Dad’s Scilly hol­i­day jokes

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - Ge­ordie Greig

THE per­fect shag. She was wild and al­lur­ingly beau­ti­ful. She was alone and seem­ingly un­at­tached, and was cer­tainly not go­ing to hang around. It had all been so quick. She left al­most be­fore I had time to gasp more than a mur­mur of my ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

Af­ter­wards, I felt a com­pul­sion to tell my wife, who was in In­dia on busi­ness, about this ir­re­sistible force of na­ture that I had ex­pe­ri­enced while I was on my own in the Isles of Scilly. Well, not ex­actly on my own: I was with our three young chil­dren. And also, of course, with my wild, won­der­ful and to­tally un­ex­pected shag. The chil­dren had wit­nessed it, too. ‘‘ You must tell Mummy,’’ they shrieked. ‘‘ Shhh,’’ I said, as by then they were re­ally shout­ing. I didn’t want them to share this mo­ment of nat­u­ral pas­sion quite so vol­ubly with the world at large.

It had seemed rather an in­ti­mate few sec­onds. But then ev­ery­thing changed and it be­came ex­ceed­ingly pub­lic. The cap­tain of the Firethorn of Bry­her, our ferry, boomed out on a loud­speaker the news that what ev­ery­one thought a shag was in fact a cor­morant. Both are black and beau­ti­ful and they are ap­par­ently of­ten and eas­ily mud­dled .

‘‘ Sorry, guys,’’ I con­fessed to the chil­dren, ‘‘ I got the wrong bird.’’

‘‘ Silly Daddy,’’ said my six-year-old twins in uni­son. ‘‘ No, just in Scilly,’’ was my lame ri­poste.

What was be­yond doubt to all of us was that th­ese is­lands off the coast of Corn­wall are truly beau­ti­ful. Un­touched, wild coast­line with per­fect white sandy beaches. Hill walks among wild­flow­ers as colour­ful and ex­otic as it gets, with white hare­bells and anemones, and all un­pol­luted by mod­ern pest con­trol.

In Scilly it seems as if time has stood still since the 1950s. No cars. Bi­cy­cles and front doors left un­locked. A small vil­lage store. Enid Bly­ton-like in­no­cence blended with Swal­lowsandA­ma­zon­s­like ad­ven­tures tai­lor-made for young fam­i­lies. Crab­bing, seal-spot­ting, birdtwitch­ing, ex­otic palm-treed gar­dens, walks across Bronze Age set­tle­ments: ev­ery­one en­tirely re­liant on the wind and the wave for ar­rivals and de­par­tures.

Scilly is one of the last un­touched land­scapes in Bri­tain: wild, wil­ful and won­drous. Tresco, the sec­ond big­gest is­land, is where Diana, princess of Wales, and the princes came on se­cret hol­i­days. Jude Law, and re­cently Brad and An­gelina, came and left be­fore any­one could even say the word pa­parazzi. And, of course, it is where to look for the per­fect wild shag as well as puffins.

There are 46 is­lands and there is a sort of in­verse snob­bery with the wilder and more re­mote ones. Fre­quent boasts over kip­per break­fasts go along the lines of, ‘‘ We saw no other per­son over a three­hour walk.’’ What makes this so re­mark­able is that th­ese is­lands are so close to the English coast (just an hour’s flight from Bris­tol on a Big­gles-like De Hav­il­land tak­ing just 18 pas­sen­gers), yet so far in feel from the main­land.

Noth­ing jars with the idyllic, ’ 50s time­warp feel. No satel­lite dishes in sight and cer­tainly no high street brands or lo­gos. It is like be­ing in a private fief­dom, but one where the com­mu­nity and land­lord have worked out a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial bal­ance of power.

The is­lands’ cut-flower in­dus­try may have crum­pled, yet tourism is boom­ing. Mod­ern in­tru­sion is avoided, yet this is no Lud­dite back­wa­ter. Wire­less re­cep­tion is avail­able at the ex­cel­lent Tresco Is­land Ho­tel, as is a chef who would give any top Lon­don restau­rant a run for its money.

Flash does not ex­ist. For in­stance, a trac­tor with a trailer meets ho­tel guests off the stone pier. Its sis­ter ho­tel, Hell Bay, is cool mod­ern within Bronze Age rugged ter­rain. Crash­ing waves, white beaches, per­fect ser­vice. It is ex­actly where Agatha Christie would have a mur­der mys­tery un­fold. Very, very English but with a wild­ness as pal­pa­ble and beau­ti­ful as . . . well, as the per­fect shag. The Spec­ta­tor Ge­ordie Greig is the ed­i­tor of Tatler .

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