At the very South West tip of Britain lies Land’s End, a place where the wild Atlantic meets the land. Steep rugged cliffs often pounded by huge swells, if you look out from this coast on a clear day you may get a glimpse of a small cluster of offshore islands. The Isles of Scilly, 45 km south west of Land’s End, reachable by the Scillonian ferry once a day or flights from Newquay and Bristol.

Britain’s tropical paradise

The Scilly Isles are often thought of as a tropical landscape. A place where the light reflecting off the perfect white sand brightens any dreary day. This little cluster of islands feel like another world, often missing weather systems which seem to pass on by. Made up of five inhabited islands and 140 outliers, these rocky and rugged outer isles take the brunt of the Atlantic, creating protected calm bays within the centre. There is paddling for every ability within this archipelago of islands.

No matter your chosen mode of travel, you will land in the Scillies on the largest of the Islands, St Marys. There are a couple of companies supplying kayak hire here, or if your not too precious about your boat then the Scillonian’s are quite accustomed to loading kayaks aboard the ferry.

St Mary’s is the hub of the islands, its busy little harbour is a perfect place to start your adventure. The town has all the modern amenities, but be prepared to fall into an islanders pace of life as soon as you land.

The islands have been designated an area of outstanding beauty, and from the moment you step foot on the islands you will see why.

From St. Mary’s there are tonnes of paddling options. Most of them do require a minimum crossing of a kilometre between islands. The channels are usually very sheltered, but be aware that strong westerlies can effect the water just outside Hugh Town harbour on St. Mary’s. Sheltered paddling can be found on the the other side of the town during westerlies (a short 200 metre portage). Transporting kayaks between islands is also easy if you’re not keen on the short crossings. Inter-island taxis will carry you and your kayaks aboard for a standard fee.

The Islands

  • St. Agnes is a small rugged island south west of St. Mary’s. Often exposed to the standard south westerlies, but home to a couple of sheltered bays and a campsite.
  • The most westerly island Annet is uninhabited but home to tones of bird life. Birders flock here for the start of the sea bird breeding season.
  • Samson is an uninhabited island in the west, it boast beautiful beaches, and at low tide sandbanks almost join it to Tresco and Bryher.
  • Bryher is in the north west of the archipelago. It has a small community, campsite, pub and shop. The channel between Tresco and Bryher is often sheltered but can get busy with taxis in the morning and late afternoon. The northern tip can get exposed so check the weather before venturing up and around the northern headland.
  • The Northern Isles, just west of Byher offer rugged rocky skerries with seals and sea birds. There is nowhere to land out here but on a calm day they are fun to explore.
  • Tresco is famous for its white beaches and its tropical garden. I would recommend an afternoon off to explore the island by foot and have a look at a huge collection of tropical plants that seem to thrive in the scillies mild climate. Tresco doesn’t have a campsite but Bryher is just a short hop away.
Tresco and Bryher, beaches galore!
Photo – Tom Corser License CC BY-SA 2.0 UK
  • St Helen and Tean, small islands in the north were once occupied, and have plenty of history behind them from farming, religious burials to quarantining sick sailors. The outer islands to the north of St Helen are steep and rugged, home to puffins in June and July, they also have some exciting coves and channels to explore. This area is like another world at low tide, where sandy beaches emerge and it is possible to wade from Tresco to St. Martins. Lots of birds feed on these shallow banks at low tide, quite a sight to see even if your not a ‘twitcher’.