Thoughts on Not Being in Isles of Scilly
As part of my job as the editor-at-large for the Western Morning News I write a weekly walks column – and have done so for the past 13 years. Which I think makes me the longest running (if you can use that phrase for a walks writer) hiking hack working for any daily newspaper on a regular basis in the UK.
But like my claim to be the only editor-at-large left in the country, that boast will probably turn out to be untrue as well. Never mind, it’s worth asking the question in a blog…
Anyway, one of the great perks about walks writing in the South West is that you get to fly out to the remarkable, magical, beautiful, addictive Isles of Scilly every now and again.
Indeed, I am meant to be there right now. You cannot imagine how sad I am to have to report a no-show on my part. Friday’s savage weather wrong-footed me. Having once wrecked a car’s engine management system by driving through floods, I had no intention of risking that horribly expensive fate a second time – and on Friday our valley road had turned into a river.
I had been invited to attend the seventh annual WalkScilly Festival – which in my opinion is the finest event of it’s kind in the UK. I’ve been to every one and was involved with its inception – but I missed last year’s and and this thanks to dreadful weather.
This is me guiding one of the many walks I’ve had the good fortune to lead around the Fortunate Isles.
At one time I presented a regular walks slot on ITV Westcountry and we were able to give the island walk festival bucket-loads of publicity through that as well as through my writings for the WMN. Here I am with the ITV crew a few years ago.
I can tell you, we always had a very jolly time indeed when we went out there to the islands 28 miles off Land’s End. And it’s a pity that we don’t do the TV walks any more – not only for my selfish sake – but because if I had a tenner for every time I’m asked if they will return I would be a very rich man. The TV walks were popular – not because of me – but because cameraman Chris Harris and producer Cathy Sayers and visited extraordinary places which never normally get to be seen on the box.
So I’m left disconsolate, digging out some Scillonian images on my computer as Britain refuses to have anything to do with spring and certainly not with summer, which is due to begin in one week’s time.
The most common question I get asked as a regular visitor to Scilly is which island I like most. Like a bag of coloured sweets in which you’ll always find a favourite, even though they all taste the same; like a horse race where you can’t help but pick out filly even though you have no interest at all; or like an obscure foreign football league where, for some inexplicable reason, you support a particular team – the islands of the Scillonian archipelago can present the regular visitor with a pleasantly taxing conundrum.
For some unfathomable reason, each and every one of the rocky outcrops demands a ranking in a sort of inter-island popularity stakes.
Talk to anyone about the Scillies and the odds are that people who have been there will immediately say: “Oh so-and-so is our favourite,” or “x is nice but y is the one we always go back to.”
Walk around them, as I’ve been doing for many years, and the beauty contest heats up into a daunting and confusing obligation to assemble and re-assemble the pecking order.
First it was St Agnes, where I spent some hot summer months as a freshly dropped-out teenager, and then it was St Martins with its white sand beaches and its intimate and lovely redundant flower fields being all hot and Mediterranean in the southern breeze.
Sometimes it is Bryher. Even the island’s soft and beautiful name is enough to make me want to return as soon as possible.
Bryher. Neither the largest or the smallest, not the wildest or the loneliest, not the rockiest or the greenest and by no means the best well-equipped or the easiest to get to. But Bryher: most quintessential, most inviting and perhaps most axiomatic and characteristic of all of the Isles of Scilly.
Maybe I’ll change my mind again – certainly I hope to be going back to the archipelago very soon – and will be blogging more about The Fortunate Isles.