30.6.05

Isles of Scilly


Just got back from the Isles of Scilly, fourth time visiting and even more enchanted this time. Despite the evident decline in the flower industry (Church Town Farm on St. Martins seemingly the exception) and the resultant increase in overgrown fields, the islands seem to be in a period of prosperity. We visited the recently opened Hell Bay Hotel which (as far as I can tell) is part of the same group that runs the hotel on Tresco and is aligned in the same quality as the St. Martins on The Isle hotel. These hotels undoubtedly provide the greatest luxury (and arguable the best views) on the islands but I don’t feel they reflect the community. Hell Bay is an attractive development but it is just that, a development. It is comprised of mock New England clapboard dwellings and these don’t really sit with the rendered and granite buildings that – until now – were considered typical of the archipelago.
I’d love to stay in the hotel, if only to be pampered with the mainland style benefits of satellite TV, contemporary furnishings and the like. What one appears to miss as a guest of the hotel is the ‘roughing it’ and peculiarities that colour the experience elsewhere – queuing for off-island boats, the little stalls outside houses selling fruit, veg and crafts, the open house atmosphere of the guesthouses and B&Bs, Gig racing on a Friday, going without some of the things us mainlanders take for granted …
Saddest of all is the proliferation of non-local staff – does a hotel like this really plough money back into the local economy or does it fill the pockets of transient Australian, South African and Eastern European youngsters looking for seasonal hospitality work? I saw a room full of local artists’ work, excursions run by local operators and perhaps the odd locally-caught shellfish on the menu but I couldn’t help but feel that this hotel represents Bryher as much as the Sandals resorts represent the Caribbean.

Just up from the hotel is
Richard Pearce’s wonderful gallery. I first saw his work on the islands a few years ago and since kept abreast of it though his website and occasional ‘spots’ such as on the yacht Bare Necessities and at a gallery in Lavenham. Unfortunately he was at lunch when we arrived (though his webcam was tracking our motion around the gallery it seemed) . I’d hoped to have a bit of a chat. I think he’s also responsible for the Scilly Webcam. Talking of artists, we had a cracking meal at Juliet's Garden on St. Marys on Thursday night. This converted barn is one of the best restaurants on the islands and is dotted with more great artwork. This time by Jo Probert and Steve Sherris. The Sherris prints in the gents were just right and it’s a shame their not on his website. There’s something about the light, the meteorological drama and the soul of the islands that makes them perfect for photography and painting. Even a rank amateur such as myself was able to produce some pleasing shots given the local conditions.

I’d love to think I could live on the islands but I believe one really needs to spend a winter there first. Given that a three-bed granite townhouse on St. Marys cannot really be bought for under £400,000, there’s a financial issue too. God knows how the government’s key workers and local first time buyers break in to this market. I guess that explains why almost every tourist and retiree was queuing up outside Mumfords newsagent on Saturday morning in Hugh Town and 98% of them bought the Mail or the Telegraph. In the summer at least, blue blood runs through this island outpost.

Good way to get a feel for the islands is to read the forums:
Scilly News Messageboard
Scilly OnLine Forums

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You refer to Scilly's 'Governments key workers'... you obviously didn't do your homework whilst on the Islands.. the islands are part of Britain and therefore have to adhere to the laws of central government. And we are not all part of the 'blue rinse' brigade either. Scilly is a very diverse working community competing in a very competitive tourist trade.

smorgasbord-design said...

I can assure you no offence was intended. I am well aware of the Islands' nationality and adherence to English law - my fiancee did an extensive dissertation on the archipelago several years ago. My issue was with the preponderance of second homes and the well-to-do retirement prospects that could lead to locals being priced out of the housing market. Something expressed to me not just in Scilly but across the South West by the people that live there.

The blue-blood (c.f. blue rinse) comment referred to a particular social demographic of visitors prevalent at the start and end of the holiday season. You will see from earlier in the post that I recognise the islands have a very contemporary tourist scene as typified by the Hell Bay Hotel and others. The very nature of travel to the islands makes it more likely that the more well-off members of society will holiday there.

The islands are very dear to my heart and I have no intention to sound negative about them. I support island industries (flowers, seafood and, of course, the tourist trade) and will continue to visit as often as my finances allow it.