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The Isles of Scilly: Exploring Tresco & Samson

We had spent a couple of days exploring St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly and now wanted to explore a little more of what this impressive archipelago of Atlantic Islands had to offer. It was early July and the number of visiting yachts was increasing daily, especially the number of French flagged vessels. Others we had spoken to said the various anchorages in the area were starting to get particularly crowded and as this was our first time to the Scilly Isles we made the decision to stay on our mooring buoy in St Mary’s Pool and just take the ‘tripper’ boat over or explore with our own dinghy.

Day Trip to Tresco

Overlooking Old Grimsby

The St Mary’s Boatmen’s Association run daily boating services across the islands so we decided to let someone else navigate the challenging waters around here and hopped onboard one of their boats from St Mary’s over to Tresco, at a cost of £13 each return.

Tresco is the second largest island and the only one of the islands to be privately owned; currently leased from the Duchy of Cornwall by Lucy and Robert Dorrien-Smith. An island of two halves, Tresco offers white, sandy beaches, heavily wooded areas and manicured paths and gardens in the south whereas the north is an unspoilt expanse of lush ferns, gorse and heathland, with a rugged coastline that bears the brunt of strong winds that sweep in from the Atlantic.

One of Tresco’s most well known attractions is of course the Tresco Abbey Gardens, which was established in the 1830s by Augustus Smith and is today home to around 20,000 plants from more than 80 countries, many of which cannot be grown anywhere else in Britain. Close to the gardens you’ll also find Tresco Heliport; Penzance Helicopters operate a 15 minute service from the mainland to here, slightly quicker than our 8½ hour sailing passage!

Car free, Tresco is a great place to walk and explore. The magnificent beaches are quiet and even in July it’s possible to find a deserted bit all to yourself. The crystal clear waters that lap at the shoreline, are perfect for a spot of swimming and it’s easy to see why the Scilly Isles are often referred to as the ‘Caribbean of the UK’.

Located on the north east side of the island, Old Grimsby has a small quay and an Old Blockhouse, which was built between 1548 and 1554 to defend the harbour of Old Grimsby. Here you will also find The Ruin Beach Cafe and The Beach Hut, both of which get very popular with booking advisable for The Ruin Beach Cafe. There are also several moorings available here from the Tresco Estate.

As you move north swap bare feet for comfortable walking shoes and enjoy the ruggedness of the coastal path to Cromwell’s Castle, built in the early 1650s to guard one of the main routes of entry to the islands, and King Charles’ Castle, a fort built during the reign of Edward VI which was meant to protect the narrow strait leading past New Grimsby harbour and on towards St Mary’s, but which turned out to be badly sited 😬

Dropping down the west coast of the islands you will find yourself at New Grimsby, the main coastal settlement on the island. Home to the Island Spa, The Flying Boat Cafe, a small art gallery, the Tresco Estate Island Office, tennis courts, bike hire and a very quaint convenience store, it’s the ‘hub’ of the island! We also popped into The New Inn, a very nice, traditional pub overlooking the harbour.

It is at New Grimsby where you will find the popular anchorage of New Grimsby Sound, although much of this area has now been taken up with the visitor moorings from the Tresco Estate, so anchoring space is limited and often crowded. The moorings here cost £30 a night, and are offered on a first come, first served basis.

Taking the Dinghy over to Samson

Samson Beach

Imagine a deserted island with white soft sand and turquoise waters – that is what the uninhabited island of Samson delivers! We took our dinghy over from St Mary’s and explored before cruising up around the anchorage at New Grimsby Sound between Tresco and Bryher. Doing so in a dinghy does allow you to get right into the shallows however do take care with tides and we’d recommend having a phone with you with Navionics or similar on it to ensure you can navigate through the channels and around the rocks safely. Check your tide times too – you do not want to get stranded after all! (although some may actually relish being stranded on an uninhabited island! 🤣)

After 9 nights in the Scilly Isles our time in ‘paradise’ was drawing to a close. With the weather turning slightly we decided we would make our run back to the mainland, but this time there would be no stopping in Penzance for us, we would be pushing on to Falmouth, ready to explore up the Fal. Sadly we didn’t get to see all the islands this time, but we are grateful for the experience we did have. And of course it gives us more to explore if we ever visit again!

The Scilly Isles really are a magical place but any sailor looking to make the passage down here and spend time in this area needs to be aware that there is no marina, no single anchorage or mooring area that offers complete, all round shelter and if the weather deteriorates significantly it can be a very unpleasant, and even dangerous, place to be. During the peak season mooring areas and anchorages can get very crowded and many vessels have been known to drag around here. The holding can vary from fine loose sand to slippery weeds to nasty rocks, and of course much of it drys at low tide. And you mustn’t forget that you are now in the Atlantic Ocean, which is impressive in itself considering you are still so close to mainland Britain, but inevitably it brings with it the dreaded ‘swell’ which can make your holding uncomfortable in certain conditions!

VIDEO: Exploring a bit more of this UK Paradise!

Prior to setting off we purchased the West Country Cruising Companion by Mark Fishwick (As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. This means if you click on this link and purchase the item we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.) and can highly recommend this book for those looking to travel to the isles. This comprehensive, detailed guide covers pilotage and passages and it really helped us when planning our sail to the Scilly Isles. Join us next time for our sail from the Scilly Isles to Falmouth.


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