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St Mary's Pool

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Overview





St Mary's Pool is located inside St Mary’s Island which is the largest island in the Isles of Scilly. It fronts Hugh Town and St Mary's Harbour the capital and principal pier for the Scilly island group. It offers visitor moorings, the possibility of anchoring just outside the harbour limits or coming alongside the pier to dry out.

St Mary's Pool is well sheltered from northeast through east to south but becomes progressively more uncomfortable as the wind and swell become westerly and it is wide open to the northwest. The Isles of Scillies, with countless rocks and shoals that are exposed to the unpredictable and fast-changing Atlantic swell and wind, require a high degree of attentive navigation. However, being the island group's principal port, St. Mary’s Pool is well marked and an excellent point of arrival into the islands, night or day and at any stage of the tide.



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Keyfacts for St Mary's Pool
Facilities
Water hosepipe available alongsideWater available via tapWaste disposal bins availableDiesel fuel available alongsidePetrol available alongsideGas availableTop up fuel available in the area via jerry cansShop with basic provisions availableMini-supermarket or supermarket availableSlipway availableLaundry facilities availableShore power available alongsideShore based toilet facilitiesShowers available in the vicinity or by arrangementHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPleasant family beach in the areaCashpoint or bank available in the areaPost Office in the areaInternet café in the areaInternet via a wireless access point availableDoctor or hospital in the areaMarine engineering services available in the areaRigging services available in the areaElectronics or electronic repair available in the areaSail making or sail repair servicesScuba diving cylinder refill capabilitiesRegional or international airport within 25 kilometresBicycle hire available in the areaShore based family recreation in the area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationVisitors moorings available, or possibly by club arrangementBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderJetty or a structure to assist landingQuick and easy access from open waterNavigation lights to support a night approachSailing Club baseUrban nature,  anything from a small town of more 5,000 inhabitants  to a large cityScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pierNote: can get overwhelmed by visiting boats during peak periodsNote: harbour fees may be charged

Protected sectors

Current wind over the protected quadrants
Minimum depth
3 metres (9.84 feet).

Approaches
4 stars: Straightforward; when unaffected by weather from difficult quadrants or tidal consideration, no overly complex dangers.
Shelter
4 stars: Good; assured night's sleep except from specific quarters.



Last modified
August 18th 2019

Summary* Restrictions apply

A good location with straightforward access.

Facilities
Water hosepipe available alongsideWater available via tapWaste disposal bins availableDiesel fuel available alongsidePetrol available alongsideGas availableTop up fuel available in the area via jerry cansShop with basic provisions availableMini-supermarket or supermarket availableSlipway availableLaundry facilities availableShore power available alongsideShore based toilet facilitiesShowers available in the vicinity or by arrangementHot food available in the localityPublic house or wine bar in the areaMarked or notable walks in the vicinity of this locationPleasant family beach in the areaCashpoint or bank available in the areaPost Office in the areaInternet café in the areaInternet via a wireless access point availableDoctor or hospital in the areaMarine engineering services available in the areaRigging services available in the areaElectronics or electronic repair available in the areaSail making or sail repair servicesScuba diving cylinder refill capabilitiesRegional or international airport within 25 kilometresBicycle hire available in the areaShore based family recreation in the area


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationAnchoring locationVisitors moorings available, or possibly by club arrangementBeach or shoreline landing from a tenderJetty or a structure to assist landingQuick and easy access from open waterNavigation lights to support a night approachSailing Club baseUrban nature,  anything from a small town of more 5,000 inhabitants  to a large cityScenic location or scenic location in the immediate vicinitySet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinityHistoric, geographic or culturally significant location; or in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
Restriction: shallow, drying or partially drying pierNote: can get overwhelmed by visiting boats during peak periodsNote: harbour fees may be charged



 +44 1720 422768     HM  +44 1720 422768      hm@stmarys-harbour.co.uk     stmarys-harbour.co.uk/      Ch. 14/16 [St Mary’s Harbour]
Position and approaches
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Haven position

49° 55.114' N, 006° 18.979' W

This is the head of the pier of Saint Mary's Harbour.

What is the initial fix?

The following Saint Mary's Sound Initial Fix will set up a final approach:
49° 53.357' N, 006° 17.590' W
This is southeast of the entrance to Saint Mary's Sound the safest and easiest approach to the island group. It is on the 307° T alignment of the western extremity of Great Minalto with North Cam of Mincarlo that leads through Saint Mary's Sound and 1 mile out from the lit ‘Spanish Ledge’ East Cardinal Mark, Q(3)10s.


What are the key points of the approach?

Offshore details are available in southwestern England’s coastal overview from Land's End to Isles of Scilly Route location.
  • This Haven overview and initial fix sets up an approach through St. Mary's Sound which is the preferred approach to St Mary's Road. Keeping ¼ of a mile of the southern points of St Mary's and Saint Agnus Islands when closing on this approach clears all dangers.

  • Ideally pick out the Admiralty 307° T alignment of the charted western extremity of Great Minalto with North Carn of Mincarlo for St Mary's Sound. However, if this does not easily present itself, or there is any confusion, it is not required, simply follow the marks which are as follows:

    • From the initial fix pass 'Spanish Ledge Cardinal' close to port.

    • Stand off the 'Woolpack' FL.G.5s when passing it to starboard.

    • Leave the lit 'Bartholomew' red beacon, Q.R, and red can buoy on 'N. Bartholomew' Fl. R.5s to port to enter Saint Mary's Road.

  • In St Mary's Road follow the island northward for about ¾ a mile standing out 300 metres from the shore making way to the harbour's lit lateral channel marks.

  • Enter between the lateral marks, also supported by a transit, to pass The Cow and Calf, off Taylor's Island, and the Bacon Ledge shoal.


Not what you need?
Click the 'Next' and 'Previous' buttons to progress through neighbouring havens in a coastal 'clockwise' or 'anti-clockwise' sequence. Below are the ten nearest havens to St Mary's Pool for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Porth Cressa - 0.4 miles S
  2. Windmill Cove - 0.9 miles NE
  3. Old Grimsby - 1.7 miles N
  4. Tean Sound - 1.8 miles N
  5. New Grimsby - 1.8 miles NNW
  6. St Helen's Pool - 1.8 miles N
  7. Mousehole - 19.6 miles ENE
  8. Newlyn - 19.7 miles ENE
  9. Penzance Harbour - 20.3 miles ENE
  10. Saint Michael's Mount - 21.4 miles ENE
These havens are ordered by straight line charted distance and bearing, and can be reordered by compass direction or coastal sequence:
  1. Porth Cressa - 0.4 miles S
  2. Windmill Cove - 0.9 miles NE
  3. Old Grimsby - 1.7 miles N
  4. Tean Sound - 1.8 miles N
  5. New Grimsby - 1.8 miles NNW
  6. St Helen's Pool - 1.8 miles N
  7. Mousehole - 19.6 miles ENE
  8. Newlyn - 19.7 miles ENE
  9. Penzance Harbour - 20.3 miles ENE
  10. Saint Michael's Mount - 21.4 miles ENE
To find locations with the specific attributes you need try:

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Chart
Please use our integrated Navionics chart to appraise the haven and its approaches. Navionics charts feature in premier plotters from B&G, Raymarine, Magellan and are also available on tablets. Open the chart in a larger viewing area by clicking the expand to 'new tab' or the 'full screen' option.

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What's the story here?
Hugh Town situated on the neck of a peninsula at the southwest end of the island
Image: Visit Isles of Scilly


Situated near the southwestern end of St Mary’s Island, Hugh Town is the administrative centre, capital and the largest settlement on the Isles of Scilly. The town is built for the most part on a low sandy isthmus which connects the two granite islands that form St Mary’s, the Garrison, to the west, with the larger body of the island to the east. To the north of the isthmus is a natural bay of St Mary's Pool. It is further protected to the west by the quay of Saint Mary's Harbour that also serves as a breakwater for the inner harbour area.


The Scillonian III alongside at Saint Mary's Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


Saint Mary's Harbour comprises a pier that extends northward to connect to Rat Island and a further 150 metres further northeastward where the island ferry, The Scillonian III, has its berth. Close to its root is the Old Pier from which inter-island launches connect to all the other inhabited islands. To the south of the isthmus is the alternative haven of Port Cressa.


Saint Mary's Harbour as seen from Garrison Hill
Image: Michael Harpur


Saint Mary's Harbour is a private Harbour run by the Duchy of Cornwall. It caters for around 2000 visiting yachts each year, 60 cruise ship along with all the ferry and cargo deliveries to the island group. The Harbour Master may be contacted by Landline+44 1720 422768, St Mary's Deputy Harbour Master Mobile+447789 273 764, out of hours Mobile+44 7789 273626, E-mailhm@stmarys-harbour.co.uk, Websitewww.stmarys-harbour.co.uk/, listening on VHF 14/16 [St Mary’s Harbour], working 14. Office hours during the season, from April-October: 0800-1700 daily.


The harbour as seen from Newford Island with Newman Rock right
Image: Michael Harpur


The port area lies behind a line joining Newman Rock with the westernmost drying ledge of Newford Island. Within this area, there is no anchoring but the harbour provides thirty-eight visitor swing moorings. 10 of these, coloured green and placed in depths of at least 2.1 metres LAT, are suitable for vessels from 12 - 18m (60ft) LOA. The remaining yellow buoys are suitable for vessels of up to 12 metres in length. Stay for three nights and the fourth is free, but be prepared to raft up during busy periods on any of the moorings.


St Mary's trots of moorings as seen from the shore
Image: Michael Harpur


Charges applicable from 1st April 2019, inclusive of VAT, combining Harbour Dues and Mooring Charge are as follows. Harbour Moorings per night:

  • • Yellow visitors buoy. Maximum LOA 40’ (12.19m) £20.00
  • • Green visitors buoy. Maximum LOA 60’ (18.3m) £25.00


Alongside berths:

  • • Up to 40’ (12m) £25.00
  • • Up to 60’ (18m) £30.00
  • • Over 60’ (18m) £40.00

A half day price is 50% of the above charges.

Visitors row/island drying pontoon (maximum LOA 7.62 metres 25’):

  • • £10.00 overnight
  • • £5.00 per day.



Yacht coming off the pier wall at St Mary's Harbour
Image: Michael Harpur


Vessels may berth alongside the quay wall at the inner berths only, ahead of the white line painted at the top of the inner steps. This area dries to approximately 1 metre above LAT. Overnight berthing is available here for a vessel that can take to the bottom or it may be used on the tide to collect water or top up the electricity.

It may be possible for larger vessels to lay alongside the Quay’s outer berth on certain nights by arranged with the Harbour Master. Immediately north of the Old pier is a floating landing pontoon. This may only be used for vessels up to a maximum of 5 metres (16 feet) LOA.


How to get in?
St Mary's Island
Image: Visit Isles of Scilly


Convergance Point Use southwestern England’s coastal overview for Land's End to Isles of Scilly Route location. The initial fix sets up an approach through St. Mary's Sound which is the preferred approach to St Mary's Road set out in the coastal overview.


St Mary's Sound as seen from the southwest with Gugh right
Image: Michael Harpur


St Mary's Sound separates St Mary's Island from the tiny island of Gugh situated about a mile southwestward and attached to St Agnes by an isthmus. The passage between the two major islands of the group is marked by buoys, beacons and a lighthouse so is not difficult to identify and the easiest to confidentially navigate. Wide and deep it is the principal approach to the St Mary’s Road and especially so from the south and east. Though we have chosen St. Mary's Sound we do not want to suggest this is the defacto approach that should be taken to St Mary's Road. Alternative approaches can be made, given suitable weather and state of tide, via Crow Sound from the east and the Scillonian III passenger ferry takes this path at high water. Likewise, Broad Sound or the North West Passage provide well-marked approaches from other directions.


Gilstone Rock visible outside Carrickstarne
Image: Michael Harpur


What makes St Mary's Sound a highly attractive point of arrival is, in a scattered archipelago of rocks, a clearly identifiable pass between two substantive landmasses with a lighthouse. But it is not without its dangers and the greatest hazard for a vessel approaching from the east is the unmarked Gilstone rock. It drys to 4 metres and the southern end of foul ground extending from Tolman Point it is situated 0.4 of a mile eastward from Peninnis Light.


St Mary's Sound can be positively identified from some distance
Image: Michael Harpur


Also, the flanking landmasses can serve to make it more challenging than other approaches because of its effects on tidal streams. These can attain significant velocities in the narrow channel making St. Mary's Sound a rough and unpleasant body of water at times. Winds and swell from southwest round through west to northwest and a strong east to southeast wind-against-tide can make it very unpleasant. Likewise, heavy southwest round through west to northwest winds can create a rough sea over the shoals at the northwest end of the passage. But, this said, it is more than manageable in most all reasonable conditions. As such it is used by vessels approaching from east or south and the one that newcomers’ tend to default to if there is any concern.


Great Minalto and Mincarlo off transit but more easily seen at dusk from Garrison Hill
Image: Michael Harpur


It is worth mentioning in passing that the recommended leading marks on the Admiralty chart is, as often the case with historic charted transits around the islands, very difficult to identify. As often as not the visibility will be such that the more distant marks are indistinguishable. Even with the best of visibility, picking out these historic Admiralty transits, that sever the familiar during a time of high decks and telescopes, are difficult to pick out from low slung leisure vessels.


Great Minalto and Mincarlo seen off transit from Garrison Hill
Image: Michael Harpur


In the Isle of Scillies, the numerous rocks also have a tendency to look similar and the oddity of their names do not help. As in this case, the front Great Minalto is a much smaller rock than the rear Mincarlo. As often as not, trying to pick out and positively identify these transits may only serve to add an unnecessary degree of anxiety to the navigation of this very well-marked sound.
Please note

During a weeklong stay in the group, I failed to find a ferry boatman on the island that knew the prescribed Admiralty transits for Saint Mary's Sound or Road existed let alone even provided any service. The general consensus was that these transits only serve to add an unnecessary concern to a newcomer. The best advice is to use the marked buoys and should the transit be identified, as showed, it can serve as a useful to gauge any tidal set across the course up the sound. If, on the other hand, a decision is made to use the prescribed transits it is essential to absolutely positive in the identification and check the bearings making appropriate allowances for magnetic variation.




Great Minalto and Mincarlo open of each other as seen from the sound
Image: Michael Harpur


Follow the marks as described and a vessel will stay well clear of any dangers. However, should there be clear visibility and the decision is made to use the leading line, Great Minalto, 7 metres front, and Mincarlo, 16 metres rear, are the first substantive rocks that will be seen up St Mary's Sound westward of the Isle of Samson.


307° Transit of Great Minalto and Mincarlo
Image: Michael Harpur


The handful of rocks close west and around them is a scattering of small heads at best at low water. The Saint Mary's Sound initial fix is on the Admiralty 307° T alignment of the charted western extremity of Great Minalto with North Carn of Mincarlo.


Saint Mary's Sound


Yacht passing Peninnis Head
Image: Michael Harpur


Initial fix location From the initial fix steer the 307° T that leads through Saint Mary's Sound. If the transit is difficult to discern a good clear mark is to steer for is the 'Spanish Ledge' East Cardinal Mark that is passed to port. It is moored very close south-westward of the leading line through the sound.


Spanish Ledge cardinal mark as seen over Inner Head on Peninnis Head with Gugh
in the backdrop

Image: Michael Harpur


Peninnis Light Fl.20s36m17M, a white round metal tower on a black metal framework tower, will be clearly visible on Peninnis Head. The head is steep too but it has Pollard Rock, that dries 1.8 metres at low-water springs, lying about 60 metres south of its inner head so stand a couple of hundred metres out from it.
Please note

As there is plenty of water close south of Peninnis Head a boat approaching from the east can simply keep south of a line of latitude of the Peninnis' Outer Head to clear the Gilstone.




Spanish Ledge east cardinal mark as seen from Morning Point
Image: Michael Harpur


A mile from the initial fix is the 'Spanish Ledge' East Cardinal Mark, Q(3)10s that is passed to port. It is moored north-eastward of Spanish Ledges which are 400 metres in extent and awash at low-water springs.


Gun Battery on St Mary’s Woolpack Point
Image: Michael Harpur


Leaving Spanish Ledge to port steer to pass the starboard beacon 'Woolpack' FL.G.5s well to starboard - note on older charts the may be listed as a cardinal mark. The beacon stands on one of two heads of Woolpack Rock that projects nearly 300 metres southwestward from Woolpack Point on St Mary’s Woolpack Point. The rock dries to 0.6 meters a little before low water. Northwestward of Woolpack point, the coast of St. Mary's island is foul to a distance of 150 metres.


Yacht passing Woolpack starboard beacon with Peninnis Head in the backdrop
Image: Michael Harpur


Then leave the lit Bartholomew red beacon, Q.R, and red can buoy on 'N. Bartholomew' Fl. R.5s, lying about a ½ mile north-westward of Spanish ledges, to port. The Bartholomew ledges consist of two shoals 400 metres in extent and include several rocky heads which near the beacon dry at low-water springs to 0.6 metres.


Yachts passing Bartholomew beacon and N. Bartholomew buoy
Image: Michael Harpur


The 'N Bartholomew' port buoy, marks an isolated northern section called North Bartholomew. It is separated from the southern shoal by a deep channel and with 3.4 metres over it that is more of a concern for commercial shipping. However, during a westerly swell the sea rolls heavily in the vicinity of these shoals, and boats should keep well clear of them.


Saint Mary's Road


St Mary's Road opening around Steval Rock
Image: Michael Harpur


Passing between 'N Bartholomew' and the 3-metre Steval Rock, which represents the western extremity of St Mary's Island, leads into St. Mary's Road. St. Mary's Road lies westward of the island of St. Mary's and it is possible to simply turn northward and continue by simply standing out 300 metres from the shoreline to clear its dangers. The harbour is about ¾ a mile at this point and its two lateral marks of the entrance channel will soon become visible.


Bacon Ledge lateral mark visible after rounding Steval
Image: Michael Harpur


The primary outlier along this leg is the Woodcock Ledge that, with 2.7 metres of cover LAT, is more of a concern for commercial vessels. Deep-draught yachts arriving at the bottom of the tide with a surge can elect to use the charted transit of St. Martin's daymark in line with the northern summit of Creeb Rock on 040.5° T that leads north-westward of this rock.

Primary marks used for Saint Mary's Road transits
Image: Michael Harpur



Saint Mary's Pool and Harbour


Saint Mary's Pool and Harbour
Image: Visit Isles of Scilly


It is advisable to have the VHF set to Ch. 16, should the harbourmaster wish to provide instructions during the final approach. A path should be immediately cleared should the island supply boats seen to be manoeuvring and making way in and around the harbour area. This is the Scillonian island ferry, which typically arrives about 1200 and departs at 1630 Mon-Fri with various times on Saturdays, or the blue-hulled cargo ship Gry Maritha that comes alongside three times a week. The harbour speed limit is 3kn keep a watchful eye out for the busy island ferries.
Please note

If at this stage waves are seen to be breaking on Newford Island or the shore northward of the island show any white water, it is most likely that Mary's Pool is untenable. Upon seeing this it would be best to consider alternative anchorage.



The shores of which Hugh Town is situated is fronted by St. Mary's Pool. Two main dangers lie between St Mary's Road and the pool:
  • (i) The Cow and Calf off Taylor's Island, which dry to 0.6 and 1.8 metres respectively.

  • (ii) The Bacon Ledge shoal, located about 200 metres southwestward, with 0.3 metres LAT over it.
Approaching from the south Bacon Ledge is easily avoided by passing through the harbour's lateral marks. The port 'Bacon Ledge' buoy, Fl(4)R.5s, is moored 100 metres southwest of the shoal.


The Mount Flagon 097.3° leading marks
Image: Michael Harpur


The path through the lateral marks is also supported by a charted entry transit that leads south of Beacon Ledge. This is set on Mount Flagon on the line of bearing 097.3° T of white beacons, with a triangle top mark pointing upward, and an 'X' topmark on the skyline. The two white beacons may be difficult to distinguish behind the rigs of visiting yachts. The best approach is to first look for the lifeboat, then to the skyline for the 'X' topmark close right of a prominent bungalow, and then finally triangle top mark pointing upward. The transit leads into the north of Woodcock Ledge, between the lateral marks, south of the Bacon Ledge that dries to 0.3 metres LAT and is marked by its lateral mark and north of the drying ledges extending from Rat Island and about 60 metres north of the pierhead.

This is are not the easiest transit to pick out during the day, particularly in poor light or with the morning sun behind. At night the lower leading mark displays a light Iso.RW(vert)2s, and the upper leading mark Oc.WR(vert)10s, present a readily identifiable leading line through the centre of the harbours two lit lateral buoys.

The 151° transit on the shelter and tower on Buzza Hill
Image: Michael Harpur


The harbour area has an alternative charted approach from the northwest called the Middle Passage. This has no marks and relies upon an entry transit that leads in on a course of 151° T between Bacon Ledge and The Cow. The front leading mark of this transit is on a small cream sun shelter, about the size of a bus shelter on the green, with a wide vertical white stripe on a black roof. The rear mark is a conspicuous squat stone tower at an elevation of 37 metres on the skyline of Buzza Hill. This entry transit also serves as an astern transit, also 331° T with the east edge of Hangman Island, for Carn Near on the southwesternmost point of Tresco.


Local mark to show when clear of The Cow rock
Image: Michael Harpur


A useful uncharted local boatman daymark is also available to provide a clearing line of the unmarked The Cow rock. This is a small painted white stripe on the crest of the 12-metre rocky peak of Taylor's Island and a prominent conservatory of a house in the backdrop. Once in line, The Cow and inner THe Calf rocks have been passed.


The Scillonian turning to starboard to exit via Crow Sound
Image: Michael Harpur


Approach on either of these lines until the head of the quay is abeam. Give and the outer end of the quay a wide berth as the constant stream of island ferry boats come out quickly from behind the wall.

The trots of green and yellow visitors' moorings just east of the lifeboat
mooring

Image: Michael Harpur


Haven location Pick up the mooring buoys immediately inside the lifeboat, anchor off outside the harbour limits, or dry out alongside the pier.


Yachts alongside the pier
Image: Michael Harpur


Strictly no anchoring must take place in the approaches and harbour limits that lies behind a line joining Newman Rock with the westernmost drying ledge of Newford Island.

Yachts anchored outside the harbour limits between Newford and Taylor's Island
Image: Michael Harpur


Moored vessels may land at the floating pontoon immediately north of the Old pier. It is also possible to land by tender on Town Beach, Porth Mellon Beach.


The pontoon
Image: Michael Harpur



Why visit here?
The origin of the name Scilly is uncertain. First recorded during 1st-century AD Roman times as Scillonia insula. Its 'singular' tense indicated that it described a single island or at least a principal island that was much bigger than any in its surrounds. This most likely accurately described the island group at the time as it is believed that the sea level was probably between 5 and 15 metres lower than today and the islands were much larger and perhaps joined together into one island until relatively recent times. This larger island was named Ennor and this name remained into Medieval times as the name for St Mary’s Island. Around 400–500 AD rising sea levels flooded the central plain forming the archipelago experienced today. At very low tides it becomes shallow enough to walk between some of the islands and ancient field walls still remain visible below the high tide line.


Hugh Town and the Garrison, right, as seen from the north
Image: Michael Harpur


It is thought the name Scilly come from Sulis the Roman Sun God which describes the group's climate excellent sunshine records. Roman Scilly also appears to have been a pilgrimage centre dominated by a marine goddess. It could, however, refer to Sillina a Roman word meaning 'place of' or 'island-of'. Alternatively, on old charts the group show that they were called Sorlingus, Les Sorlingues in French, Las Sorlingas in Spanish which could be a corruption of salt-ling - fish. Whatever the case, visitors should be on their guard to avoid calling them 'The Scilly Isles', rather the 'Isles of Scilly' (IOS) or just 'Scilly' if they want to stay in good terms with the locals who like to be called 'Scillonians', pronounced with a silent 'c'.


Hugh Town grew around the 'Old Quay' built to serve the fortifications on
Garrison Hill

Image: Michael Harpur


Hugh Town's name dates back to the 17th-century when it took its name from the heights of Hew Hill which is the high ground overlooking Hugh Town from the west side of its sandy isthmus. Better known as the Hugh it is most likely to have received its name from the old English word meaning hóh meaning 'spur of land'. The Scilly Isles did not feature as part of the Henrician programme of coastal defences but during the reign of Elizabeth I when Hew Hill saw the commencement of fortified enclosure to protect the Isles from a Spanish invasion.


Star Castle, now a hotel
Image: Michael Harpur


The enclosure was originally known as 'The Hugh' but was later renamed 'The Garrison'. The angled bastion Star Castle was added in 1593 to act as a centrepiece to the stronghold. In the 17th century, the potential strategic value of Scilly was realised and the islands became the focus of a further programme of defensive works. A pier for the harbour as well as a curtain wall across the neck of land joining the Hugh to the rest of the island was constructed in the early part of the century.


The road leading up from the harbour to Garrison Hill
Image: Michael Harpur


Garrisons were also established on Tresco and the medieval castle at Old Town was equipped with artillery. More extensive fortifications were built around the line of The Garrison in 1740 with curtain walls and gun batteries. The extensive fortification of The Garrison with its supportive harbour led the early development of Hugh Town causing it to become the capital of the islands. The name Hew Hill was soon lost and replaced by Garrison Hill, but the name Hugh Town remained.


Higher Battery Cannon one of the original bastions built for the defence of the
harbour

Image: Michael Harpur


Human activity in the area around Hugh Town, however, goes back at least 4000 years, with archaeological evidence for settlement from the Bronze Age to the early Christian period. It is generally considered that Cornwall, and possibly the Isles of Scilly, came under the dominion of the English Crown late in the reign of Æthelstan (r. 924–939).


Garrison Hill battery overlooking Porth Cressa
Image: Michael Harpur


It is not until the reign of Henry I (r. 1100–35), that any documented evidence occurs and this came about when the king gave all the churches of Scilly to the abbot and church of Tavistock. A confirmation of this grant and a further grant to the monks of all wrecks, except whole ships, and whales was made by Reginald, Earl of Cornwall. The church of Tavistock established a priory on Tresco which was subsequently abolished during the Reformation. By the 14th-century the islands became part of the Duchy of Cornwall and Edward III gave them to the Black Prince, who was made the Duke of Cornwall.


Star Fort's commanding over St Mary's Pool
Image: Michael Harpur


During these medieval times Old Town, located southeast of Hugh Town, which is thought to be the oldest settlement on the island, was then the main harbour, the administrative centre of the Isles of Scilly. The island of St Marys was still known as Ennor, and Old Town was called Porth Ennor, or Porthenor, meaning 'the harbour of Ennor'. But through the annals of history, the Isles of Scilly would attract many Christian hermits, that would leave the island group blessed with the names of saints.


The Old Quay at St Mary's
Image: Michael Harpur


By the 14th-century, the Scillies were part of the Duchy of Cornwall. In the 16th Century, Queen Elizabeth I granted the lease of the islands to Francis Godophin who Star Castle on the main island of St Mary's. The presence of the fort and the 'old quay' build to service it in 1593, ensured that Saint Mary's and Hugh Town, rather than Old Town, or indeed Tresco, should become the islands' capital. It also meant that the islanders were left alone by the pirates, and stability reigned until the eruption of the English Civil War.


The Royalist Sir John Grenville
Image: Public Domain
The island group would change hands several times during the Civil War. In March 1646, following the final surrender of Royalist forces in southwest England, Prince Charles, later King Charles II, fled from Falmouth to the Isles of Scilly where he took shelter for 6 weeks. Following Charles’ departure to the safer base in Jersey, a Parliamentary naval blockade led to the surrender of Scilly. But in 1648, the garrison rebelled against the governor and declared for the King. Following the execution of Charles I, Charles II commissioned Sir John Grenville as the Royalist governor of Scilly. Arriving in February 1649, Grenville strengthened Star Castle and King Charles's Castle on Tresco. He then set about using the islands as a base for Royalist privateers raiding Commonwealth and Dutch shipping in the Western Approaches. The plunder provided a vital source of funding for the exiled Court.


Admiral Robert Blake
Image: Public Domain
The Dutch were most put out about the building losses and dispatched a fleet under the command of Admiral Maarten Tromp to deal with the problem. Arriving off St Mary's in May 1651 he demanded the release of Dutch ships, crews and cargoes taken by the privateers or compensation for them. Grenville released a number of Dutch prisoners to Tromp but was unable to comply with Tromp's demand for the return of captured ships and cargoes because they had already been sold. In the absence of compensation, or a satisfactory reply with regard to this, Tromp declared war on the island group. This declaration remained in place for 335 years of 'war' and was only resolved by a peace treaty between Scilly and the Netherlands that was finally signed in 1986.

It was the prospect of a possible Dutch occupation of Scilly rather than the losses to the privateers that finally prompted the Parliamentarians to recapture the isles. An English fleet led by Admiral Robert Blake intercepted the Dutch, preventing them from landing and then they set about retaking the islands themselves. The strength of the fortifications on St. Mary’s led him to first take Tresco and then Bryher. With these secured he placed a gun battery at Carn Near, the southern-most point of Tresco, from which he could bombard St. Mary’s Road, St. Mary’s Pool and the harbour area. In the event, this inadvertently proved almost fatal for Blake as one of the first culverins deployed was over-charged and exploded killing its crew and injuring him. A second battery proved more decisive and with an assault imminent and the harbour under bombardment Grenville was forced to negotiate terms with Blake. This would be an honourable surrender for the Royalists and Grenville would go on to play a major role in the 1660 Restoration of the Monarchy. He was later appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.


St Mary's Island as seen from the pier at Carn Near today
Image: Michael Harpur


At first, Hugh Town’s economic functions were limited to serving the military complex that remained garrisoned until the 18th-century. But as Hugh Town grew, and neighbouring Old Town’s importance gradually declined, Hugh Town took on a central role in the Scillonian economy and become the largest settlement in the islands. Nevertheless, it had a small population recorded as being no more than 350 in 1800. It only began to grow significantly in the 19th-century when an economic boost under the proprietorship of Augustus Smith took place.


The Mermaid where the Old Pier meets Hugh Street
Image: Michael Harpur


The pier then received a 75-metre extension to connect to Rat Island 1835-8 and a new phase of building ashore expanded the settlement considerably. The economy then diversified to include shipbuilding and maritime trading and by 1850 five shipyards operated from St Mary’s, three of them within the Harbour and one in Port Cressa. Towards the end of the century the introduction of steam power and the use of iron obsoleted these but by then the export of flowers and bulbs.


Stone-fronted buildings leading to Hugh Town's high street
Image: Michael Harpur


But steam also brought relatively fast and reliable connections to the mainland with train connections onwards. This enabled the development of a respectable flower and potato trade that would quickly replace the shipbuilding industry. Likewise, a reciprocal tourist started to develop and slowly burgeon on the back of the improved transport from the early 1900s. After the Second World War, in 1949, the Duchy of Cornwall, to which the whole of Scilly historically belonged, sold the freeholds of many of its properties in Hugh Town, prompting a spate of development in and around the historic settlement.


The view up Hugh Street the town's high street
Image: Michael Harpur


Today, St Mary’s is the largest of the five inhabited islands and houses more than 1600 of the total population for Scilly of about 2150. Hugh Town is the major settlement on St Mary’s with an estimated resident population of a little over 1,000. It is the only urban settlement in the islands and
is effectively the 'capital' of Scilly, providing commercial, retail, administrative, educational and transport services.


Hugh Town cottages overlooking Port Cressa
Image: Michael Harpur


Since the war tourism has become the mainstay of the island group. At the beginning of the 21st-century, provision for the 120,000 visitors received annually across the group with St Mary’s catering for seventy per cent of all visitors of which more than half of the available beds there are in Hugh Town. Tourism represents 85 per cent of the economy as a whole with the remaining being taken up by fishing and farming that still play an important role. The largest agricultural product being cut flowers, mostly daffodils.


The stone gateway entrance to Garrison Hill
Image: Michael Harpur


Hugh Town is today a pleasant capital. Although it can get overrun by tourists it never feels busy because of the general absence of motor vehicles. Saint Mary’s best attractions are its historic remains and beaches that dispersed around the island but easily reachable by bikes local bus services or via hiking by the more stalwart. Those in search of beaches need not venture far as Hugh Town, built for the most part on a low sandy isthmus not 3 metres above the high water mark, features some of the best beaches on the island. Town Beach, Port Mellon and Porthloo on the north side of the isthmus and the wonderful Porth Cressa on the south side. Likewise Old Town Bay is a 15-minute walk.


The Woolpack Battery dating from an 1898-1906 phase of fortification
Image: Michael Harpur


The historic core of the settlement and still Hugh Town’s commercial focus. A narrow main street and several small irregular 'squares' are for the most part strongly enclosed by stone-fronted or plain rendered buildings. The historic buildings provide the town with a distinctive architectural style of great charm and visual appeal. Its streets are narrow, with many buildings of great granite blocks. There is a high degree of completeness in the historic buildings but less so in the 20th-century additions that serve to detract from the town’s visual appeal.


The centre of Town Beach where the locals moor their boats
Image: Michael Harpur


The town is surprisingly small and easily traversed, end to end, by a 10-minute stroll. The chief focus of activity is the St Mary's Harbour from which extends Town Beach. It is here is where locals keep their boats with their mooring ropes crossing its expanse of sand at low water.


The remains of the village at Halangy Down dates back to 250AD
Image: Michael Harpur


By comparison, the complex of defensive works and associated structures of The Garrison has been largely untouched by development. It remains a small fortified island that is entered through a fine stone gateway with some handsome houses immediately inside. The road leads upward to Star Castle which is built in an atmospheric eight-pointed shape. One of the earliest defence structures, it is now a hotel and restaurant. The road continues over the top of the hill where there are fine views out over Hugh Town and its isthmus. The ring of fortifications that circle The Garrison headland makes for an excellent coastal walk. The group's post-medieval strategic importance is reflected in the various multi-period fortification encountered circling the perimeter which date from the mid 16th to the 20th centuries.


The walkways of Halangy Down
Image: Michael Harpur


The islands most impressive ancient historic site is at Halangy Down. This is a mile or so to the north of Hugh Town and close to the foot of the island's prominent TV mast. It is an extensive ancient village or settlement of stone huts that dates from around 2000 BC with a likely occupation period of 500 years. The complex is impressive with the outline of its buildings interconnecting passages readily apparent, the largest of which leading onto a courtyard.


The 4000 year old Bant's Carn Burial Chamber
Image: Michael Harpur


On the slope immediately above is Bant's Carn, a long rectangular Stone Age chamber topped by four large capstones used for cremations. First excavated in 1900, the remains of four cremations were discovered at the back of the chamber as well as sherds of Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery.

Bant's Carn's capstones as seen from above
Image: Michael Harpur


The historical background on the archipelago is best further explored in the Isles of Scilly Museum which covers a rich and diverse history of wrecks, Romano-British artefacts and the natural environment. Several hours can be enjoyed here.

From a boating perspective, being the only urban settlement in the islands and functioning as the 'capital', the lion's share of facilities will be found in Saint Mary's Pool and Hugh Town. Resources are spartan out and around the islands and most vessels will have to come in at some stage to replenish stocks, water fuel and or/to attend to general business at the principal harbour. But the island has much to offer and its historic elements are second to none.


What facilities are available?
Toilets & Showers are available in the main building on the Quay. The shower and toilet block is open 24 hours throughout the season. Showers are operated with a £1 coin or with a token available from the harbour. Two points providing freshwater and electricity on the inner berths along the wall - just be aware these berths dry to about 1 metre LAT. General refuse should be placed in one of the various grey wheelie bins along the front of the main building. If there is more than a small quantity please come and see us in the Harbour Office. Recycling bins are placed along the quay for glass and metal whilst plastic can be placed in the recycling bins to the rear of the town hall. The harbour has no pump-out facilities. The whole of the Harbour is covered by Free Public Wifi - look for MyWyFy which will present the various methods of logging in.

A weather forecast is displayed on the notice board outside the harbour office and copies are usually available in the office during busy periods. The inshore waters forecast is given by Falmouth coastguard at 0710 local time and every three hours afterwards. These forecasts are currently announced on VHF channel 16 and broadcast on VHF channel 86.


St Mary's fuel berth with the white line marking the outer area for leisure
craft

Image: Michael Harpur


Diesel and petrol are available both in cans and direct to vessel from 'Sibley’s' VHF Ch12. or +44 1720 422431 on the Harbour’s middle berth: 0800-1130 and 1300-1700. The fuel berth is subject to tidal constraints and dries to approximately 0.5 metres LAT. Camping Gaz and Flogas are also available from Sibleys. Calor Gas from Island Home Hardware, Garrison Lane.

Within easy reach of the Harbour are marine engineers, a launderette, sailmakers and repair work can be undertaken on boats. Hugh Street, immediately ashore, has a CoOp mini Supermarket, a post office, chemist, butcher which sells local vegetables and makes excellent pasties, banks, a choice of pubs, cafe's and bistros. Lloyds bank has a cash machine.

The Community Bus service operates a circular route around the island, leaving from outside the town hall on the Parade in Hugh Town. There are no official bus stops on the island but if you are anywhere in the vicinity of the locations on the timetable just stick out your hand and the driver will stop. Timetables may be obtained at the Tourist Information Centre, Porth Cressa. There are fixed-wing air services fro the nearby airport and of course the Scillonian III ferry for those who need to return to the mainland.

Toots Taxi. P: :+ 44 1720 422142 or :+ 44 7570 624669 E: info@tootstaxi.co.uk, W: www.tootstaxi.co.uk

St Mary's Bike Hire, is situated behind Hugh Town's fire station, P:+ 44 7552 994 709, E: info@stmarysbikehire.co.uk, W: https://www.stmarysbikehire.co.uk/


St. Mary's Boatmen's Association notice board
Image: Michael Harpur


St. Mary's Boatmen's Association are an Association of 10 independently owned boats, operating together from St. Mary's to provide a comprehensive boating service within and around the Isles of Scilly. The times and tours vary depending on the state of the tide and the weather and each day's services are displayed on their notice board on the Old Pier. In addition to scheduled services, they can provide special trips for groups as well as a water-taxi service. P: +44 1720 423999, E: enquiries@scillyboating.co.uk, W: https://www.scillyboating.co.uk/

There is no Customs Office in Scilly. Non-EU yachts or yachts with non-EU crew should fly flag Q and telephone +44 800 7231110 to clear. Pets from outside the United Kingdom cannot be brought ashore on the Isles of Scilly without meeting the requirements set out by DEFRA.


With thanks to:
Michael Harpur eOceanic.


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