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Bryher: 9 reasons to visit this idyllic Isle of Scilly

A little over a mile long and rarely half a mile wide, Bryher is as close as you will get to the Caribbean around Britain. The rugged island, “The Island of Hills”, with a sub-tropical climate, has azure and turquoise seas, a scattering of palm trees and white sand beaches. With a population of just 90, the island’s primary children take a boat to and from school on Tresco, Bryher is the smallest of the inhabited “Off Islands”. A travel adventure Many visitors take the tiny Skybus from Exeter, Lands End or Newquay airports. Passengers look over the pilot’s shoulder, reading the dials and gauges, as the plane skims just 1,500 feet above the craggy shipwreck coast of South West England. Or there’s the Scillonian ferry sailing the 28 miles from Cornwall to this archipelago of islands, called giants’ stepping stones by those with a poetic nature. Hell Bay Hotel Atlantic-washed-blue clapper boards give this small luxury hotel a New England seaside feel. You could be on an Island in the Hamptons or in California with palm trees and laid-back vibe. This is a secluded paradise where doing absolutely nothing is always on the agenda – though there’s a gym, pitch and putt course, pool, sauna, spa and tennis court if you are moved to action. Ocean views are every bright, light suite’s focus. Whether you are in bed or sat on the wicker sofa your eye is drawn to the foam and spray. Crack open the complimentary welcoming half-bottle of champagne, sit on your balcony – or in your private garden – and watch those Atlantic rollers completing their long journey. Walking Bryher is a paradise for walkers with boots and binoculars. Look skyward to spot cormorant, fulmar, guillemot, oystercatcher and puffin. Beyond the yellow gorse, wild garlic and red poker plants cast your eyes seaward for seals. Once Bryher hosted a lucrative flower industry but today all that remains is the occasional bank of colour flourishing in the wild. Although it is a tiny dot in the ocean, Bryher has a split personality. There is a gentle sheltered coast facing Tresco. In wild contrast, Hell Bay can be a cauldron of crashing, pounding breakers when storms race in from the Atlantic. Low Tide Festival Bryher has been an island for a mere six centuries. During the low Spring Tides of May it is possible to walk the sand bar between Bryher and Tresco, though it is advisable to wear flip-flops to avoid stepping on aptly named Razor Clams. In recent years over 500 people have attended the unique Low Tide Festival with its bands and stalls selling food and drink. Can there be any more appropriate drink than a gin crafted from botanicals foraged from the beaches of the Isles of Scilly? Crab Shack From spring through to autumn, Crab Shack on Hell Bay, is an informal pop-up venue that provides the essential taste of the Isles of Scilly. Visitors and locals gather round a long table to enjoy crab, lobster and scallops. Salads and sandwiches are washed down with drinks from the licensed bar. Richard Pearce’s Studio Born just yards from the sea, spending his childhood fishing the rock-pools of Bryher, artist Richard Pearce has devoted the last quarter of a century to capturing the beauty of the beaches, light and seascapes of the Isles of Scilly. His main studio is next to Bryher’s only shop in “the Town”. For cards and small prints he has another studio, with an honesty box, on Hell Bay. Over twenty years ago, he created the serene image of three white sails against a blue background of merged sea and sky. It has has become Hell Bay Hotel’s iconic logo. Island Fish For centuries the Pender family have been fishing for crab, lobster, scallops, mackerel, pollock, mullet and a selection of white fish. Now they have opened the Island Fish shop. Seven days a week from April to October, the shop, provides salads and sandwiches and fish to take away. Everyday the boats, piloted by three generations of the Pender family, unload their catch by 3pm so that they can have the day’s catch on sale in the shop and on Tresco jetty by 5pm – fresh for supper. During the season, Thursday night is seafood paella night when customers can take away a portion. Sunday’s takeaway treat is half a grilled lobster, wedges and slaw. Advance booking is required for both. The Museum Bryher’s Museum, housed in a red telephone box, must be a contender for the title of World’s Smallest Museum. Currently the tiny exhibition tells the story of the making of the film “Why the whales came.” Thirty years ago Paul Scofield, David Threlfall, Helen Mirren and children from the island starred in the cinematic version of Michael Morpurgo’s novel set on Bryher during the First World War. Sunset dinner Hell Bay Hotel’s Restaurant overlooks the Great Pool and beyond that the sun sets. Of course, much of the fish and shellfish on the menu will have been landed by one of the Pender’s boats just a couple of hours previously. The restaurant’s daily menu adapts to nature’s variations. Last year there was a glut of octopuses and the chef’s team had a chance to show their creativity. With 3 AA Rosettes the restaurant makes the most of local provenance: leeks, potatoes and wild garlic grown just a few yards away epitomise the desire for the menu to represent its locale.

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards is a travel writer from Oxfordshire, UK. Although Michael had his first travel pieces published nearly four decades ago, he is still finding new luxury destinations to visit and write on.

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  1. You are joking? Is this really Britain? I just never know that such beauty and isolation was on our doorstep. I’m beginning to think that you don’t have to sit on a plane for half a day and spend a load of money to escape and see different worlds. Even the weather looks better.

    1. Got to agree with that. Sometimes we miss the stuff that’s under our nose. Getting to Bryher is an adventure in itself. Sort of my New Year’s resolution to travel local. For such a small island there’s a lot to do on Bryher.

  2. Hell Bay Hotel looks to be the brilliant and luxurious base for a stay on Bryher. But there’s a part of me that would want to be there to seeing the huge waves rushing in during one of the great storms from the Atlantic.

    1. Shipment head at the north end is about 70-80 feet high. I’ve seen spray going over the top of it.

  3. The art work is magical. It really does look like scenes from the Caribbean. It is all so calm and tranquil and serene. I might try and track down the artist on the internet, I’d love to see more of his work.

    1. From these two paintings Richard Pearce’s work really appeals to me too. He’s a sort of Jack Vetriano of Scilly Isles art. I love the sunny scenes but I would have liked to have seen the other wild stormy side to the island. I took a look at his website and it only looks to be blue-sky painting.

  4. I know that it is a flight from Cornwall and then a boat ride but sometimes you probably don’t have to travel too far to find really quiet and beautiful places. With something like a half hour flight it can seem that you have taken a journey to another world.

  5. I’d never heard of the Low Tide Festival, maybe not one to pitch your tent for. It looks to have a great vibe and buzz to it. A lot of travelling for a few hours but it really looks fun.

  6. If you ain’t been to Bryher get yourself there. It’s another world. A real community. Everyone knows everyone else. They all muck in. Everybody has a couple of jobs. You’ve got to be hardy to live there. The doctor only comes round about once every two weeks. Most of the social stuff takes place on St Mary’s so you’ve got to tie everything in with the times of the boats.

  7. Bryher definitely looks like the island to stay and after reading this Hell Bay would be my Hotel of choice. But how easy is it with the tides to take boats to visit the other islands?

    1. Usually not too bad unless you get extreme spring tides and they can work around them

    2. The positive is that you are only a 2 minute boat ride from Tresco and rarely more than half an hour from the other islands. Of course the tides dominate your travel terms. Everyday, Hell Bay Hotel, puts up a board with the day’s boat times and the reception staff are incredibly helpful.

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