St Mary's - Isles of Scilly

by Robin Fuller March. 18, 2021 210 views
Most visitors arrive at St Mary's on the Scillionian ferry from Penzance in Cornwall; helicopter and fixed wing flights are also available.

Most visitors arrive at St Mary's on the Scillionian ferry from Penzance in Cornwall; helicopter and fixed wing flights are also available.

The Isles of Scilly is an archipelago of 55 islands and islets 50km off the SW tip of Cornwall, UK. St Mary's is the largest island (40% of total land area) and most populous (c. 1700 people) of the islands (total c. 2200). The islands have been occupied by people for over 6000 years and this is reflected in their facscinating archeology.

The islands are eroded remnants of granite rock that intruded into the Earth's crust from deep underground. Until relatively recent times the islands were probably much larger and perhaps joined together into one island. Rising sea levels flooded the central plain around 400–500 AD, giving the current coastlines. Even today it is said to be possible to walk/wade between some islands at extremely low tides.

Hugh Town is the largest settlement on St Mary's located on a narrow isthmus joining the peninsula known as the Garrison (distance) with the rest of the island. In the foregraund here is the Buzza Hill Iron Age burial chamber, c. 2500 BC.

Hugh Town is the largest settlement on St Mary's located on a narrow isthmus joining the peninsula known as the Garrison (distance) with the rest of the island. In the foregraund here is the Buzza Hill Iron Age burial chamber, c. 2500 BC.

The Garisson

Star Castle is a fortress on St Mary's, built in 1593, during the period when a Spanish invasion of England was threatened. The Castle is in the shape of an eight-pointed star at the centre of a fortification system known as the Garrison. It comprises an outer wall around the outcrop of Hew Hill, protecting the town and the castle, with strategically placed gun batteries at regular intervals around the outer wall, allowing covering fire at all angles.

Cannons at Star Castle

Cannons at Star Castle

Cannon in Star Castle, here lined up on the Scillonian ferry - my experience was that the locals were normally very friendly towards visitors.

Cannon in Star Castle, here lined up on the Scillonian ferry - my experience was that the locals were normally very friendly towards visitors.

Gun embrasure in the Star Castle wall - note the perfect dry stone walling cut from solid granite.

Gun embrasure in the Star Castle wall - note the perfect dry stone walling cut from solid granite.

Halangy Down ancient village site

Halangy Down is a prehistoric settlement on St Mary's. The ancient site overlooks the coastal inlet between St. Mary's and Tresco Island. On the site are the remains of an Iron Age (600BC-100AD) village, two entrance graves, prehistoric field systems, standing stones, post-medieval breastworks, and a Victorian kelp pit. The settlement was in continuous use for 500 years, from the late Iron Age until the end of the Roman occupation of Britain (410 AD).

A view northwestward across the Halangy Down remains.

A view northwestward across the Halangy Down remains.

An artist's impression of the village as it may have been 250 AD (photo of the English Heritage information board on site).

An artist's impression of the village as it may have been 250 AD (photo of the English Heritage information board on site).

A view southeastward across the Halangy Down remains

A view southeastward across the Halangy Down remains

Large boulders, slabs and smaller stones were used in the construction.

Large boulders, slabs and smaller stones were used in the construction.

A hearth in the floor of a large room.

A hearth in the floor of a large room.

Small chambers are a feature of some houses.

Small chambers are a feature of some houses.

Entrance graves or burial chambers

An entrance grave is a type of Neolithic and early Bronze Age chamber tomb found primarily in Great Britain. The monument typically consisted of a circular mound bordered by a stone curb, erected over a rectangular burial chamber and accessed by a narrow, stone lined entrance. Entrance graves are often referred to as the Scillonian' Group, named after the Isles of Scilly where the majority of entrance graves have been discovered.

Bant's Carn burial chamber above the Halangy Down Village is thought to pre-date the village by some 1500 years.

Bant's Carn burial chamber above the Halangy Down Village is thought to pre-date the village by some 1500 years.

Lower Innisidgen Burial Chamber, St Mary's.

Lower Innisidgen Burial Chamber, St Mary's.

Innisidgen Upper burial chamber.

Innisidgen Upper burial chamber.

Porth Hellick Down burial chamber.

Porth Hellick Down burial chamber.

More modern memorials on Scilly

This stone marks the place where the body of the Admiral of the Fleet Sir Cloudesley Shovell was washed ashore after he and more than 1,400 others perished in a disastrous shipwreck off the Isles of Scilly on 22 October 1707. He was buried at St Mary's church and later moved to Westminster Abbey.

This stone marks the place where the body of the Admiral of the Fleet Sir Cloudesley Shovell was washed ashore after he and more than 1,400 others perished in a disastrous shipwreck off the Isles of Scilly on 22 October 1707. He was buried at St Mary's church and later moved to Westminster Abbey.

St Mary's church, Old Town, St Mary's.

St Mary's church, Old Town, St Mary's.

St Mary's churchyard, a much simpler the resting places of modern inhabitants of St Mary's island.

St Mary's churchyard, a much simpler the resting places of modern inhabitants of St Mary's island.

The modest grave in St Mary's church of James Harold Wilson  (11 March 1916 – 24 May 1995), Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, PC, FRS, FSS, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1964-1970 and 1974-1976. What a contrast with the huge burial chambers of early leaders in the tiny Isles of Scilly!

The modest grave in St Mary's church of James Harold Wilson (11 March 1916 – 24 May 1995), Baron Wilson of Rievaulx, KG, OBE, PC, FRS, FSS, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom 1964-1970 and 1974-1976. What a contrast with the huge burial chambers of early leaders in the tiny Isles of Scilly!

Back to the land of the living

A long breakwater protects the the Town beach and goives a safe anchorage for boats. It also offers a berth for the Scillonian ferry and a landing for smaller ferries which run to the outer islands.

A long breakwater protects the the Town beach and goives a safe anchorage for boats. It also offers a berth for the Scillonian ferry and a landing for smaller ferries which run to the outer islands.

From the seawall looking landward.

From the seawall looking landward.

One of the 20 pasenger ferries which, weather permitting, run daily from St Mary's to the other islands

One of the 20 pasenger ferries which, weather permitting, run daily from St Mary's to the other islands

Away from Hugh Town the coastline is semi-natural with colourful wild flowers and great views across the archipelago.

Away from Hugh Town the coastline is semi-natural with colourful wild flowers and great views across the archipelago.

Wild flower meadows are found where fields once grew spring daffodils. Daffodils were ready to cut early in the mild Scillonian climate, long before cooler mainland crops. They were shipped to Penzance, then sent by train to the London flower markets.

Wild flower meadows are found where fields once grew spring daffodils. Daffodils were ready to cut early in the mild Scillonian climate, long before cooler mainland crops. They were shipped to Penzance, then sent by train to the London flower markets.

The granite rocks are often eroded into organic shapes - here like the skull of a rodent with huge incisor teeth.

The granite rocks are often eroded into organic shapes - here like the skull of a rodent with huge incisor teeth.

Here I see the head of a man in a large cloth cap, passing comment as he stares out to sea.

Here I see the head of a man in a large cloth cap, passing comment as he stares out to sea.

St Mary's is a great place to stay with much to see and considerable variety in itself. But it is also the perfect base to visit the other islands with the St Mary's Boatmen's Association running regular ferries offering return trips, sightseeing and more. More of those island trips in further "Scilly" blogs.

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R Kuerbovich 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Beautiful post and very educative; thanks a lot

4 months, 2 weeks ago Edited
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