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


Fire on 'one' railway: Their response

Recieved the following response from allegedly the worst rail company in Britain recently in response to the fire in the train carriage I experienced a few weeks ago. Bit delayed in response ... comments at the end:

Dear Mr Gibbard,
Thank you for your email concerning your journey on the 14th June. I was sorry to read that you were travelling in the carriage which had to be evacuated that morning. I appreciate your concern and assure you that on arrival at Norwich, this set was removed to the depot and the carriage concerned was taking out of service.
[JG: That's good - so you didn't let it burn in the sidings like I suggested. Good corporate responsibility. Probably best not to operate rolling stock whilst on fire.]

We are replacing the old stock gradually with refurbished Mark 3 sets. [JG: This means nothing to the customer. What is a Mark 3 set, what does it look like, why does this make a difference?] Unfortunately, we have been unable to refurbish these all at the same time so it is impossible for us to remove all of the old style carriages just at the moment. [JG: Talk about stating the obvious. You can't take all your trains of the tracks to replace them presumably because you still need to run a service? Thanks for that, glad that's cleared up that query. My question was actually why is it taking so long for any of the new rolling stock to appear? Especially as these were 'promised' back at the start of the year...]

I have sent a copy of your comments to the Conductor Manger too so he can investigate why the conductor was not performing his ticket check duties, which resulted in you having to actually go and find him. I apologise for this. [JG: which might explain why 'one' haven't got any new trains and have taken up old Virgin stock ... no-one needs to buy a ticket because the conductors don't check and there are no ticket barriers at stations North of Colchester ... protect your ticket revenue and you might make more money. Revolutionary stuff. Having a mobile and alert conductor might also mean fires get spotted sooner.]

Please accept my assurances that we do not take incidents such as this lightly and the carriage will not be put into service again until it is fully repaired and has undergone vigorous safety checks. Thanks again for contacting me.
Yours sincerely,

Customer Relations Supervisor

[JG: XXXXXX fails to actually apologise for the event. She's sorry I was in the carriage but presumably not sorry that anyone else was or that the fire occurred in the first place. This response was simplistic, lacking in any sort of detail or true customer focus and wasn't even timely. Allegedly The worst rail company in Britain.]