Today we took a boat trip around the uninhabited islands of St Helens and Tean before landing on Tresco. The trip took us also to the Round Island lighthouse which, standing upon 40m of sheer granite rock with a 19m high tower, cannot itself evade the highest waves of rough seas. Even as we got closer to the island itself, the swell gained momentum and rocked the boat back and forth as we gazed in awe at the treacherous-looking steps that were once climbed at the time the building was manned. The commentary was really informative and we went on to learn about the history behind the Tresco 'Blockhouse' which oversaw Grimsby Sound during the Civil War, of the defective 16th centrury King Charles' Castle, and its replacement Cromwell's Castle, built in the 17th century. We kept looking out for the 2 peregrine falcons that were said to be nesting in the area and although we didn't see these rare birds of prey, we were still delighted to spot a fulmar and a gannet soaring by with it's sharp bill slicing through the salt spattered breeze. St Helens, we discovered, still had the remains of a pest house, a place where disease-ridden sailors returning to Britain were kept in isolation. The ruins of an 8th century Christian Chapel breathed life into the myth that King Olaf, said to have come to the Islands in 986, had here adopted the religion of Christianity, spreading its word hereafter.
After landing on Tresco, easily recognisable by its abundance of trees, we made straight for the Tresco Abbey Gardens. The gardens were created by Augustus Smith in the 1830s in what remains of an old 10th century Benedictine monastery. As well as seeing the ruins, we were awestruck at the abundant exotic flora, towering tree ferns and structural succulents, made to feel at home by the island's mild climate. We bought some bat plant seeds from the shop and hoped we would be able to grow them back home on a warm spare room windowsill. The journey home was a bit eventful too, as we really got soaked by both rain and a choppy sea! All those aboard seemed to take it in their stride and there was much amusement as an unlucky few, ourselves included, caught the worst of the high waves over the side of the boat. A fellow passenger and I exchanged a look of shared empathy as we braced ourselves against another huge splash, knowing only too well that our summer attire had been too great a step towards wishful thinking. Back on dry land again, hot showers were in order. Outside, the evening turned calm and the mood of the islands changed again. We went to dinner at the excellent Juliet's Restaurant and were spoiled with a fantastic view of both the sun setting over Samson and the lights of the harbour coming on, one by one, as night crept over the bay and filled the sky with stars.