Our plans for Scilly was to spend a lot of time relaxing due to my bum knee. That had not included the hike up the hill and stairs to reach our room every time we wanted to take a break but that’s pretty much what it was going to have to be. We had also thought that we would just spend one day going to a different island. Per our book, it looked like there was enough to do on St. Mary’s that we wouldn’t have to jaunt around to the different isles plus there are always the “round isles tours” that take you out to see sea birds and seals and such. Of course, we had learned upon arrival that the puffins (my favorite bird of all times) had already left the isles and gone out to sea. dang it. I figure all the people who have gotten fantastic photos of puffins and put them into calendars have all left their calendars with the puffins so that the puffins know when the end of July is, when they are supposed to go to sea, and even though it was just the first week of August, the puffins have all followed the calendar and left. Well, it’s either that or the sun and weather tells them to go
. I like my explanation better.
So we have our breakfast at our BnB and head down to the quay to sign up for a day trip to Tresco which is just “next door” as isles go. Tresco has an abbey garden that is supposed to be wonderful and we like gardens so thought it would be a good stop and not too much walking. The queue to get tickets for the boats wasn’t too bad but we decided we’d take the 12:30 trip over so that I wouldn’t be on my feet quite so much. We got our tickets and have a couple of hours now to kill before going to Tresco.
We are looking at the various signs and see that there is a “gig race” tonight for 5 pounds. Not sure what a gig is other than the vernacular for a musical engagement. Pretty sure they are not talking about that. We walk back to the High Street of Hugh Town (not very busy as there is the steady flow of people heading to the quay in the morning and empties out the town). I’m a bit cold and see a couple of things in a store that look warmer than stuff I have so we go into the store and I end up with a really nice denim jacket. I needed another coat like I need another umbrella but we always seem to buy umbrellas and jackets when we travel because we’ve mis-calculated the temperature or the rain
Into the Atlantic Hotel to make a booking for dinner. We are lead into the area next door which is where the restaurant actually is and make our booking. We ask him to explain what a gig race is. it’s a boat race! Officially it’s a “pilot gig boat”. History: when the Isles of Scilly were a major stopping point for ships coming and going from England and Cornwall, pilots were needed to get the ships into and out of harbors because of all the treacherous rocks around the Isles. Gig boats would race out to the ships to get their pilot out there first because if you didn’t get your pilot there first, you would be out of a job and then no money. So the gig races have continued into the modern day as a sports competition and the Isles now host world championships. The gigs have a 6 person crew (there are female crews and male crews. The females races are on Wed night and the male races on Fri night) and a coxswain. it’s all rowing. the boats are ocean going longboats like long dorys or tenders. Anyway, it all sounded quite exciting so we thought we’d head out to go to the races tonight and made our dinner booking accordingly so we’d have time to make the boat. Watchers go out in boats and follow the gigs back to shore. The gigs row out 3 miles from St. Mary’s and race back to the harbor.
Getting ahead of myself a bit. We still had a lot of time before our ride to Tresco so back up the hill, back up the steps and relax and read time in our room. Then back down to the harbor for our 12:30 boat. This is the first time we’ve actually seen the boats. We are going with the St. Mary’s Boatmen Association which runs a good many of the boats between the Isles and on the tours around the Isles. There are other organizations that have boats as well but we didn’t use any of them. The boat is open, as in no top or shelter. It holds some 80 people overall on all the benches and seats. I am very glad I have purchased my denim jacket and also I got a plastic poncho as it continues to drizzle on us.
The boat is pretty full and we head to Tresco which takes about 15 minutes. There are two landings on most of the Isles, one for high tide and one for low tide. I had thought we would go into the landing that is at the town on Tresco and we would then slowly walk down the Isle through the town and to the gardens BUT we landed instead at the far end of the island. I am messing around with my plastic poncho and umbrella to keep the camera dry and we are the very last ones to walk up the hill and around the sand dunes and by the time we got to the long walkway that takes you towards the town and the gardens, there are only about 6 people left on the walkway in front of us
. Very eerie to be almost the only ones in sight. As we stopped to take some photos of the dunes and the tors (large rock formations on the Isles), we were then by ourselves amongst the aggapanthas and the tors and dunes.
Luckily it was super easy to find the gardens as there is no way to go anywhere from that landing without passing them. We paid our money and headed into the gardens. This is what the Abbey Gardens website ( https://www.tresco.co.uk/enjoying/abbey-garden/ ) has to say about themselves:
“” The sub-tropical Abbey Garden is a glorious exception – a perennial Kew without the glass – shrugging off salt spray and Atlantic gales to host thousands of exotic plants.
Many of these tender floral gems would stand no chance on the Cornish mainland, less than 30 miles away. Yet even at the winter solstice more than 300 plants will be in flower. All in all, the tropical garden is home to species from 80 countries, ranging from Brazil to New Zealand and Burma to South Africa.
By building tall wind-breaks, Augustus Smith channelled the weather up and over the network of walled enclosures that he built around the Priory ruins and the three terraces he carved from the rocky, south facing slope looking towards St Mary’s
. You can learn more about the history of the garden here. The hotter, drier terraces at the top of the garden suit South African and Australian plants; those lower down provide the humidity that favours flora from New Zealand and South America.
The diversity of plant life to be found within the Abbey Garden is extraordinary. Fringing the lush grid of paths which criss-cross the gardens are a host of succulents, towering palm trees and giant, lipstick-red flame trees. Here you can find flowers of the King Protea and the handsome Lobster Claw. Walk amongst the great blue spires of Echium, brilliant Furcraea, Strelitzia and shocking-pink drifts of Pelargonium.
The treasures to be found within the Abbey Garden are not limited to the floral kind. The garden is also home to a collection of shipwrecked figureheads, which are displayed at the Valhalla Museum.
At the entrance to the garden is the Garden Visitor Centre with a well-stocked gift shop, a large cafeteria and a history room.””
We wandered the gardens in the rain, sometimes very hard rain where we would stop to stand in a shelter of any kind (man-made, natural), and sometimes just a drizzle. There were other people about enjoying the gardens but not many. Just when we had decided we had seen almost all the trees and flowers we could stand, we saw the sign pointing to the Valhalla Museum of figureheads and headed in that direction. A very good museum of figureheads and signs from shipwreaks. It was all an open air museum so a good many of the figureheads were on the walls in the rain, as well. My favorite was a fish. If they had just figured out how to make the rain appear to be coming out of its mouth, it would have been the pinnacle of the figureheads.
To the gift shop and then a sandwich for lunch but no places to sit so we went out to the entryway courtyard and found some benches under shelter to eat. We had a little over an hour for the next ferry back or two hours for the last ferry back. Debating whether to go to Old Grimsby, the town or not, but decided that my knee would not hold up to going in both directions and there was a large beach that could use some beach combing if we wanted to spend an hour doing that before the ferry. so the beach it was.
Nice walking along the beach and finding limpet shells, mostly. Not much sea glass but limpet shells are cool. One other couple only on the beach. Luckily we could find a way off the beach and to the sidewalk to the ferry pick up point. And it is now raining hard again. And not quite time for the ferry. And a line of people already waiting. And a boat unloading some stuff so we can’t even get on the quay yet. But we did get on the boat back to St. Mary’s and got back in time to go back to the room for another spot of feet up and knee pampering before back down the hill for dinner.
Good dinner at Atlantic Inn and then back to the quay for the gig races. The gig races are popular as there were three boats being filled. We picked the closest one and sat on the left side. Once all three boats were filled and there didn’t appear to be anyone else coming, we all left and headed out to the gig race spot which is west of St. Agnes (the Isle on the other side of St. Mary’s) and starts close to three rocks sticking out of the sea. There was a lot of maneuvering around before the boats started racing. There were 6 gigs. Couldn’t really tell where the starting point was or exactly who was starting them. The three boats that had come out from St. Mary’s were not alone to watch the races. All together, about 7 large boats full of people and half dozen smaller private boats. Some of the boats had cheering crews for one or another of the gigs.
We are sort of drifting along with the motor at idle. The rowers are almost ready to go and most of the men who are rowing take off their shirts. My hubby and I are bundled up in most of the warm clothes we have brought with hats and zipped up to the chin. It’s not raining now but it is very chilly. Suddenly, somehow, all the rowers heard the start and we are off. Our chase boat revved up the motors and we are going lickety split now! I never realized people could row that fast but we seem to be going quite a good pace to keep up with them. Our boat is on the left side of the gigs so we are sitting on the further side away from the gigs. dang. Wish we’d sat on the right side of the boat.
Of the six gigs, two gigs are left behind quickly. Three are keeping neck and neck for a mile or more. One is kind of trailing the three leaders but they slowly fall behind. It’s a three nautical mile race (I think that is slightly less than three land miles). People in other boats are chanting and cheering. People in our boat are cheering for Bonnet (one of the boats). Two of the gigs pull ahead at about 2 miles finished mark. One of the leaders is Bonnet. We are getting close to St. Mary’s now and people are lined up around the Garrison (the old fort on top of the hill) to watch the races come home. This is really exciting!
As we get closer to the harbor, Bonnet is slowly pulling ahead. Our boat is keeping pace and we haven’t slowed down once so these men have been rowing fast for almost 3 miles now. No wonder they took off their shirts before starting. They must be really sweating by now. We head into the harbor and as they pass a certain point, a horn goes off signaling that they have reached the finish. Bonnet wins by more than a boat length but not much more than that. Second place comes in and third place isn’t too far behind. We sit in our boat and wait for all six gigs to finish even though it is several minutes before the last two boats come past the finish line. When every boat passes the line, everyone in the chase and watch boats all cheer and applaud. It’s cool that everyone is doing that because even the last boat over the line worked hard and rowed hard. my gosh, this is a very, very hard race.
When the last boat is in, our boat goes back to the docks as well and everyone piles off and leaves. good night. we head back up to our hotel, back up the hill, back up the stairs. We haven’t done that much, overall, but my knees are saying enough. thank goodness you’ve decided to go to bed. lovely day in spite of the rain. exciting race. a very good day in Scilly.