Sailing Round Britain – Part 1

The Isles of Scilly

The cruise was on Cruise and Maritime’s ship Marco Polo.  Marco Polo is now about 54 years old, and originally built in the Bismarck yard in East Germany.  It takes about 800 passengers and has a crew of 380.  This cruise started from Cardiff, but throughout the year the cruise starts from different ports in the UK.

Our first stop was the Scilly Isles, an archipelago of small islands about 30 miles south-west of Land’s End in Cornwall.  The Scilly archipelago consists of about 50 islands and numerous rocks.  The islands amount to only about 6 square miles in total, and only five of them are inhabited. The total population of the archipelago is about 2200, although this is increased by many tourists in the summer. 

We landed at St Mary’s, the largest and main island, by tender from our ship. Our first objective was to walk around the Garrison.  The Garrison is a peninsular on St Mary’s island, and was extensively fortified over many centuries to defend against the Dutch, French or Spanish, all seen as enemies in the past. Much of the work we see today was done in the 18th century, to counter the French threat.  By then artillery was widely used of course, and therefore fortifications were not built high as in medieval times, but were built low and capable of absorbing cannon fire.  

I didn’t measure the distance round the Garrison but the peninsula’s circumference was probably approaching 1 mile, with a low defensive wall beside the coastal path for all that distance and a number of old gun batteries placed along the wall. Star Castle, originally a small artillery fort and now a hotel, is in the centre of the peninsula. 

y wife Caroline on the walls of a gun battery on the Garrison.  A WW2 pillbox has been added at the end of the defences

World War II pill boxes were added to some of the gun batteries to defend against the most recent military threat to the islands.  In WW2 the islands were home to a squadron of Hurricanes, and also to several seaplanes whose role was to rescue aircrew shot down in the English Channel.

After our walk around the Garrison, we explored Hugh Town, the Scilly’s main town with about half the population of the archipelago.  We then took a short walk to former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s grave in the old town of St Mary, about one kilometre away.  Wilson was from Yorkshire, but used to holiday in Isles of Scilly. I remember Wilson’s time as Prime minister.  He had two terms of office, from 1964 to 1970, and 1974 to 1976.  Whatever you think of his premiership he did keep us out of the Vietnam War, and therefore was a great deal better than the incompetent Blair (sorry to let politics intrude in this blog).

A modest grave for a man who was Prime Minister of Britain twice.
And Wilson’s modest holiday cottage, now rather run down. Rather different from American President’s holiday homes!

Unfortunately our time in the island was very limited, and we had to get back to the boat.

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