Image: Keoni Cabral
Maybe you thought I was going to cheat and stretch the definition of Great Britain to include the Commonwealth Realm or the British Overseas Territories (the what?! – more on that another day) which include some tropical islands (well, actually, they’re associated with the U.K. and not specifically Great Britain, but let’s not open that can of worms today either). No, there really is a place no more than 28 miles off the coast of Great Britain where not only do palm trees grow, but actual white sandy beaches and azure waters do a pretty fair imitation of the Caribbean tableau. These are the Isles of Scilly and they sit just southwest of Land’s End, that pointy point at Great Britain’s farthest southwestern reach. The water temperature yesterday (Monday) was 61 degrees F, not terribly different from the ocean I swam in locally last weekend, and the Scilly waters can get up to almost 68F. OK, so the temp isn’t quite Cozumel-style, but it’s warm enough thanks to the Gulf Stream to warm the air and make the place hospitable to palm trees. Did I mention there was 93% humidity yesterday as well?
The five inhabited Isles of Scilly are St. Mary’s, St. Martin’s, St. Agnes, Tresco, and Bryher, though there are numerous smaller islets and rocks. The main settlement of Hugh Town on St. Mary’s has just over 1,000 people and the whole island group barely tops 2,200. The islands are generally flat and the land supports a good deal of farming, including the raising of bulb flowers, vegetables and livestock. Tourism is the main economic driver, however, and people come for the beautiful, uncrowded, island scenery and beach relaxation as well as for the birdlife which includes puffins! Any place with those whimsical birds has to be a bit magical.
The islands are quite popular for the English on holiday and this has led to some trouble in paradise. The cost of living in the Scilly Isles is quite high given the fact that, as on most islands, the residents have to have most of their supplies delivered by air or sea. Other than tourism, there isn’t a lot of employment, and more than a few wealthy British have so fallen in love with the place that they have bought homes there and only live in them for the high season. This leaves the locals with fewer places to live, and not much in their pockets to buy as the prices go up. It’s estimated that the island residents are perhaps the poorest group of citizens in all of Great Britain. Moneywise, that is. As with many scenically stunning places that harbor struggling common folk (now where have you seen a situation like that before?), the richness of life on the Isles of Scilly lies in the sunsets, the seascapes, the community bonds, and the disconnected-from-the-rat-race vibe that defines island living.