Monday, 27 October 2014

With love from the Isles of Scilly 1926

I felt at home as soon as I had set foot back on the Isles of Scilly.  This is perhaps the secret of the islands, people return year after year because it has the ability to make you 'feel at home'.  Home is where the heart is....

On my rapid return to the mainland I quite unwittingly unearthed a postcard from my Great Grandfather William Earnshaw of Solihull, Warwickshire who would have roamed and cycled the same simple and stunning countryside made famous by the authoress and nature lover Edith Holden. She wrote the charming depiction of the beauty of Warwickshire in the 1920's 'Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady' which was an instant best seller.

The small postcard was of Peninnis Head, St Marys, Isles of Scilly, the very spot that I had recently returned from.  I had no idea he had even been there and I had never seen the postcard before. He wrote:

Scilly Isles August 23rd 1926

'Dearest Evelyn, I am having a day here staying at Penzance, glorious sunny weather and magical islands to explore on my bike. Lands End tomorrow and then off to St Ives, North Cornwall. Never saw such beautiful country. All well and do wished you could have joined me. The enclosed sprig of heather is from the island which is a good luck charm. I believe the islands are owned by the Prince of Wales. I will call at Ilfracombe Post Office if you drop me a card there'. 

He would have travelled on the first Scillonian vessel which set sail in 1926 providing a regular passage from the mainland to the islands.

It is rather touching to find that four generations of my family have now been visiting the islands which perhaps explains the irresistible pull as anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting will fully understand.

It all feels like a rather jumbled puzzle which is finally falling very nicely into place !!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Whisked away, from the Isles of Scilly

Most people can only dream about being whisked away to The Isles of Scilly but I like to do things slightly differently, I was whisked away from the islands.

The fabulous newly opened pub on St Martins, the Seven Stones Inn was ready for a party.  The candles were lit and gently dripping on every table, the disco ball ready to throw out its kaleidoscope of light as the music was cranked up as the night rolled on.

Only events went slightly differently for us.  Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were taken ill on an off island ? There is a slight niggle that it would be the worst possible scenario and that you would simply be placed in the fragile hands of fate.  How wrong you would be.

You call the doctor, within minutes  the islands medicals arrive at the door in a small buggy with oxygen and take your blood pressure and generally calm you right down. The paramedic zooms over from St Marys and is met at the quay and bought straight to you. The decision is taken whether you are taken on high speed boat to the small hospital on St Marys or flown by helicopter to the mainland. It was a helicopter to the mainland and what a well oiled operation it all is. It is getting dark by now and we clamber onto the small buggy, the walkie talkies are crackling, 'helicopter ten minutes away, touchdown on the fire station field'. Be ready.

The wind is blowing, bags are bundled aboard and we hang on for dear life as we are sped to the field. There are flashing torches and then suddenly the roar of the overhead circling helicopter as it descends with the overpowering smell of the fuel fills your nostrils. We are guided firmly to the flimsy steps and the thought that I had been dragged unwittingly into a James Bond action movie did flit through my mind. The two hunky professional crew members are in vibrant orange flying suits  We are strapped into the small aircraft and headphones clamped on whilst the dark distinctive outline of the islands disappear before my eyes and I wonder when they will close the door.

It's a rather good way of making a graceful exit without all the gawky and squeamish farewells.

I owe a very large 'thank you' to the lovely medical team on St Martins, St Marys and the Royal Navy  rescue team at Culdrose.

Keep calm and carry on.

Photograph of the Treliske RAF rescue helicopter by Rick Ingham (I was pre-occupied)

Monday, 13 October 2014

Big Skies, Big Tides, Big Dreams on Scilly.

Anything is possible on Scilly.  You simply detach yourself from everything in life that is unjust, unkind, unfair or irritating and focus. Focus on the big glorious skies, soak up the beauty of the big tides and allow yourself to dream.  Dream big and bold.  Do this for yourself because no-one else can do it for you.

Have you ever walked on the ocean floor ? It's the most peculiar surreal feeling knowing that hours before and hours after you have made an imprint with your footsteps the waves will wash away any evidence of you.

St Martins is well known for it's unique flats, the vast stretches of sand that link the islands together at the Spring tides/big tides and expose the hundreds of rock formations. Sometimes it is possible to walk between St Martins, Tresco, Bryher, Samson and the Eastern Isles. The sands take on a lunar like quality and its an eerie feeling, I felt quite 'displaced'. The lovely local boatman started to gently chide us for gazing too long at tempting shells, tantalising strands of seaweed, the obsession to take copious photographs.  I wasn't going to linger once I was told the tide was on the turn.

It was one of those magical days where pictures and words would never be adequate. You just looked about you and counted your blessings, felt glad to be alive, privileged to be there and slightly sad that time tumbles on quite so quickly.

And that after every hello comes the inevitable goodbye.  Just as after every sunrise comes a sunset.

Big skies, big tides, big dreams.

Sally on Scilly.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Bird Watching and Butterflies on St Martins

Lets get one thing straight.  I have never been on a Bird watching or Butterfly spotting walk in my life. There are large groups of earnest looking people walking about with all the 'kit'. Huge telescopes in waterproof covers, waterproof trousers, sun, wind, rain hats, all in subdued tones and all completely absorbed in this fascinating past time.

I am the lucky one.  Firstly the day is glorious, the sun shines on the righteous and so forth.... and secondly I have my very own highly informative and experienced bird watcher.  And for the ignorant, beginners amongst us there is a vast difference between a 'bird watcher' and a 'twitcher'.  I was with a bird watcher, that is someone who stands, looks and listens.  You can work out the twitcher for yourselves because you have to be very careful not to offend anyone.

Within five minutes my guide was beside himself with excitement, 'look at that Peacock with it's wings half closed he exclaims 'with a Small Copper sitting on it's back, I've never seen that in my whole life'. 'Did you get a picture' ? he looks ecstatic. 'No I bloody didn't' I say, 'I've got sodding binoculars strangling me, a rucksack, a warm waterproof wrapped round my waist, sunglasses on my head and the camera lens to fiddle with' 'Shame' he says, 'would've been hugely rare. Let's not forget I had a notepad and pen also clenched between my teeth. I didn't stand a chance so I got a half baked picture of a butterfly wing and withered blackberries. 

My guide is busy scanning every small field, looking over all gates and listening carefully. I thought I had walked over most of the island but how wrong I was, secret paths between the high ferns spotting those elusive butterflies sunning themselves on the granite rocks warmed in the sun. 'There's a Yellow Browed Warbler from Asia' look at it's distinctive markings'.  I finally 'got it', it could become addictive....

Because we have the Spring Tides at the moment which occur when the sun and moon are directly in line with the earth and their gravitational pulls reinforce each other when the tide goes out, the low sand banks and distinctive groups of rocks between the islands can be clearly seen.  This in turn gives the sea those stunning hues but I must not be diverted by the sheer natural beauty of the islands this morning.

I stop and say 'good morning' to this young chap, he's puckering up for a kiss in the sun but I'm having none of it. 

I realise that I am utterly thrilled by my morning and promise myself another outing very soon.  Each day Viv records what he sees, going on a tour with him is riveting, even to a complete ignoramus like myself.  For the record this is what we saw in a couple of hours

Butterflies:  Peacock, small copper, red admiral, specklewood, clouded yellow (from Spain)

Birds: Yellow browed warbler (from Asia) Artic Tern, Pie Fly Catcher, Siberian Chiff Chaff, Oyster Catcher. 

The world is right here at my feet.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Seaweed and storms on Scilly

It will be a day for seaweed and storms today.  From where I am sitting I have an uninterrupted view of the harbour on St Marys, it is a deep grey over Tresco, the Eastern Isles beyond lie low in the mist.  I can see the storm closing in on us.  One moment the sea had an eerie green glow, now it is cold, grey and harsh.

It's a day for securing a cosy corner in any of the islands pubs or restaurants and hunkering down with one of the locals perhaps.  It's very easy to lose track of time here once you get chatting. There are some rather luscious shops and galleries to browse, not forgetting the wonderful Museum in which to marvel at treasures of times gone by.

However some days it pays to be practical, remember there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. For a trip to Scilly it's 'de-riguer' to have a waterproof (such a better word than anorak), a rucksack and sensible shoes. Armed with these essentials you will be fully equipped to embrace everyday fully whatever the weather might try and throw at you.

Because I had been uncharacteristically sensible and packed rolled up waterproof trousers (yes you read that right) the sun bestowed us with glorious rays and the wind huffed and puffed this way and that and produced some rather 'choppy' looking waves which rolled relentlessly in. If you want full disclosure I had a flask of Cadbury's Hot Chocolate drink, Cornish Gingerbread Biscuits and an 'emergency' stash of home made fudge from St Martins.

On the way to my chosen walk  I made a slight detour to the Atlantic Hotel which boasts the best views of St Marys Harbour and got chatting to a Scillonian who is married to an Islander, it pays to know the difference...

I said that I would be walking to Peninnis Head and he told me the story of Vic who used to drive the island bus, circa 1960's/70's.  Legend has it that Vic would take his trumpet up to Peninnis Head and blow it when the weather was bad so that the skipper of the Scillonian would hear it and thus avoid the lethal rocks. 'It didn't work one time' he said. 

Once I had been blown and buffeted and my hair had acquired the 'Scilly style' I dropped in at the peaceful and civilised St Marys Hall Hotel and found myself a sunny little nook on one of their plush sofa's. Built by an Italian nobleman for his Scillonian bride in 1938 it's a fabulous refurbished townhouse exuding warmth and charm.

I met lot's of fascinating people, listened to heaps of wonderful 'tit-bits' and arranged a 'jolly' for later on.  Whilst I nibbled on the remains of my fudge I reflected that Scilly still retained its simple, irresistible and uncluttered charm.

Which is why I am still here peering into and looking out of all sorts of different windows. 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Drifting with the clouds, sitting with the stones.... on Scilly

Difficult not to feel on top of the world here.  Surrounded on all sides by the sea and gigantic expansive skies which are ever changing. It has finally dawned on me that my life needs more sky, sea and stones, and where better to find it than Scilly ? Simple then.

A trip to St Agnes had us mesmerised by the stones. Some in groups, some standing staunchly alone and some looking decidedly wobbly. They reminded me of life and people because every creation would have had a story behind it and been constructed with loved ones in mind, people gone but not forgotten perhaps.  Well that's what I like to think anyway.

Once we had torn ourselves away from the stones we turned our attention to the waves, the sea sucking in its breath deeply and exhaling with force as we battled to hold our cameras steady. If I had put a five pound note into my bank account every time I had uttered 'this is heaven on earth' I would be a millionairess, oh I forgot, I am one.....

I'm ravenous by this time, all this excitement in the form of bracing air, weird rock formations and an excitable sea, so we whizz into the St Agnes post office.  I say 'whizz' but in reality the choice is so tempting in there and so the process takes longer than planned, Must not forget I am on 'Scilly time'...

We stagger with our edible goodies, the tide is just receding on the sandbar between St Agnes and Gugh, if you haven't been there and crossed a virgin sand unsullied by human feet then put it on your 'bucket list'. One word, exhilarating. Sea just happened to be like crystal cut glass glistening on the purest of linen.

Sea, sun and sand.  Oh, and a new passion of mine, seaweed. Totally hooked on seaweed now.

We'll do the seaweed another time though , too much of a good thing is bad for your health. Everything in moderation.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Slow Scilly

The nights are drawing in, tonight the sand shone like pure liquid gold, the daylight shimmer dimmed as Autumn creeps slowly upon us snatching the leaves greedily from the trees and putting the curling ferns to sleep.

Everyday is different, the light of the sunrise, the diminishing shadows cast by the sunset. This is an artists paradise, inspiration surrounds you,  the raw beauty of these islands will leave you in awe.

I head off towards the post office, it's ten minutes away but I allow an hour. The farmer is ploughing his field, his red tractor emitting a low rhythmic hum, the curved bay of Lawrence's stretching gently as the receding tide exposes thousands of tiny exquisite shells, the outline of Tresco's exotic trees in the hazy distance. On the top of the freshly turned gritty earth potatoes appear like nuggets of gold. We discuss the variety and the methods of fertilisation of the soil once the harvest is complete. Apparently the seaweed from Great Bay is the best for nourishing the ground.

I trail behind and thrust my hands into the warm sandy soil pulling out potatoes and listening to the family history. 'Do you ever want to leave the island'? I ask, he gives me an odd look so I ask them if they have the Internet. There is a low guffaw and so I guide the subject quickly back to migratory birds and the wide variety that will drop by the islands this month making it a haven for enthusiasts.  I quickly put myself forward for a bird tour realising how ignorant I am and before I know it I am late for the post office.

Once there I comment on the increasing swell and the large waves of the Atlantic pounding the island at one end although there is not a breath of air inland and it is very warm. 'That's a ground sea' the post lady says, seeing my puzzled look she explains 'a prelude to the storm coming in'.

As each day passes I become more enriched.


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