Cornwall Life visits the beautiful Isles of Scilly

PUBLISHED: 12:43 18 August 2010 | UPDATED: 16:09 20 February 2013

St Martin's Beach, Photo: Ian Wilkinson

St Martin's Beach, Photo: Ian Wilkinson

In this August issue, Cornwall Life visits the beautiful Isles of Scilly and finds white sands and tropical waters - the perfect place for some rest and relaxation.

Ian Wilkinson visits the beautiful Isles of Scilly, which have an enviable laidback lifestyle, where tranquillity rules

Just 28 miles of ocean separate the Isles of Scilly from the Cornish mainland but in some respects it might as well be 2,800. For the island way of life is a world apart from mainland ways, cut off from both the benefits and excesses of urban livin.

Islanders enjoy both a standard and a quality of life that many mainlanders would envy. The pace of life is more relaxed, people have time to stop and chat, crime is virtually non-existent and pollution and traffic jams - let alone road rage - are unheard of.

Many of our readers' experiences of the islands will be based on annual holidays or perhaps the occasional short break. Many, as I have done, will have sat in an idyllic spot watching the sunset on yet another glorious day and think 'wouldn't it be wonderful to live here'. I have also spoken to many islanders - both relative newcomers and those from long-established Scillonian families - about this and the overwhelming consensus is that it is indeed a wonderful place to live.

There are one or two things to consider before packing your bags. The islands are remote and travel to the mainland is not always straightforward, particularly during the winter months when fog or bad weather can keep you grounded for days. For those used to driving a short distance to their nearest supermarket it can come as something of a shock to find that sometimes shelves in the island shops are bare - waiting, literally, for the boat to come in. As for education, the main island of St Mary's has primary and secondary education up to the age of sixteen. Beyond that, pupils have to travel to the mainland and board. On the smaller off-islands only primary education is available and children then travel to St Mary's and board for four nights a week.

Finally, you need to consider whether you and your family are the sort of people who can live comfortably in a small community - very small in the case of the off-islands.

Shopping and eating out
Hugh Town on St Mary's has everything you need for day-to-day living. There are no large multiples here but plenty of small independents such as butchers, bakers, a hardware shop, a chemist, a clothing shop, a newsagent and a small but well-stocked Co-op. There are also a couple of banks and a post office and some 'niche' shops selling designer labels and jewellery, a deli, various galleries and an estate agent.

Each of the off-islands has its own village store, usually combined with a post office and usually quite small, although Tresco's general store is large by island standards. So far as eating out is concerned, again St Mary's offers the most choice, with several restaurants, hotels and pubs. All of the off-islands have a pub and all but one has a large, classy hotel with a restaurant open to the public. The exception is St Agnes, which makes up for it with a cracking pub, the Turk's Head, which serves excellent food.

What can I get for my money?
Housing is a contentious political issue on the islands since many of the social problems that affect rural areas, notably the South West, are magnified here.

Basically, demand far exceeds supply, which means high prices and corresponding difficulties for local people, particularly the young, to gain a foothold on the housing ladder. Because of this some of the housing that does come on the market is subject to a local authority covenant that restricts the sale to people who are resident or have worked on the islands for a minimum of three years. Another thing to bear in mind is that very little of the property available is freehold. Leases vary but much of the land on the islands is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall so you need to take into account the annual charges and conditions attached to any lease granted by them.

However, there are some wonderful properties available. For example, a one-bedroom cottage on the off-island of St Agnes is available for 200,000 leasehold, with a current ground rent of 1,000 per annum. The property is close to the quay on a made-up road and has sea views from the front. A two-bedroom flat in Hugh Town (the islands' capital on St Mary's) is on offer for 295,000, while the asking price for a modern three-bedroom terraced house close to Hugh Town is 375,000. On the off-island of St Martin's there is a four-bedroom detached house with a self-contained two-bed annexe for sale at 685,000. This property is leasehold, with an annual ground rent of 1,700. Back in Hugh Town, a substantial Victorian granite-built town house with four bedrooms is on the market for 850,000.

Out and about
There is so much to do on the islands, particularly if you enjoy the great outdoors - and to be honest, if you didn't, you probably wouldn't consider living here! There's all manner of marine activities as well as more relaxing pastimes such as golf, walking and birdwatching. During the summer months there are festivals and island ftes, and in May the World Pilot Gig Championships. In the winter, activities are rather more home-grown but there are plenty of interest groups covering art, music, literature and much more. Most residents consider themselves privileged to live in such beautiful and tranquil surroundings, for the islands are indeed the 'Fortunate Isles'.

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