Tresco is a subtropical gem with a little bit of everything – from dramatic rocky outcrops, bronze age burial sites and romantic castle ruins, to secluded sandy beaches and, of course, the world famous Tresco Abbey Garden.
The Scillies are on many sailors’ bucket list, but if you can not manage the weather window to get there by boat, do not put it off, simply take the Skybus from Newquay or Lands End or the Scillonian from Penzance* and enjoy these unique islands.
Food choices are made simple on Tresco, the island I have longed to visit for many years, and I rather like that. Blessed with fine weather from the minute I stepped off the plane at St Mary’s I was soon being transferred to one of the jet boats that whizz around the islands using a variety of harbours and slipways depending upon the tide.
The fun begins – well it did as soon as I folded myself into the 18 seater and stuck my nose to the window, spotting St Ives bay and Sennen beach. The tractor on the quay has to reverse back up the jetty and before I know it I have been hijacked by Rachel Young from Tresco Estate, who trundles me off in her golf buggy and points out the layout of the island as we head to the New Inn. In no time bags are dumped and bike sorted as I am keen to be off whilst the sun is out and those white sands beckon.
AT THE RUIN
I can get up and over the island in the shake of a Ruby Red’s tail and I am enjoying my first coffee on the terrace at the Ruin Beach Café by 11.00. Partridges come up to the table and the sparrows are as friendly as the Cornish gulls are hungry and look as relaxed as birds with few predators can be.
The Ruin has a wood fired pizza oven already crackling away behind me. There is a good choice of fast food for hikers and a more interesting menu in the evening using local produce and the afore mentioned Ruby Red beef cattle that graze the island.
The sun is still out so I follow signs to the Abbey Gardens, rumbling along the tracks with brilliant blue glimpses of sea and sky. Fruit and veg stalls are piled high outside garden gates, joy! So here I am with two red squirrels and one golden pheasant positively posing for my camera.
They are glorious. Hidden shady paths, then open vistas and succulents galore, created by Augustus Smith who built the Abbey back in 1834 and then set about creating one of the finest sub-tropical gardens in the Northern Hemisphere.
He changed the skyline forever and as you arrive by sea, whatever your choice of vessel, Tresco stands out from the other islands with its towering collection of unusual trees and shrubs. There are still many flowers in blossom and the bees are happy – it is positively balmy here.
Now let us talk about the weather. I was here in the second week of October and had really hoped for some sunshine. I was lucky and struck gold. A timeshare fan at the Flying Boat club, who always books these first couple of weeks in October, said he has enjoyed great weather for the past three years.
Jumping back on the bike I take a different track back towards the New Inn as I have a date with Tresco’s recently retired Harbour Master, Henry Birch. He has seen a relatively quiet summer as the strong winds have not helped sailors reach their destination on their limited holiday breaks. He tells me that his French visitors love the islands and drop by en route to Ireland.
Henry is looking forward to enjoying his retirement with family and friends on Tresco. By the way, if you want to follow in Henry’s steps this is a dream job for someone out there. For more details go to www.tresco.co.uk/jobs – Harbour Master / Bosun
I gather a picnic from the bulging Tresco Stores and head to the beach, ducking out of the wind to enjoy the warm October sunshine. I admire a lovely piece of rock studded with ironware and barnacles and the incredibly clear water washing the pale sands.
HEADING FOR DINNER
Back at the New Inn we borrow lights for the bikes and head over the hill to the Ruin Café for dinner. We head off early so that we can enjoy the views.
Exploring by bike means you can earmark the best cottages and mark them down on the lovely hand drawn map to remember which ones to book next spring. The Ruin is wonderfully cosy, with everyone enjoying that sea view. This is the sunrise side of Tresco – more later – but the views over to St Martins are beguiling any time of day.
The seafood is morning fresh here, so it would be rude not to try the Fritto Misto, which comes with home made garlic mayo and includes whitebait, prawns, squid and mussels, along with some incredibly succulent hunks of hake. Perfection when this fresh. And call me a heathen but it was very good with my Tarquin’s G&T. Cornish gin in a distinctive, if un-gin-like, bottle and offered with orange rather than lemon. Very good.
Having admired Tresco’s own beef heard today I could not resist the slow cooked Ruby Red pappardelle with porcini, offset by the clean crunch of grated celeriac and parmesan on top. The house Sangiovese was perfect with this and cut through the richness.
But the art was in the tart. James Norcott is head chef and his pastry skills are superb. I chose the lemon curd tartlet with berry compote and ginger ice cream. Quite perfect.
Crisp pastry, brûlée top covering smooth, nicely runny filling with intense flavour, softened by the berries and ice cream – if you do not have the lemon bug as I do, this helps calm the tongue.
Best bites here: the pizzas, scallops and indeed any of the specials cooked in the wood oven, confit of duck and the Ruby Red sirloin steaks. And for lunch? The sharing platter of meats and cheeses.
Next month we continue the story and pop over to Bryher.