A scillionian view: Why are the Scilly Isles special?

St Mary's landscape - Scilly Isles Walk

St Mary's landscape - Scilly Isles Walk - Credit: Archant

David Mawer, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust and Juliet May tell us why they think the Scilly Isles are so special

From the old stone cottage that has been in the family for countless generations I cross chamomile-laced pasture divided into acre fields by fragile looking low stone walls, skeletal thin, lichen-topped, built and rebuilt over the ages. It always feels special, everyday, as I go to check my cows, walking on top of the world, my world, my family’s world; looking over the island to the other side, where the sparkling sea stretches to the distant, sharp edge of our planet.Another bite from the island reveals more sea over Hugh Town. Over Annet the horizon wraps around through a fish-eye lens; too much to take in, my vision too narrow. Samson cups the sea between twin hills. The world spins as I walk, the sun rising, the moon setting as it has done so many times.My family were not the first to build walls, the prehistoric remains that lie beneath them clear evidence that earlier ancestors shaped the land. No sense of belonging, more a privilege to be here right now, my turn to build up the walls, to look after the pasture, to sail the rocky waters, to be among the seabirds, seals, shrews and wrens, bouncing on thrift, climbing the carns, searching for natural treasures, my ancestors on my shoulders and my boys by my side.

This world is sinking, eroding away, the crumbled granite remains of land that not so long ago towered above the sea, a wall of ice disappearing over the horizon to the west, and frozen tundra to the east. The sea keeps taking more bites and has surged up and over the banks flooding through the low lying moors. Star Castle stands strong above the Town on its sea-level hue. This place is precious and won’t be here forever. Theirs were the stories of hiding on Hanjague to escape the press-gang, of shipwrecks, planting the first bulbs and pittosporum hedges, the first tractor, the first fridge and telephone, of the wars and hardship, carnivals and sailing races, ours is being written right now.

I wonder what life was like for the first settlers of this then wooded land, the first farmers, the early Christian hermits, my family when they moved to Samson. What does the future hold for my wife and me, will our boys find a life here or elsewhere, will there be crisis or continuum.

-David Mawer, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust

The temptation is to start with the usual, quite justified,descriptions of great beauty, clear seascapes, open skies and unrivalled beaches.

We do, indeed, have all these natural advantages and more, in abundance. We have Stone Age and Iron Age sites; it is still a thrill to see where our ancestors lived and to see, more or less, the same views as they did – to sit where they sat, and look where they looked. We have the fields with old stone hedges and cattle and ponies grazing, and there are the flower fields, kept small and sheltered where the flowers were harvested by the great-grandparents of the farmers of today.

Most Read

We have myriad spring and summer flowers growing in profusion all over the islands, including that arch-weed, the beautiful agapanthus, recklessly self-seeding, even in the cracks of the granite walls.

We feel safe – we are not too particular about locking our sheds and our cars. Our children cycle or walk to school from an early age unaccompanied and we know that there will be someone to notice, look out for them and report any mishap. We have a nautical life: there are gigs, pleasure boats, day boats, kayaks, fishing boats, sailing dinghies, achts, family boats, working boats, jet boats - wind surfers and kite surfers. We trip between the islands for walks, picnics, pub lunches and restaurant suppers, and our visitors and locals alike take day trips to and from the different islands, each one with its own peculiar personality and atmosphere.We are a community that loves working for ourselves – independent shops, cafes, restaurants, crafts, studios, potteries; artists, child-minders, painters, electricians, plumbers, builders, farmers, hauliers, carpenters, picture framers, chocolatiers, jewellery makers, knitters, tailors, sail makers, pasty makers, tour drivers, boat skippers. All these help to make Scilly a special place to live.However, having lived here for more than 30 years I have discovered another, deeply pleasurable, reason for that ‘special’ label.

It is the continuum, and I speak as a comparative newcomer. Perhaps the same in every village, but highlighted in an island community, is the awareness, and knowledge, of people and their lives and circumstances. When a little boys runs out of school with his uniform still too big, or a small girl splashes in and out of the shallows on a beach and it is clear from their faces which family they are from, it is a kind of joy of belonging. Very special.

-Juliet May,Isles of Scilly