When it wasn't Land's End

Legend tells of a verdant country off the coast of Cornwall, drowned beneath the waves at the end of the Ice Age. Standing on a peak on the Isles of Scilly.


Place names in the Isles of Scilly tend to be very literal. Hell Bay faces unprotected into the prevailing Atlantic gales, its teeth of splintered rock waiting to grind and swallow unwary shipping in its foaming mouth. Heathy Hill and Rocky Hill leave no doubt in the mind of the intrepid explorer as to what type of landscape will be encountered. A wealth of Lower Towns, Middle Towns and Higher Towns are scattered throughout St Martin's and St Agnes to help orientate the directionally challenged visitor. And Bryher, because it has no choice, calls its one small collection of buildings The Town.

Place names in the Isles of Scilly tend to be very literal. Hell Bay faces unprotected into the prevailing Atlantic gales, its teeth of splintered rock waiting to grind and swallow unwary shipping in its foaming mouth. Heathy Hill and Rocky Hill leave no doubt in the mind of the intrepid explorer as to what type of landscape will be encountered. A wealth of Lower Towns, Middle Towns and Higher Towns are scattered throughout St Martin's and St Agnes to help orientate the directionally challenged visitor. And Bryher, because it has no choice, calls its one small collection of buildings The Town.

This is rather a roundabout way of saying what I was doing on Watch Hill. It should be obvious by now. Watch Hill rises just above The Town on Bryher, and I was standing on it on a most glorious late summer's day. It was mid-morning, and the sun stretched towards its full height in a perfect kingdom of blue. A world of sky and water, punctured only by islands of green and the white wheeling of gulls.

The view from there is staggering. St Agnes and Gugh to the south, St Mary's to the south-east, and Tresco and St Martin's to the east. Strands of white beaches set in the rocky bays of these islands are offset by the curious mix of moorland and exotic sub-tropical plants and palms that have escaped from the Abbey Gardens on Tresco. Like shipwrecked sailors marooned on a desert island, they have hijacked the local environment and made the best of a frost-free climate.

What the retreating tide had revealed, however, were sandbars and rocks that, hours earlier, had been hidden beneath the sea. Tresco was now joined to Bryher, as was Hangman Island and numerous other outcrops of seaweed-covered granite. If I wished, I could have walked between them. Gazing further out to sea at the Western and Northern Rocks, I became aware of how these islands had been one country, and that what I was looking at were the peaks of a lost, drowned land.

Suddenly, I could see how it used to be. A verdant, Tolkienesque land of hills and valleys, teeming with life that had arrived long before even this larger island was cast into splendid isolation from the Cornish mainland. It was then that a sense of history rose up from the waves and rolled over me. I was drenched with the feeling of lives and communities that had been erased like sandcastles before the advancing waters of the retreating Ice Age. Bronze to Iron Age. Roman to medieval. Only fragments of these civilisations remain on what was once higher ground. For a moment the legend of the lost land of Lyonesse held me in its grasp, until it was snatched away by a gasp of wind and the cry of a gannet.

The Scillies are magical, and the waters are still rising.

This was one of the shortlisted entries in the recent Independent/Princess Cruises Call of the Wild competition

Travellers' Guide

Getting there: To reach the Scillies you can pay £72 for a day return, or £108 for an open return, for the 20-minute flight from Penzance to St Mary's with British International Helicopters (01736 363 871). There are flights daily, except Sundays, to St Mary's and Tresco. An £80 fare is available for four nights or fewer, with these restrictions: the trip must be taken between April and September; departure must be between Monday and Friday; and you must leave after 2pm and return before 1pm.

You can also fly to St Mary's on a fixed-wing plane with Isles of Scilly Skybus (bookable via Isles of Scilly Travel Centre, 0845 710 5555), from St Just airstrip near Land's End: the adult return is £95 (summer) or £85 from October; a day trip is £60 return (summer), £55 from October. Flights depart Bristol and Exeter in summer only, and Newquay all year round.

The ferry Scillonian III, also run by the Isles of Scilly Travel Centre, does the return Penzance-St Mary's journey, sailing on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays until 2 November when services end for the season, starting again a week before Easter. The adult return fare is £72 in summer, £65 in winter; a day trip, allowing four hours on St Mary's, costs £35/£32. Tourist information, St Mary's: 01720 422 536.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone