Scilly's natural magnetism
It must be said from the outset, there are no “formal” tourist attractions on Scilly. Theme parks and on-tap entertainment simply don’t happen here – that’s the beauty of these gentle islands. We do, however, boast a number of outstanding natural attractions to admire.
One of our biggest “attractions” and a definite must-see when you come to Scilly is the world famous Tresco Abbey Garden, considered by many to be the UK’s most outstanding horticultural paradise. Home to over 20,000 exotic species, this hotspot of flora and fauna is a glorious exhibition of tender, tropical blooms that wouldn't survive anywhere else in the British Isles. Due to the warmer microclimate of the Isles of Scilly, much of the kaleidoscopic jungle that thrives here can't even be found just 30 miles away in the most western parts of Cornwall. Even at the winter equinox you can find more than 300 plants in flower. Within the Tresco Abbey Garden there is an equally impressive exhibition of haunting Valhalla figureheads, a reminder of the ships that have come to grief in the treacherous Scillonian waters.
Castles & Forts
Also on Tresco, you’ll find Kind Charles’ Castle at New Grimsby, so called because of its occupation by royalist forces in 1651 even though the small artillery fort was probably built a 100 years earlier during the reign of the boy king Edward VI (1547-1553). On the other side of the island, overlooking Old Grimsby, are the remains of Old Block Tower, a small 16th gun tower.
On St. Mary's, The Garrison is the heavily fortified headland surrounding Star Castle, the frontline of England’s defences since the 16th Century. Also on St. Mary’s on the hill at the far end of Porthmellon Beach, you’ll find Harry’s Walls, an unfinished fort dating back to 1551 and the reign of Edward VI.
Above Porthcressa, you will find Buzza Tower, previously called King Edward's Tower. It was built originally as a windmill in 1834 to replace the earlier Peninnis Mill. It stands on a kerbed platform which probably incorporates the remains of a Bronze Age cairn excavated by William Borlase during the 18th century. Today, Buzza Tower hosts a Camera Obscura and a small Museum of Curiosities.
Scilly boasts some amazing rock formations as well as famous landmarks - none better than at Porth Hellick Bay on St. Mary's where there's a memorial to Sir Cloudesley Shovel, the Admiral of the Fleet whose body was washed ashore here in 1707 after his ship, The Association was wrecked off Scilly. Closer to Hugh Town, Peninnis Head is also home to many fascinating rock formations including 'Pulpit Rock' and 'The Stack'.
On St Agnes, you won't fail to notice the splendid lighthouse, now a private home, and a wonderful circular maze of rounded beach stones rumoured to have been built by a lighthouse keeper centuries ago. Next door on Gugh, you'll find the Old Man, a stone standing 9 foot tall believed to be associated with Bronze Age rituals.
On St. Martin’s is one of Scilly's most iconic landmarks - the striking red and white daymark erected in 1683 by Thomas Ekins. You can reach it via an exhilarating walk around Chapel Down.
Perhaps, though, the most well-known landmark is Bishop Lighthouse (the one featured on the BBC). It was first built in 1847-50 as an open iron structure, but was soon destroyed by a violent storm before even receiving its light. It was rebuilt (1851-58) in stone. Even this was not strong enough and in 1881 the tower was heightened and given an outer casing of stone. Light was provided by an oil lamp until electricity was installed in 1973, and the helideck was added in 1976. The lighthouse is now automated.
Across the whole of Scilly, there are ancient remains dating back to the Iron and Bronze Ages. On St. Mary’s, two of the most well known are Halangy Down Ancient Village and Bant's Carn Burial Chamber with its entrance passage and inner chamber. Both are located close to McFarland’s Down. The Bronze Age tomb at Innisidgen is also close by just beyond Bar Point, itself one of St. Mary's most scenic and sandy beaches.