“Work the tides … it’s an easterly … what time’s high tide tomorrow … we’re waiting for the boat for St Agnes / Tresco / St Mary’s. ”
When you travel to the Isles of Scilly be prepared to learn a new lexis, the language of tides and time. Around this rugged archipelago of islands, around 30 miles south west of Lands End, the Book of Tides is an annual best-seller.
Hell Bay Hotel, on tiny Bryher, the Island of Hills, may be your ultimate luxurious destination but remember that St Mary’s, where the airport is, acts as the Isles of Scilly’s waiting room.
Six centuries ago, life was simple, until one day the tide came in as usual … but not quite as usual. It separated Bryher from Tresco with a sandbar. Nowadays, you just have to wait for the tide to float your boat.
Though when you finally arrive at Hell Bay Hotel, sip the complimentary champagne and look out towards Atlantic waves crashing into Hell Bay, you appreciate the calm, the peace and the seclusion that the journey has brought.
In good weather there are Caribbean colours: calm cobalt blues, soothing azures and luminescent turquoises, merging with white sand beaches. Come winter, 150 foot high rollers create a seething, foaming cauldron of angst Hell Bay.
There’s a light, bright New England beach/house-chic to Hell Bay Hotel’s mid-blue clapperboard architecture. Suites are dressed in light pastels: cream and shell-patterned pinks. There is a wide-screen TV but the picture window overlooking the Atlantic, next stop Canada, is the star attraction. Sub-tropical planting, a dash of palms and the guests’ laid-back easy demeanour seems to add a dash of California too.
There are just 90 inhabitants on Bryher. And as the younger ones will have been boated to school on Tresco and the older ones are boarding Monday to Friday on St Mary’s, in reality, the population is a little depleted. Most of the Pender family will be out fishing, as they have for the last three centuries.
Phil, who manages the hotel, is a key man. He’ll show you the new Yoga room. Be polite, tell him that you like the designer wallpaper inspired by Tresco’s Gardens. It cost a fortune. Then he’ll guide you round the heated outdoor pool, gym, jacuzzi, sauna and spa. Amber gives supremely relaxing massages and checks that your heart and gut chakras are in sync. If they aren’t booked in for another week. Life’s problems tend to melt away on Bryher …
On your walks around the island’s cracked concrete tracks and sandy pathways, you will probably bump into Brendan the postman before calling into Richard Pearce’s seaside art studio.
Long ago, Richard’s serene blue sea and sky picture, of three white isosceles sails, became Hell Bay Hotel’s iconic logo. His work and he has never missed a Bryher summer, is a reminder that at times there is a Caribbean feel to Bryher.
There’s nowhere better than Bryher for doing absolutely nothing but most visitors spend much of their day with walking boots, binoculars and camera: spotting cormorants, heron and oystercatchers, looking out for seals.
Fraggle Rock Bar and Island Fish are both idyllic coffee or lunch stops. The Penders, the fishing family, run Island Fish and Amanda will fix you a Crab or Lobster sandwich. By three o’clock the Pender’s three boats are back, skippered by grandfather, father and 19-year-old grandson. Come 5 o’clock the day’s catch is on sale in the shop, on sale on Tresco’s jetty and delivered to Hell Bay Hotel’s Restaurant.
With a daily menu at the hotel’s three AA Rosette restaurant, the chef’s adapt to nature’s provenance. “Last summer we had a glut of octopuses and the chef’s enjoyed the challenge of using them creatively,” says Amanda Pender.
Wild garlic, leeks and potatoes are other local products featured in an ever-evolving daily menu starring cod, hake, lobster, prawns and turbot. Even the hotel’s own gin is flavoured with seaweed botanicals foraged from the Isles of Scilly’s beaches. It’s Served with tonic, a sprig of rosemary and a slice of pink grapefruit. Take a glass to the Sunset Deck and watch the sun slip away over Great Pool and start planning for another easy day tomorrow.
Tell Me More About Hell Bay Hotel, Bryher
Hell Bay Hotel, Bryher, Isles of Scilly,
Tel: 01720 422947
Garden Suites begin from £140 in low season.
Dinner including canapés, coffee and petit fours costs £49 per head.
The Hotel usually opens in late March and closes in late October.
Fly with Skybus from Exeter, Lands End or Newquay to St. Mary’s Airport.
Sail on the Scillonian from Penzance Quay to St Mary’s Harbour .