Q. Hoping to do our bit for the environment, we are eschewing air travel this summer and are going to holiday in the UK. We want to stay near a sandy beach, somewhere not too crowded and within reasonable distance of our home in Wiltshire. We have two children, aged four and nine. Where do you suggest?
Helen Murphy, Salisbury
A. o avoid the crowds on the south coast, I suggest the less-visited Scilly Isles, where getting to the archipelago of 140 islands is part of the adventure. You can take the ferry from Penzance, giving you an impressive panorama of the Cornish coastline as you retreat from the mainland. Scillonian III (0845 710 5555; www.ios-travel.co.uk) departs for St Mary's daily except Sundays during the summer, with a return fare of £89 for adults and £44.50 for children aged two-15. The journey takes two hours 40 minutes.
From St Mary's you have the option of four more inhabited islands - Tresco, St Martin's, St Agnes and Bryher. The main draw is the beaches - clear, turquoise water and swathes of white sand, fringed by wild flowers. With just over 2,000 permanent inhabitants, they are also clean and relatively quiet - ideal for families. Grey seals and dolphins are regularly sighted in the water and puffins crowd the Western Rocks from April to July. The islands are clustered closely together with regular boat services back and forth all year round so it's easy to explore.
A popular place to stay is the Hell Bay Hotel (01720 422947; www.hellbay.co.uk) on the tiny island of Bryher. It may be geographically remote - 29 miles off the coast of mainland Cornwall - but the hotel is no backwater. Extensive renovations were completed last winter and the hotel promotes itself as an upmarket, family-friendly destination with 25 suites, all with sitting rooms and most with private balconies or patios and sea views. It's owned by the Dorrien-Smith family who also own the island of Tresco, where they run the award-winning Island Hotel (01720 422883).
Hell Bay is on the island's rugged north coast, the place that gave the hotel its ominous name. Atlantic rollers crash against the shoreline and there are reputedly more shipwrecks here than anywhere else in the Scillies. However, more tranquil beaches can be found on the south coast. The island is just a mile by a mile and a half, so it doesn't take long to circumnavigate and Rushy Bay is a picture of white sand and calm azure water. Despite the name, Hell Bay Hotel is located here on the south-west coast, not on Hell Bay itself, and the beach is perfectly safe for swimming.
The Hell Bay Hotel boasts an outdoor heated pool, games room, sauna and play area. Guests are met at St Mary's and whisked over to Bryher on Cyclone, a jet boat that covers the three-mile journey in about seven adrenalin-filled minutes. Once inside it's all original art and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sea. Suites are equipped with the latest 21st-century comforts including satellite TV and DVD players. The rate is £250 per person per night during the summer, which includes breakfast and dinner - which is a relaxed affair, taken either in the bar or the restaurant overlooking the bay. Naturally, locally caught fish, crab and lobster play a large part in the menu. Children aged two-12 are charged at £40 per night if sharing their parents' room and if they take high tea at 6pm; if you prefer your children to eat with you in the restaurant, the rate is £60 per child per night. Cheaper options include self-catering and camping. Visit www.bryher-ios.co.uk for further details.
Take an outing to Tresco, which can be traversed on bikes and has the Abbey Gardens (01720 424105; daily 10am-4pm; adults £8.50, children free). For other ideas, contact tourist information centre: 01720 422536; www.simplyscilly.co.uk.
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