Martin Hesp's Walks: A balmy island hike is just one short flight away
The Isles of Scilly offer a warmer walk even during the cold winter months, says Martin Hesp.
These newspaper hikes, which have been running in the Western Morning News for over 13 years now, have always been popular – not because of any input I may have, but simply because they tend to explore places rarely touched by any other form of media.
That wasn't always the case – by which I mean we married up the newspaper walks with a weekly offering on regional ITV for a number of years. And the dual offering of newspaper article and TV package was even more popular – because TV cameras very rarely get to go into the lesser know parts of this peninsula.
Even now, some half a dozen years since we stopped filming a weekly walk, people come up to me on a regular basis asking if we have any plans to bring Westcountry walks back to the small screen. I can't speak for the people at ITV, but maybe I will start shooting the occasional video for this newspaper's website as I hike.
Anyway, I look back on the old filming days with great nostalgia because we had huge fun hauling masses of TV equipment over hill and dale. For me the chance to adventure in the company of a good bunch of mates was as pleasurable as it was unusual.
One of the most remarkable walks we ever recorded was in the Scillies – a place I've sadly neglected in recent months thanks to other work pressures. Allow me to put that right by returning – in words and photos, at least – to the main Scillonian island where keen hikers can enjoy a complete circumnavigation around what passes as St Mary's own coastal path. It is a fantastic walk for visitors flying out on an inexpensive day-return – get a move on and you should be able to do this amazing walk in the time allotted.
The hike offers something of everything Scillonian. There's classic coastal walking, fabulous lonely beaches, windswept oceanic woodlands, ancient monuments and stunning views.
We begin in the island capital, Hugh Town – simply take the road that runs alongside Town Beach and follow it over the small hill that plays host to the archipelago's main school.
Now descend into the bay called Porthmellon – just behind the gig sheds there's a track, which is actually the beginning of the island's extensive coastal path. We follow this around the beach and over the next small headland into St Thomas Porth.
On past the parked boats we walk, to eventually join the small lane that passes Juliet's Garden bar and restaurant – and this takes us into to the wilder northern territories of the island.
The path weaves below the golf course and eventually reaches Toll's Porth and the remains of the ancient village at Halangy. This Iron Age settlement dates from about 200BC and consists of one large courtyard house and several round houses – all in a reasonable state of preservation given the immense age of these humble abodes. They are only half the age of the tomb that lurks above them. The excellently preserved late Stone Age or early Bronze Age chamber tomb called Bant's Carn dates from anywhere between 2500 to 4500 BC.
From here the path rounds the north-western corner of the isle, veering inland to avoid the remains of a quarry, and then crosses McFarland's Down to reach a particularly beautiful demesne where it descends past tiny flower fields before entering a woodland of wonderful, dark, Scotch pines.
Now we are above Bar Point, St Mary's most northerly cape – there's a fine white sand beach here if you have time to loll for a while.
This northern shore affords fabulous views of Tresco and its famous abbey – and the neighbouring off-island of St Martin's. It is my favourite bit of St Mary's, being both wild and unpopulated.
The path runs through the bracken between the low cliffs and the trees, and after half a mile or so comes to Helvear Down and its two chambered tombs, collectively known as Innisidgen.
The coast path now begins to head south east, rounding Block House Point into lovely Watermill Cove. The pines have gone now and the island's coast takes on a slightly balder, wilder, aspect as we head towards Pelistry Bay.
This is regarded as one of the island's best bathing beaches – indeed I once sat and picnicked here in the Scillonian warmth while leading a hike for the excellent Walk Scilly festival which is organised each spring.
Indeed I mention this because the archipelago can be a fantastic place to visit when the weather is inclement on the mainland. I've walked in balmy conditions 28 miles west of Land's End when it's been snowing across much of Britain.
Once we're past Pelistry our path continues south around the headland capped by the Mount Todden Battery and around the bay called Darrity's Hole.
After yet more coastal walking we are eventually introduced to wide and wonderful Porth Hellick where there's a rock shaped like a camel and a memorial stone lamenting the loss of Sir Cloudesley Shovell in 1707 in what has become known as the Scilly naval disaster.
I could tell you all about the loss of the HMS Association just over 200 years ago and about the other 2000 sailors who lost their lives amid the island's hull-ripping rocks, but we'd never get back to town for the flight back.
Actually, though, the island airport is this walk's next port of call – or at least we pass the end of one of its small runways. And here we come to what must be one of the only footpath traffic lights anywhere – the light prevents you continuing if a plane is coming in to land, which is fun to watch as it will zoom just feet above your head.
So you could, if you wished, head for the terminal building, making sure not to go anywhere near any of the prohibited areas.
Or you could follow the coast path around the eastern shores of St Mary's to reach first Porth Minnick, then Old Town Bay.
Throughout this walk there will have been possibilities to shorten proceedings by taking inland routes back to town – and here is the most obvious of all. Just past the old church and its graveyard where former Prime Minister Harold Wilson is buried, you can cross the road to the footpath past the primary school. It takes you through the least scenic bit of Scilly (views of the municipal incinerator) but you do get back to Hugh Town in short order.
By the way, one of most abiding memories about filming the walk on St Mary's was an accidental meeting with Lady Mary Wilson who was tending her late husband's grave. After a quick chat in which we told her why we were filming she kindly agreed to give me what for her was an extremely rare interview, saying that both she and Harold always thought they owed so much to the people of Scilly for their constant kindness, and if she could do anything to help promote the island and it's eco-friendly tourism she would.
You don't have to take the shortcut, though – you could instead stride around the large peninsula that features impressive Pulpit Rocks to eventually gain Porthcressa Beach, which passes for Hugh Town's very own downtown promenade.
The fit and undaunted could go on to circumnavigate the Garrison peninsula if they really wanted to get their "I've walked around the entire island" badge – but this particular TV presenter and crew had reached the point where we were welcoming thoughts of a refreshing pint of beer.