Stephen Oryszczuk and his wife take ‘the big plane’ to an island getaway
The 17-seater plane taking us to the Isles of Scilly would fly in over the sea and land on the runway directly in front of us, said the lady at the Land’s End airport café, as she handed us our Cookies ‘n’ Cream milkshake to share.
“What runway?” we asked, after a moment’s pause. “That runway,” she said, pointing matter-of-factly at the empty field ahead. “Oh, right,” we said, not a little puzzled. “Yes, I suppose it’s a little difficult to see in this light,” she offered, kindly making excuses for us.
“You see that strip of daisies and wild flowers? Just before there.” She motioned to a slightly less bobbly bit of grass in front of some slightly longer grass. “See it now?” she asked. We nodded.
It was the moment we first realised we’d be taking off from the equivalent of a lawn in a Hampstead garden – and also the moment it sank in that we were on holiday. Every holiday includes a moment when you first feel you’re about to get away from it all.
From the chaos of the capital, those moments can sometimes seem to be a little delayed but here, 260 miles and six hours west of London, ours came over a Cookies ‘n’ Cream milkshake.
Ten minutes later, sure enough, our Twin Otter aircraft spluttered in from the south-west. It was tiny, but we were assured “that’s the big plane”. I looked around for the kid with the radio control, but a pilot did indeed emerge, and – after a 20-minute tea break – he beckoned us over from the terminal.
Inside, with the calming wood and the view through to the cockpit, I might have felt like Howard Hughes, were it not for the fact that he was a billionaire. We were travelling in the aeronautic equivalent of an original Mini Cooper. It was all oh-so hopelessly romantic, in a strange, 1950s’ kind of way.
Fifteen minutes and 25 miles later, we touched down in St Mary’s, the largest of the five Isles of Scilly and our base for the next three nights of our stay. Sixty seconds after we emerged from the plane so did our bags, and within a whirlwind three minutes of disembarkation we were being whisked off to our hotel, the Star Castle.
The building was so named because of its unusual but sturdy shape, which helped Royalists withstand attack during the English Civil War some 400 years ago.
Perched on a bluff in a garrison on the west of the island, it has traded its history as a fort to become a luxury place to stay, and sits in the perfect location for pampering guests.
St Mary’s town centre, a two-minute walk downhill, hosts not only most of the shops and life but also the island’s main quay, from which boats sail daily to the five corners of the archipelago. After a two-day downpour before our arrival, the sun now threatened to shine, so we wandered out, past the guard tower.
In the quaint, cobbled streets we found strange-shaped succulents hanging from dry stone walls, birds and Scillonians chuntering and bees throbbing around an array of exotic plants, bringing them to life.
Thanks to the Gulf Stream, all sorts of botanical beauties thrive here, many of which can be found nowhere else in the UK. The perfect place, in other words, for Scilly’s world-famous Abbey Gardens on the island of Tresco.
Because of each island’s diminutive size (St Mary’s is the biggest, but you could still walk its perimeter in just a few hours), you can combine visits to Tresco with stop-offs in Bryher, St Martin’s or St Agnes, or indeed, if seals and puffins are your thing, any of the smaller, non-inhabited islands. As they are very definitely Mrs O’s thing, we were on the first boat out of St Mary’s, binoculars to hand.
Three days is the right amount of time for the Isles of Scilly, with each island worthy of half a day at least. The locals are pleased to help you plan your time.
Some of the islands have great pubs, others have great walks and still others are known for their beaches.
Either way, Star Castle’s breakfast will see you through the door and its gorgeous evening dining will lure you back.
In terms of Jewish interest, the Scillies unsurprisingly boasts no wealth of kosher eateries or ancient synagogues but, equally, it will come as no shock to learn that Jews have been traced here hundreds of years ago. Historian Cecil Roth, who explained the records at Penzance Synagogue, mentioned Jewish families settling on the islands in the early 19th century.
After three sunny days here, I can’t help but feel they were on to something.
• Useful Contacts:
- Isles of Scilly Travel: www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk, Tel: 0845 710 5555
- Star Castle Hotel: www.star-castle.co.uk, Tel: 01720 422317