The Scillonians

The Isles of Scilly Simon Burke / South West Aerial Photography

The Isles of Scilly Simon Burke / South West Aerial Photography - Credit: Archant

We welcome our new Isles of Scilly columnists who share their insight into living on the subtropical tip of Britain

Landscapes in Motion

Words by David Mawer, Scilly Wildlife Trust

Scilly’s natural landscapes are breath-taking and beautiful, and appear, eternal, static, unchanging, and ‘just there’. However, to a geologist’s eyes, the landscape is alive and moving. The water in cracked granite turns to ice, expands, and cleaves once mighty tors into huge fragmented blocks, which slide, plough-like, down permafrost slopes. Now they lay motionless, frozen in time, weathered features on hillsides, precarious blocks about to fall from soft cliffs, or oversized boulders in the middle of bays, perfect for swimming to, and diving from.

A mental time-lapse. Freezing and thawing, grinding and sliding. Millions upon millions of tonnes of crystalline rock pulverised into gravel, sand, and clay-like ram.

The sea bites and chews, rolls rock against rock, smoothes angles into radii, claws at the ram cliffs, consumes, sifts, and sorts, with the ceaseless suck and spit of tide and waves.

Rounded boulders tumble to a halt and form steep quay-like structures, on carpets of soft sand, making perfect low tide harbours. Tides sweep and scour deep exposed channels, and in shallow, sheltered waters, bars and expansive sand flats form.

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Bays, shaped by aeons of relentless waves, determine the shape of each subsequent wave. Storm seas build dunes, which protect low-lying land, and trap water in semi-fresh and saline lagoons.

Over millennia, whirling wind, rain and gravel, erode away the exposed bases of granite outcrops, leaving weathered, rounded sculptures, balanced on plinths and pedestals. Dry sand from the dunes is blown inland, smothering, accreting, shaping the land, which in-turn shapes the delivering eddies and vortices.

As a child I enjoyed leaping from boulder to boulder around Scilly’s shores, and I still do, legs and unconscious brain working in harmony, remote from thought or mindful calculation, a learned, instinctive, inherited action. Loss of balance corrected by leaps of faith, movement becomes a horizontal falling. But now, when I stop, I marvel at how these detached, unanchored boulders seldom or ‘never’ move, either underfoot or by pounding waves. Yet waves transported and positioned them, and after countless configurations left them nested, free but constrained. Those scarce few that break their bounds are revealed by whiteness, where they have been flipped over and bashed about. This also divulges the true colour of granite, the ubiquitous browns actually algal growth. But the ‘never’ is only a figment of our restricted perspective of time.

Looking down on the foreshore boulders where they meet the foot of ram cliffs, the illusion is that the boulders continue inland beneath the ram. But the ram is breccia, a conglomeration, the shattered and angular remains of ice-weathered granite, held in a matrix of smaller and finer cement-like particles – a granitic paste. This sits upon bedrock, or very rarely the organic, peaty remains of vegetation that existed before the glaciations. In places - high up in the cross-sectional exposures - whitened, smooth, and rounded sea-washed boulders are evidence of fluctuating sea levels in the past. Scilly’s sand, rocks and ram have all been released from this matrix, and the process continues.

Happy 100th!

Words by Juliet May, Seaways Farm Holiday Homes

April is a time of celebration this year in the family – our Auntie Joan is 100! She, like so many of the older generation on Scilly, is in the hub of her family; still living alone (with a bit of help), cooking for herself, listening to Radio 4 and keeping up with current affairs and politics. Andrew Marr and Daily Politics are two of her favourite programmes.

She was born in the year of The Great War, the last of five Woodcock Maids, as their father called them. He gave up hope of a son, and Joan was put to work with the flowers on the farm! When her mother, Clara Smith from Old Town Farm, got married her four sisters waved her away in the trap, weeping and wailing that she should go so far – right to the other side of St Mary’s. There’s no mention of what the three brothers thought, however. There was a lot of work to be done then although the Smiths had the first ‘automatic’ washing machine. There was no electricity, just a foot pump to whirl the clothes round – too heavy for the girls but one brother was a bookworm and volunteered so he could read while doing the weekly wash.

Clara married flower and dairy farmer Arthur Woodcock, who built a big house on the shore of Porthloo for his bride in 1900, where she produced the aforementioned five daughters.

Auntie Joan has only recently parted with her mobility buggy – quite a relief to the rest of us as her eyesight isn’t what it was (‘I can still see the curb, dear.’) !

Always smart, beautifully dressed, alert, interesting and interested, she is a much loved, visited and revered member of a large family. Invitations for Joan’s birthday party went as far as America, Canada and South Africa. Grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great, and even great, great nephews and nieces made the journey to Scilly to celebrate with her along with her close family and Island friends ( her best friend is ninety-eight).

If you are going to live to be 100, surely The Isles of Scilly are a great place to do it with all the interest, help and attention of a close-knit community. There is always some competition as to who is currently the oldest resident – I think Joan is second at the moment (one of her brothers-in-law made it several years ago, too).

We all know that getting old is not for cissies, but the Islands, with their Memory Cafe, aquatic exercise club , dedicated bus, standing/sitting exercises in the residential home, plus accordion led singing and coffee mornings amongst the residents, must surely be as special a place as any to do so.