrison walls. We read the names of each battery and stood by the dormant cannons looking for boats out to sea. A leafy pathway took us back to where we had begun the walk, through the town to the crescent of Porthcressa beach.
It so happens that the fish and chip van was conveniently positioned, as it always is in high season, behind Porthcressa and so, not 5 minutes from home, we stopped to have some excellent cod and chips and a cup of tea on the beach. Tucking in, we were eyed by a greedy gull, begged with plaintive calls from a speckled chick. That evening we took advantage of a good drinks offer at St Mary's Hall Hotel just down the road from where we were staying. There are not many places on St Mary's that you can get a Mojito so we enjoyed that! A good full first day of our holiday!