The Grandeur of Granite: Rocks which Rock and don’t Roll

Our short week in Scilly is drawing to a close.  I’ve not rated St Mary’s very highly during past visits.  It is the largest and most populated of the islands with an urban centre attached to the harbour at Hugh Town.  It lacks the wild rugged ambiance of the other islands.  At the time of our visit the island is getting ready for an invasion of folk who will be coming

map_stmarysfor the annual gig-racing festival.  Something like 150 gigs have been transported to St Mary’s in the preceding weeks and stored in fields prior to being brought down to Town Beach by Hugh Town from where the boats will be rowed to their starting buoys for the race back.  Around 4000 people mill around Hugh Town and its pubs during the weekend.  We are due to leave on the Friday when the event kicks off with the veteran’s race in the evening.  But on the day we are on St Mary’s there are gigs and crews very much in evidence and we get a flavour of what is to come.DSC00308 (2)

Our mission of the day is to walk round the Peninnis headland.  We make a circuit of The Garrison and across the top of Porthcressa Beach to approach the headland.  BlogIMG_4072 (2)Around the cliff top there are some very fine examples of granite tors and rocking stones.  We complete our circuit with a wander round the cemetery attached to St Mary’s Church in Old Town, final resting place of the late Harold Wilson.  We cross over the island to regain Hugh Town where our senses of smell draw us to a pasty shop and afterwards we have a hour or so before we are due to take our boat back to Tresco.  I find my way into a show selling sailing clothing and treat myself to a couple of things that I will enjoy taking to Fefe and Francois’ boat for our Mediterranean experience with them in June.

And so to Bryher

I think Bryher is my favourite Scilly island.  For one thing it’s a nice shape to negotiate.  You get dropped at one of two quays on the eastern coast. map_bryher It is a short hop from Tresco and during exceptionally low Spring tides you can cross on foot.  The island is 2 km long and 1km wide at it’s broadest point.  Easily circumperambulated in a day with plenty of time to stop, linger, look.

The so-called settlement at Great Pool / Hell Bay Hotel is the westernmost in England. The centre of Bryher is mainly low-lying with arable fields, pasture and housing with a shop, a café and Island Fish.  The latter is a small shack-type establishment where you can get freshly-made crab sandwiches or a lobster salad with change from your fiver or tenner!  On the west side is the Great Pool overlooked by the Hell Bay Hotel and in the south are sandy beaches, a common feature on the island, Rushy Bay being an example. BlogIMG_4018 (2)

Setting foot on terra firma Nick and I strike uphill, westwards.  WNickLobsterSalade pass Island Fish thinking to buy a crab sandwich but in the event the proprietor is out of crab but can offer us a lobster salad.  Although strictly a take-away establishment we are able to sit at the small table outside to eat, and enjoy our lovely little salad with the pot of tea she makes for us as a friendly gesture.  With that wonderful feeling of having eaten some food of the gods we set off and crest the ridge of the island then we vere north slightly to follow a track which skirts fields and which then loops round to take us Great Popplestone where we enjoy some mazes more modern than that of St Agnes.  There are also a few discreet cairns at the top of the beach there, each composed of a single boulder upon which a slightly smaller one is placed and so on………..  There is also a composite one.

On the beach here Nick lingers to take photographs of beach birds and I notice interesting patterns of stranded shells and also the fine and glistening quality of the sand.DSC00243 DSC00241 (2)

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We call in at Hell Bay Hotel and spend a happy hour in their lounge over a good cappuccino and the daily papers.  DSC00229 (2)Continuing around the coast we pass the western flank of Sampson Hill and suddenly happen upon a host of golden daffodils and a beautiful vista thrown in.

The meander round the rest of the island takes us along the southeast coast then by some leafy tracks and under leafy bowers to reach the quay where I gaze out over crystal clear water towards Cromwell’s Castle and from which we will be picked up and whisked back to Tresco.10BlogIMG_4065 (2)

 

I Stagger on St Agnes

Full English, Smoked Haddock, a Kipper…… it is not an easy choice at breakfast time.  I choose the Full English and am not disappointed but already know what the following morning’s choice will be when I see Nick’s kipper which is proper.

We board our boat for St Agnes and as we walk up from the quay we glance at a sign outside the Turk’s Head inn which invites us to order our lunchtime pasty to avoid disappointment.  map_stagnes

It is low tide and the boatman tells us that the bar which connects St Agnes with Gugh will be exposed throughout the duration of our time on the island so we cross the sandy ridge and follow the coast round Gugh. 1BlogIMG_3969 (2)  The coastal granite structures are striking indeed and later in the week John will tell me that the tors on the Penninis Headland on St Mary’s are held to be some of the best examples of weathered granite outcrops in southwest England.

Having completed part of the circuit we recross the bar and find ourselves at the Turk’s Head just before 1 o’clock when we have an appointment with a pasty.IMG_3977 (2)

After our pasty and a pint we start our circuit of St Agnes, walking south a bit then turning west towards Higher Town.  Before we reach the centre we take a track south which leads down to Wingletang Down and the coast at Horse Point.  It is then a matter of following the coast right the way round to rejoin the Quay at Black Point

During our walk Nick photographs birds and takes a panorama view at St Warne’s Cove.  DSC00180 (2)

At every turn there are different vistas to enjoy and at Troy Town we find the famous maze.  Many turf mazes in England were named Troy Town, or variations on that theme.  It is presumed that this is because, in popular legend, the walls of the city of Troy were constructed in such a confusing and complex way that any enemy who entered them would be unable to find his way out. IMG_0234 [1233958] IMG_3993 (2)Continuing around the island we loop Periglis Cove with its short causeway to Burnt Island.  There is a small water body with resident geese, with goslings, and walking round the track which skirts the pond I stumble and fall but thankfully no damage is done.  It is then just a matter of walking around the sea wall at Porth Killier, site of former settlement by Bronze Age people who left, inter alia, large middens of limpet shells.  I worked on these shells in 1998 which were excavated as part of a watching brief prior to the construction of the sea wall, and this is what I wrote as an introduction to my Report to Cornish Archaeological Unit based at Truro. 

As part of ‘a well integrated land/sea subsistence economy’ (Bell 1984), Scillonians from the Bronze Age onwards were gathering food from the sea shore. Limpet shells, often in large quantities, are found on most settlement sites in Scilly from the prehistoric to the Post-Medieval period (Ratcliffe & Straker, 1996). Previously there have been 2 studies (from Scillonian middens) of limpet shells – which usually make up the bulk of any domestic midden – Halangy Down (Townsend 1967) and Samson (Mason 1984). Evidence from a site at Porth Killier suggests that heavy exploitation of marine resources took place in the Bronze Age (Ratcliffe & Straker 1996). During 1996 excavations at Porth Killier took place prior to construction of a sea wall. Within the prehistoric remains present a substantial shell midden was identified, from which samples were taken and have been analysed for the purposes of this report. Prior to these excavations carried out by Cornish Archaeological Unit, eight bulk samples were taken from six of the layers exposed at Porth Killier by Vanessa Straker in September 1989. The shells from these samples also form part of the marine mollusc analysis described in this report.

Back at the Inn and suitably refreshed we repair to the bar where we compare notes on our respective days with John and Jenny before supper. IMG_4009The following day Nick and I will plan to spend time on Bryher, possibly my favourite island of the group based on my visits to Scilly so far.  Mike and Carolyn plan to visit Bryher in the morning and the Abbey Gardens in the afternoon.

 

 

Twenty Minutes in a Twin Otter

It takes less than twenty minutes to hop across from Land’s End to St Mary’s Island in Scilly.  This trip was planned back in the autumn when Carolyn confessed to never having visited the Isle of Scilly and that this was a destination on her bucket list.  And so it was that the Derricks and we agreed a five-day slot into which we squeeze as much island discovery as possible.

Our friends picked us up from Winterborne K on Sunday morning and we drove to a small restaurant in Okehampton to break our journey and have some lunch.  Onwards to Penzance and the hotel that Nick and I have stayed at before.  We enjoyed a pleasant stay, with a good dinner, comfortable room and hearty breakfast.  Carolyn drove us to Land’s End airport where I spotted a former geological colleague from Royal Holloway College, John Mather and Jenny.  They will be staying at the New Inn too.  We boarded our flight.  I have not flown in such a small aircraft before, one in which the cockpit is open and enables the passengers to watch the pilots at work.  I felt safer in this little ‘plane, flying at a height at which you do not feel you have lost touch with land.  I had great views of the Cornish mainland as we left the coast, and of the Longships group of islands with its lighthouse, just over 1 mile offshore.  These rocky islets, together with the Seven Stones Reef and our destination, the Isles of Scilly which are approximately 28 miles southwest — are part of the mythical lost land of Lyonesse, referred to in Arthurian literature.

Landing on St Mary’s was a hairy moment, IMG_3891 (2) not for any reasons of risk or safety, but because the little ‘plane is able to take off and land over a relatively short distance and as we approached the runway a substantial rock outcrop rose to greet us through the little window and as we sped past it, the wheels bumped gently onto the tarmac and we had arrived.

We were taxied to the port where we boarded a boat which delivered us to Tresco.  A wagon ride to the New Inn…….. and we had arrived.  The Inn is largely unchanged since we were last on Tresco, the atmosphere is at once lively (one has the bar and restaurant staff to thank for that) and calm and restful too.

During the afternoon we walked north from the Inn along the coastal path which takes us past Cromwell’s and King Charles’ Castles, J8 tresco.map2 then you clamber up track and over to the east side by Piper’s Hole.  You can follow the path round Gimble Porth and over the Point to reach the Island Hotel complex.  IMG_3923 (2)We meet up with John and Jenny Mather along the way.  Pressing on towards Old Grimsby you pass houses with gardens containing flowers just a bit too tender to find on the mainland and the Echiums are in full and glorious flower. IMG_3948 (3)IMG_3936 (2) Turning inland our way takes us past the school and the church, to eventually drop us onto the lane which leads down to the Inn.

Before supper we settle at a table in the bar and play a game of Barbu.  We are so absorbed by our game, and have not mastered the house drill for ordering food at the bar, such that we risk missing the boat for our evening meal.

When we go to bed we have chosen our destination for the morrow and will be picking a boat up at New Grimsby to take us to St Agnes and Gugh.