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The Isles of Scilly – autumn natural history

Enjoy autumn flowers and bird migration in the long lost land of Lyonnesse.

September in Scilly is all about light and colour. At this time the heathland is at its best with the purple flowers of Ling and Bell Heather in flower and in places splashes of the golden flowers of Western Gorse. The lanes are rich with wildflowers too; Red Campion in all shades of pink and red, Sheep’s-bit, Rock Sea-spurrey, Italian Wild Arum and the orange seeds of Stinking Iris. Along the coast on St Martin’s and St Mary’s the wild Goldenrod should be in full flower, other coastal plants such as Tree Mallow should also be at their best, while the patch of Sea Pea should be in full bloom, if the sea has not washed it away?

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September is a good time for some of the autumn specialities: in some years Autumn Lady’s Tresses can be abundant on dune grassland and the rabbit-nibbled lawns around the historic monuments. The first tiny fronds of the very rare fern Ophioglossum lusitanicum may just be appearing at its only British locality on the picturesque Wingletang Downs.

Grey Seals can often be seen in the bays around the main islands in autumn as well as on their haul-out areas in the uninhabited islands. Bird migrants should be moving through, with warblers, chats, terns and waders arriving from all directions, as well as the ever present chance of something unusual.

Our leader for this trip is Rosemary Parslow, the botanical recorder for the islands and an expert all-round naturalist, with a wide interest from marine life and insects to birds and butterflies, as well as the wild flowers. Travelling with Rosemary to most of the inhabited islands, this is a wonderful introduction to the wildlife of Scilly.

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Wildlife Travel Scilly autumn 2011

Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.

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Return ferry from Penzance to St Marys. Local transport on excursions as specified in the itinerary. Seven nights’ accommodation bed and breakfast.

Not included

Refreshments. Lunches and evening meals. Entrance fees (Tresco Gardens, museum Hugh Town, historical sites, evening talk). Gratuities. Travel insurance.

Our leader for this trip is Rosemary Parslow, author of the Collins New Naturalist book on the Isles of Scilly. Rosemary knows the islands extremely well and is the botanical recorder for the area. Travelling with Rosemary to most of the inhabited islands, this is a wonderful introduction to the wildlife of Scilly.

Day 1 We take the RMV Scillionian from Penzance to St Mary’s, leaving at 09.15. The crossing lasts 2 hours 45 mins. There is a short walk from the quay to our accommodation whilst our luggage is delivered for us. Having settled into our guest house, there
may be time for an introductory walk around Hugh Town and The Garrison with views over the archipelago.

Day 2 We go by launch to St Agnes, spending the day exploring heathland with fantastic granite carns, and wonderful coastal scenery looking out towards the Western Rocks.

Day 3 Today, the launch takes us to Bryher, where we spend the day. Firstly, we walk to Rushy Bay to look at some rare plants, then we head along the cliff path to Hell Bay. Here, the dramatic waves breaking on the rocks can be spectacular.

Day 4 We go to the island of Tresco, very different from the others, with plantations of exotic shrubs. Optional visit to sub-tropical Abbey Gardens.

Day 5 A longer boat trip will take us to St Martins. We spend the day exploring this island with sugar-white sandy beaches, tiny bulb fields and dreamy views of the Eastern Isles.

Day 6 If the weather is good, we will go on one of the boat trips around the uninhabited islands for views of seals and seabirds.

Day 7 A chance to spend the whole day on St Mary’s. We will walk some of the dramatic coast and visit at least one of the wetland sites and archaeological sites that are also important botanically.

Day 8 We have the option of either a free morning, a short walk or a visit to the excellent local museum. In the afternoon, we return on RMV Scillionian to Penzance departing at 16.30. We arrive in Penzance at 19.15.

Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.

Mincarlo, our guesthouse, sits in a quiet corner of the bay on the waterfront, overlooking St Mary’s harbour on the eastern side of Hugh Town, the islands’ capital. Depending on the size of the group, we may overflow into another nearby guesthouse: if so, we will discuss this before you book. All rooms are en-suite. We will be staying on a B&B basis. In the evenings, we will be eating at local restaurants or pubs: the price of evening meals, and of our lunches, is not included, to allow you freedom of choice from the menu. Items for picnic lunches are available from local shops, or local cafes may be possible on some days.

Local transport is by ferry, and some short local bus/taxi journeys from and to Hugh Town (as specified in the itinerary).

We travel by ferry (Scillonian) from Penzance to Hugh Town, St Mary’s. The journey time is around 2hrs 40mins.


Local transport is by the inter-island ferries.

The islands are known for their mild climate. We can expect some sunny days but there may be rain, although there is usually less rain than mainland Cornwall. We will adapt the itinerary to the weather.

We will be walking for most of each day, and the terrain is uneven and/or gently hilly in some places. We will walk at a relatively slow pace but may cover about 3 miles (or perhaps more) on some days. You therefore need to have a reasonably good level of fitness although none of the walks are strenuous. In some locations ‘facilities’ are scarce!

You also need to be able to step into and out of the ferry boats that take us between the local islands so the trip is not suitable for those with limited mobility or poor balance. If you have any concerns on fitness, please talk this through with us before booking.