ISLES OF SCILLY WALKS
Stage 5: St Martin's
Friday, September 21, 2018
I awoke to nice a sunny morning for my visit St Martin's, the last of the inhabited Isles of Scilly. From Hugh Town's quay, the Surprise sailed around the north side of St Mary's, past the south coast of Tresco and into the narrow channel of Tean Sound, which separates the deserted island of Tean from the western end of St Martin's. It was about an hour after low-tide, so the boatman let us disembark onto the Lower Town Quay at the western tip of St Martin's, but would collect us from the New Quay on the south side of the island an hour after high-tide.
The Lower Town Quay (picture 1) stands in front of the only hotel on St Martin's, opposite Tean's rocky shore and its main hill. Just to the right of Tean is Round Island, crowned by the 19-metre white tower of its 1887 lighthouse.
St Martin's itself has around 140 permanent residents, most of whom live in three tiny villages on the road that traverses the western half of the ridge that runs along the island. The slopes to the north of the ridge are generally undeveloped while those to the south of the ridge are divided by hedges into many small fields that are mostly used to grow flowers.
From the quay I set off across the rocky beach in front of the hotel (picture 2), though one could also cross the hotel's front lawn to a gap in the hedge in the far corner. Next to the end of the hedge, a path leads through trees then circles around Goat's Hole (picture 3) to climb over a small tor on Tinkler's Point (picture 4).
From the top of the point there are good views across the low-lying south end of Team to the white sand beaches on the south-east corner of Tresco (picture 5) and beyond the north end of Tean to St Helen's and Round Island (picture 6).
The next stretch of the coastal path runs through the grass just above the rocky cove of Porth Seal (picture 7) to Pernagie Point. A rocky shelf extending out from the point is uncovered on the lower part of the tidal cycle (picture 8).
An obvious path leads along the grassy edge of Pernagie and turns into Porth Morran, which separates St Martin's from White Island (picture 9). Further along the path, a stony tidal bar connects White Island to St Martin's (picture 10) and it's possible to walk a two-kilometre circuit of the uninhabited island. It wasn't going to be long before the rising tide submerged the bar, however, so I reluctantly decided to eschew the optional extra and continued along the coastal footpath.
The path passes below the distinctive tor of Top Rock (picture 11) and climbs over the bracken-covered Scilly Point to gain a view along the sandy Little Bay and along the north coast of St Martin's (picture 12). The beach seemed to be the most popular destination on the island, with about half of the people from the boat having taken a more direct route and beaten me there.
The coastal path runs across the slope behind the beach, through marram grass interspersed with patches of gorse, gradually bearing a little higher up the hillside. Down on the beach, a rocky outcrop separates Little Bay from the larger Great Bay (picture 13).
The marram grass gives way to bracken on the far side of the bay. Looking back (picture 14) I could see that the bar to White Island was already covered by the tide, so it seemed like I made the right choice, though it would have been nice to visit.
Beyond Great Bay, the coast becomes rocky again and the coastal path runs along the hillside above, passing the small Wine Cove (picture 15) and then rounding Turfy Hill Point to skirt around Bull's Porth on low cliffs. The next headland is Burnt Hill (picture 16), but the path simply shortcuts straight across the neck of the headland to reach Stony Porth.
After descending to the rocky shoreline (picture 17), the path climbs up to a tor called Old Nick's Table, from which there is a good view back over Burnt Hill (picture 18). Ahead across Bread and Cheese Cove is St Martin's Head, topped by a red-and-white-striped daymark (picture 19).
The path runs along the clifftop of Bread and Cheese Cove, next to an electric fence that pens in a small herd of Ruby Red Devon cows that graze on the hillside as part of the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust's management of vegetation. A rough path climbs up the flank of St Martin's Head beside a row of large granite slabs to join a better path towards the daymark (picture 20).
The daymark, constructed in 1683, stands near the end of the headland, which is also the end of the ridge that runs most of the way along St Martin's. This is the highest point of the island, at forty-seven metres above sea-level, and from this vantage point one can look back along the north coast of St Martin's to White Island (picture 21) and south over Chapel Down towards the Eastern Isles (picture 22).
The Ordnance Survey triangulation pillar just in front of the daymark is the only one that I recall seeing on the islands. It's unusual for me to walk for nearly five days in England before seeing one.
Just below the daymark are the ruins of a semaphore signalling station dating from the Napoleonic Wars (picture 23). A medieval chapel once stood nearby, but the foundations are all that remains and these are mostly hidden by the bracken. Most of the stone from the chapel was reused in the daymark and signalling station.
From the ruins, the coastal path heads off across the undulating ground of Chapel Down, aiming for the eastern tip St Martin's, where the path climbs over two spines of granite that point out into the sea. The Eastern Isles come back into view as the path crests the second one and bends right to pass behind a third tor named Carn Wethers (picture 24).
The path now runs close to the edge of the low cliff above Middle Bight and rounds Brandy Point to reach Perpitch, where the beach is partly stony and partly sand (picture 25).
The path goes through a gap in a low stone wall and along the bottom of a field before running around the sloping sides of the low humps of Gun Hill and English Island Point, opposite the north coast of St Mary's (picture 26).
Having rounded English Island Point, the long crescent of Higher Town Bay lies ahead (picture 27). The path soon merges into a sandy track, initially running above the beach and then dipping down behind the dunes. To the right of the track is a series of small, hedge-lined fields that are sheltered by the ridge running along the middle of the island. Some of those fields belong to the St Martin's Vineyard, passed just before Adam's Fish and Chips.
I had read about the latter in a guidebook and had planned to stop there for lunch, but a chalkboard outside indicated that it is only open in the evening and only a few times each week. Fortunately, I always keep some emergency snacks in my backpack.
The track skirts around a playing field behind the dunes to reach a concrete road. A couple of minutes' walk to the left along the road, at the end of the beach, is the New Quay (picture 28).
There is no path around the next stretch of coast below Cruther's Hill, so instead one must turn around and follow the lane inland, snaking uphill past stone houses to the middle of Higher Town (picture 29). At a junction, I turned left and soon passed the St Martin's Post Office and Stores (picture 30).
When the road turns right, a grassy track continues straight ahead, descending between more of the island's characteristic hedge-lined plots to join a sandy track above Lawrence's Bay (picture 31). The track peters out and becomes a narrow footpath as it reaches the end of the bay at the low promontory of Yellow Rock Carn, where I paused to admire the view of the north coast of St Mary's (picture 32).
The path follows a wire fence around the point and past the end of the next beach, called The Flats because the sand slopes away very gently here and a much larger expanse is exposed at low-tide than was the case when I passed near high-tide (picture 33). The path bears inland to pass between farm buildings, continuing ahead across a couple of sandy tracks to run through the dunes behind the beach. Up the slope to the right, beyond more small fields, are the houses of Middle Town (picture 34).
Reaching the south-west corner of the island at Southward Carn (picture 35), the track turns the corner to a small viewpoint with a memorial bench, from which it is a short walk across the sand to complete the 10.5 kilometre coastal walk at the Lower Town Quay (picture 36).
I still had a couple of hours left before I had to meet the boat at the New Quay, about three kilometres walk away. From Lower Town Quay I wandered past the hotel and up the road through the hamlet of Lower Town (picture 37). Further up the road towards Middle Town, I passed the St Martin's Campsite (picture 38), where the hedges provide plenty of shelter for tents. The road continues up through Middle Town (picture 39), curving right to give a good view over the fields on the slope below the houses (picture 40).
Just after the road bends back to the left, I stopped at a little viewpoint that has another of the compass roses I had seen on some of the other islands (picture 41). A little further, halfway between Middle Town and Higher Town, is the Island Hall (picture 42). Reaching Higher Town, the first building on the left is the island's fire station (picture 43) while a little further along the road, near the corner where I had left the road earlier in the afternoon, is St Martin's Church (picture 44), after which the island is named.
Back at the junction in the middle of the village, I turned left to visit the Island Bakery where I purchased a delicious sandwich and a big slice of cake to celebrate the completion of my walks around the inhabited islands. Returning to the junction, I turned down towards the New Quay, where I had plenty of time to sit on the beach and eat my late lunch before the boat returned.
When I got back to St Mary's I had one more walk to do, following the quiet roads from Hugh Town up to the Telegraph Tower, which stands on the highest ground of the Isles of Scilly.