Sometimes you travel somewhere that changes you. In many ways that’s the point of travelling: to return changed, horizons broadened, mind expanded, feeling just a little more… alive.
We’ve felt that change after many of our trips, but it’s usually a gradual process that happens as our knowledge of the country and its people expands. And, although this is a diverse group of islands, with landscapes and cultures that amaze and excite us on a regular basis, it does always feel like Britain.
Our recent trip to the Isles of Scilly was different. It’s only mid-May, yet we’ve returned with sunned faces and memories of swimming in the sea, paddling around the archipelago’s many uninhabited islands in an open kayak, playing on deserted white sand beaches, communing with seals and puffins, wandering around subtropical gardens and exploring the wild, rugged reaches of the islands in places that feel as though no human has ever been before. The kids have come back with clear blue seas and skies in their eyes and strange tales of red squirrels and golden pheasants to tell their friends. Their vocabularies now include the razorbills, fulmars and guillemots we saw, and they’ve tasted, touched and seen things they hadn’t realised existed.
We’ve spent many nights under canvas. Many more than most, in fact. But sleeping on the tiny island of Bryher, the campsite all to ourselves with only the sounds of nature around us, was incredibly special. Each day we awoke and unzipped the tent to mornings so clear they sparkled in the sunlight, the colours so vivid they seem to burst out of the landscape. It makes you want to run the 200 metres to the nearest beach and dive in. Everything on Scilly feels brighter, cleaner, fresher, somehow, than it does in mainland Britain.
The wildlife is special here. It’s a potted selection, less diverse than on the mainland, and many species have evolved into a slightly different version of those we’re used to seeing. Blue butterflies are bluer; blackbirds’ beaks are a brighter shade of orange; the linnets’ breeding plumage is dazzlingly pink; and there are a few species that can only be found on these shores.
We had one rainy day, when we got to see the waves, riled and angry, hammering the edges of the islands. The sea was unrecognisable from the quiet calm of the days before and after, its colour changed from azure to pewter, foam and fury, salt-spraying us as we battled to walk against the wind. That night was one of the most exciting we’ve spent in a tent: a rare force 9 easterly gale tearing unhindered across the open landscape, shaking and rattling our bell tent, filling it with huge gusts of air, each one sounding like an explosion. And yet the following morning dawned absolutely clear and still again, as if the previous 24 hours had never been.
Scilly is a perfect escape for families – there’s a freedom here we’ve rarely found before. The campsite on Bryher has no dogs and no cars; the song of linnets, blackbirds and thrushes was our constant soundtrack; sparrows ate breakfast crumbs out of the kids’ hands. Each field is surrounded by a thick hedge, providing a natural enclosure. The beaches are clean and many have large shallow areas, perfect for paddling and those memorable first experiences of saltwater swimming.
It’s also somewhere that will inspire everyone to become an adventurer. It was thrilling to rediscover kayaking – that delicious freedom to explore places usually only visited by seals and seabirds. We swam across the coves (wetsuit recommended), ran on winding trails over rugged headlands, explored ruined castles, scrambled over granite boulders, snorkelled in the weedy shallows and walked everywhere, boat-hopping between the islands.
A trip to Scilly is an experience that will change you, however long you’re there for. It’s exciting, exhilarating, inviting and intriguing, but most of all, it’s a place that makes you feel fully alive.