On an overgrown, narrow footpath through the bracken near Cromwell’s Castle on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly we came across a modest, well-kept memorial to an extraordinary wartime rescue, invisible through the undergrowth until within a few feet. The inscription tells the story:
New Grimsby Sound, where the operation began, is beautiful; it looks like part of a tropical island, with its white sand, brilliant blue sea, and wild flowers on the islands either side, some of them improbably exotic escapees from the Tresco Abbey Gardens, which has a big collection of plants from all round the world.
Tropical, that is, until you dip a toe in the water, which at the moment, in July, is 14 degrees centigrade, so that swimming for most people requires a wetsuit. The Scillies are the furthest into the Atlantic of any part of south west England so as the tide sweeps through it brings in cold water from the continental shelf. Luckily, there are shallows over the sands where the water warms up a little in the sun at low tide.
Tresco is much the prettiest of the islands, enclosing freshwater lakes and a central stretch of rolling green fields, with the Abbey gardens at the south end and wild, rocky vistas at the north. There are two villages, New and Old Grimsby, a pub, a couple of upmarket restaurants and a supermarket. We lunched at the pub one day, and it was friendly and much better than the average pub meal, while dinner another day at the Ruin Cafe was excellent cooking though in close to tasting menu quantities – not quite what a hungry crew might need.
When we first sailed to Tresco and the Scillies nearly 25 years ago the pub was a fraction of the size, and so was the shop, and I don’t recall a restaurant, only a cafe at the gardens. Parts of the island have now become an upmarket holiday cottage development, though a very discreet one. Tresco is owned by one long-established family and their developments have been carefully done and have not spoiled the island’s beauty.
Even so, I have to say I think I prefer being on Bryher, immediately across from Tresco: though not as stunning, you don’t hear so much cocktail party chat and popping corks as you wander past the houses on a summer evening, so it has a more remote and relaxed feel to it.