Cornwall, Travel

Timing is everything!

Yesterday was not the right time of the year for birdwatchers to visit the Scillies — too late for migrants and not enough wind for blown-in vagrants.

But yesterday was exactly the right day to travel to the Scilly Isles — not a breath of wind, brilliant winter sunshine and water like a millpond.

So catching the train to Penzance before dawn,

we piled onto the Scillonian III with lots of other followers of the weather forecast. The islands are about 30 miles from the tip of Cornwall.

Scillonian III has been the setting for more vomiting anecdotes than any other — in any family. Frances’ last word to me was “Travel sickness pills!” William, Bill’s eldest, had undermined confidence in his turn on the school trip to the Scillies by asking about what had happened to Scillonian I and II. Indeed one had hit the rocks in 1951 but it had not sunk!

Unlike many other ships. On our outward journey Bill regaled me with tales of Sir Cloudesley Shovell, a mate of Marlborough (his hero) who lost four ships on the rocks around the Scillies in 1707, with the loss of nearly 2000 sailors. This may have been due to the problems at the time in plotting longitude, though 80 years later it was rumoured to have been due to the Navy’s failure to listen to a seaman, native to the Islands, who told them they were heading for the rocks! He was hanged for trying to incite mutiny. This may or may not have been true or may be an early example of how we edit history according to our own prejudices!

Still lots of dodgy rocks around, some of which you can see — lots you can’t.

Yesterday the islands looked tropical.

The beech was patrolled by a little platoon of ducks and one or two people were swimming without wet suits. We did see some birds:

Comical turnstones jostling to get to the seaweed as the tide goes out, but they don’t like getting their feet wet so run up and down the beech with each little wave.
Back to the mainland and we see the familiar outline of the Longships lighthouse on the Carn Bras off Land’s End.
Then passing the Minack Theatre at dusk, perched on the cliffs with its muffled hardy audience — it is October!

As we head back along the south coast of Cornwall, the passengers all gather on the aft decks and despite an increasing chill, gaze as one at the mesmerising sunset. No one looking at their phone or scanning the sea for more dolphins — as man has done for ever, we watched the sun go down.

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