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Take an easy stroll around magical islands then fly a helicopter home...

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 16, 2012

Tresco Abbey from the air. The 17 acres of Tresco which the Abbey Gardens take up have a Doctor Who 'Tardis'  feel to them

Tresco Abbey from the air. The 17 acres of Tresco which the Abbey Gardens take up have a Doctor Who 'Tardis' feel to them

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Martin Hesp gets reacquainted with two of his favourite islands: Tresco and Bryher.

In the greater scheme of things the likely demise of the helicopter link from Cornwall to the Isles of Scilly is not the worst of tragedies – but it will certainly feel pretty bad to the people losing their jobs and, I venture to suggest, also to islanders who will miss the service far more than has so far been reported in the media.

For example, I wonder what will happen during winter storms when the Scillonian doesn't sail anyway and there's too violent a cross wind at the airport for the small aeroplanes to land? Such conditions could go on for days, effectively cutting the islands off for most visitors – and winter-walking in the Scillies is one of this region's greatest treats.

I also mention the helicopter service here because you can, of course, take one direct to the idyllic island of Tresco, which is also very handy for a visit to nearby Bryher.

In over 12 years of writing this column I have visited both for walking purposes on several occasions – and even led hikes on Tresco and Bryher for the excellent Walk Scilly festival.

I can say that some of my very best memories gleaned from all the hundreds of walks I've written for the newspaper have been on these magical visits. Several times I took a film crew with me when we were doing regional walks on ITV Westcountry – and I've also made friends with some wonderful people on the two islands.

Of course, you can still reach Tresco or Bryher easily enough having flown out to St Mary's on the Skybus planes or having taken the good old Scillonian. But, if the helicopter service is closed down as seems likely, you will soon no longer be able to enjoy the exhilarating thrill of landing at Tresco's heliport or be able to admire all the amazing aerial views that this entails.

So if you can afford the time and cost of a flight, grab a trip while you can. If you go for just the day you can embark on a hike around Tresco that is arguably one of the very best walks to be found in all South West England.

The round island walk is almost half-a-dozen miles if you follow the coast path, further if you criss-cross the tiny lanes – and a good deal more if you meander along the myriad paths through the Abbey Gardens.

Indeed the 17 acres of Tresco which the Abbey Gardens take up have a Doctor Who "Tardis" feel to them. Observe the area from the outside you cannot believe there'll be so much to see once you're inside. So cleverly has the interior been planted and planned, that miles of intricate pathways seem to weave through the dreamy demesne.

The helicopter lands just to the south of the gardens – turn right outside the heliport gate and within a few minutes you will find yourself walking past Abbey Pool with its blue, blue waters and white birds all somehow rippling light onto massive Tresco Abbey.

Which brings us to Augustus Smith, the indomitable Hertfordshire squire and banker who leased the island from the Duchy of Cornwall back in 1834. For it was he who built the Abbey on the other side of the lake, he who planted the paradise-on-earth gardens, he who imposed the first compulsory education in Britain on the island, and he who did just about everything else that makes Tresco the place it is today.

At first the wild and lawless islanders were not too keen on a mainlander with new-fangled ideas arriving from the Home Counties. They were undoubtedly niggled by his somewhat authoritarian practises, like the fact that suddenly their kids were being charged a penny a week for attending school, or two pennies a week if they did not.

But Smith knew what he was doing and for 40 years he channelled all his energy and finances into his Tresco project. He embarked upon an ambitious building programme and he pulled up the island's agricultural socks.

It was his nephew Captain Thomas Algernon Dorrien-Smith who later introduced the profitable cut-flower industry, and other Dorrien-Smiths have been nurturing Tresco ever since.

Passing Abbey Pool, we keep to the coast path and make our way up the island's attractive eastern side until we reach the blockhouse at suitably named Blockhouse Point.

Climb the low hill to this relic and it's hard to imagine all the blood spilt here in the English Civil War – apart from the building's modest, half-ruined ramparts there's nought but fabulous maritime views.

The island's hotel spreads itself along the northern shore of the bay to the north of you which also plays host to the island community centre, the primary school, some cottages and St Nicholas' Church.

As I say, so peaceful and pleasant is the scene that it's impossible to imagine the horrors which one lot of folks can bring down upon the heads of others. Apart from the murderous Civil War, 112 pirates were beheaded in a single day on Tresco in 1209. Piracy flourished here until the 17th century, so goodness knows how many other people died at the sword.

With such horror in mind I was quite happy to enjoy the sunny stroll over the hill past Dolphin Town to New Grimsby where the island's New Inn pub serves a good lunch and pint.

After that it's a matter of strolling the few yards down to the western shore and turning right to make your way around to the harbour. After that, we walk north along the little coast path and once again enter the island's violent past. Cromwell's Castle dominates the straits which divide Tresco and Bryher, and it is open for hikers to wander in and explore. Climb the circular stair and you really will feel king of the castle as you command the narrows which make up the most picturesque anchorage in Scillonia.

Having won the Battle of Tresco in 1651, the Roundheads built this impressive fortification to defend the channel from the marauding Dutch.

Next, you can climb to King Charles' Castle a few hundred yards above on the highest point of the island – and a have a laugh when you think this place was a terrible mistake. It is so high above the channel that divides Tresco and Bryher that the soldiers here would have needed to point their cannons downwards. And when they did that the cannonballs simply rolled gently out of the barrels.

You can almost imagine some roundhead Homer Simpson saying "Doh!" as he marched down the hill to build Cromwell's Castle.

From the upper fortress you can make your way across the open heaths to the most northerly limits of Tresco, before returning back down the eastern shore past the beach at Gimble Porth.

Cross between the Old and New Grimsbys once again and a lane will take down the island's western edge and introduce you to the impressive woodlands of the Abbey where you can spend the rest of the day enjoying those magical gardens, before catching one of the very last helicopters home to the mainland.

FACT FILE

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