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Old Town Bay

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Overview





Old Town Bay is located on the south side St Mary’s Island which is the largest island in Scilly. The bay dries and is full of local boat mooring but it is possible to anchor outside its entrance and land on its slip or beach.

The entrance to Old Town Bay is well sheltered from the west through north to the northeast but becomes progressively more uncomfortable as the wind and swell become easterly and it is wide open to the south. Attentive daylight navigation is required as there as several hazardous outliers that need to be circumvented but it may be approached at any stage of the tide as the anchoring area and its approaches are deep.



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Keyfacts for Old Town Bay
Facilities
Shop with basic provisions availableSlipway availableHot 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 areaRegional or international airport within 25 kilometres


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationJetty or a structure to assist landingQuick and easy access from open waterSet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
None listed

Protected sectors

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

Approaches
3 stars: Attentive navigation; daylight access with dangers that need attention.
Shelter
4 stars: Good; assured night's sleep except from specific quarters.



Last modified
December 10th 2019

Summary

A good location with attentive navigation required for access.

Facilities
Shop with basic provisions availableSlipway availableHot 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 areaRegional or international airport within 25 kilometres


Nature
No fees for anchoring or berthing in this locationJetty or a structure to assist landingQuick and easy access from open waterSet near a village or with a village in the immediate vicinity

Considerations
None listed



Position and approaches
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Haven position

49° 54.557' N, 006° 17.883' W

This is midway between Gull Rock and Tolman Point, on the entrance to Old Town Bay and in 2 metres of water.

What are the initial fixes?

The following waypoints will set up a final approach:

(i) Old Town Bay Western Initial Fix

49° 54.158' N, 006° 17.798' W

This is midway and 200 metres southward of a line joining Carrickstarne and Gilstone rocks. A course of about 352° T can be steered directly to the anchorage close east of the Gull Rock from here.

(ii) Old Town Bay Eastern Initial Fix

49° 54.356' N, 006° 17.209' W

This is midway and 200 metres southward of a line joining the Gilstone and Church Ledge. A course of about 293° T can be steered directly to the anchorage from here. This is on the alignment of Gull Rock in line with the belfry of a small chapel located amongst trees on the west side of the harbour.
Please note

Initial fixes only set up their listed targets. Do not plan to sail directly between initial fixes as a routing sequence.




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

  • The central approaches to Old Town Bay are obstructed by the Guildstone and the Gilstone Ledges .

  • An approach to the west of these dangers, between Carrickstarne and Gildstone is the easiest.

  • An alternate northeast side approach, between Gildstone, the Gilstone Ledges and the foul ground extending from the shore is more complicated but has a natural transit on the bearing of 293° T of the belfry of a small chapel, west side of the harbour, with Gull Rock.


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 Old Town Bay for your convenience.
Ten nearest havens by straight line charted distance and bearing:
  1. Porth Cressa - 0.4 miles W
  2. St Mary's Pool - 0.6 miles NW
  3. Windmill Cove - 0.9 miles NNE
  4. Porth Conger - 1.1 miles WSW
  5. The Cove - 1.1 miles SW
  6. Higher Town Bay - 1.8 miles NNE
  7. Green Bay - 2 miles NW
  8. Perpitch - 2 miles NNE
  9. Tean Sound - 2.1 miles N
  10. Old Grimsby - 2.1 miles NNW
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 W
  2. St Mary's Pool - 0.6 miles NW
  3. Windmill Cove - 0.9 miles NNE
  4. Porth Conger - 1.1 miles WSW
  5. The Cove - 1.1 miles SW
  6. Higher Town Bay - 1.8 miles NNE
  7. Green Bay - 2 miles NW
  8. Perpitch - 2 miles NNE
  9. Tean Sound - 2.1 miles N
  10. Old Grimsby - 2.1 miles NNW
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?
Old Town Bay
Image: Visit Isles of Scilly


Old Town Bay was the original medieval port of St Mary’s before it was superseded by Hugh Town. It is today a tiny village comprising a church, a pub, a couple of cafes and a small convenience shop. Old Town Bay dries to 2 metres and is rocky on the west side but it has a slip on its eastern side alongside its old stone wall. The slip is protected by its old rocky quay with an iron beacon at its head.


The old quay and slip in Old Town Bay
Image: Michael Harpur


The drying harbour area is occupied by local small boat moorings leaving no room for visitors but it is possible to anchor immediately outside the entrance in depths of 2 metres or more and come into land.


How to get in?
Old Town Bay as seen from the southwest
Image: Michael Harpur


Convergance Point Use southwestern England’s coastal overview from Land's End to Isles of Scilly Route location for local approaches. Old Town is positively identifiable by Peninnis Light Fl.20s36m17M, a white round metal tower on a black metal framework tower standing on Peninnis Head to the west, and the airport with its control tower located a ¼ of a mile to the east on Ward Hill.

The central approaches to Old Town Bay are obstructed by the Guildstone that dries to 4 metres, and the Gilstone Ledges, awash and drying to 1.8 metres, as well as other hazards about 200 metres off the northern shore. The central Guildstone hazards divide the approaches in two:

  • • A western approach, between Carrickstarne and Gildstone

  • • A northeastern approach, between Gildstone, the Gilstone Ledges and the foul ground extending from the northern shore.

Of the two, the former, passing to the west of the Guildstone and the Gilstone Ledges is by far the easiest way to address the anchorage. Particularly so when the Gilstone is showing, which it normally does drying to 4 metres. We provide initial fixes to support both approaches.


Carrickstarne and Gilstone rocks as seen from Peninnis Head
Image: Michael Harpur


Initial fix location From the southwest initial fix steer to pass between the 8 metres high Carrickstarne and Gildstone which are about 400 metres apart. Then steer towards the anchoring location close east of Gull Rock.


Using Carrickstarne as a turning mark
Image: Michael Harpur


If Gildstone is covered simply use Carrickstarne as a turning mark standing about 100 metres off. It is steep to on its eastern face but foul out to about 40 metres to the south.

Initial fix location From the southeast initial fix steer a course of 293° T for ¾ of a mile passing about midway between the Gildstone and Church Point, a little under a ½ mile apart, and continue into toward Gull Rock. The danger here is the Gilstone Ledges, to port, and foul ground extending about 200 metres from the north shore, to starboard. Pay particular attention to the inner Tolman Ledge that dries to 1.9 metres on the final reaches.


The small chapel of St Mary's in the west side of the bay
Image: Michael Harpur


These inner dangers can be safely avoided by picking up a natural transit on the bearing of 293° T by aligning the belfry of the small chapel of St Mary's, located on the west side of the harbour and discernable through binoculars, with Gull Rock.


The entrance as seen from the beach, the old quay left, Gull Rock and Carn Leh
right

Image: Michael Harpur


Haven location Anchor between Gull rock and Tolman Point over the entrance to Old Town Bay. Don't proceed any further as 60 metres within the rock fringed Gull Rock it dries and the bay is full of local boat moorings.


Gull Rock and Tolman Point and the fronting of weed as seen from St Mary's Graveyard
Image: Liz & Johnny Wesley Barker via CC BY-SA 2.0


Land in Old Town Bay which is accessible through a channel within Gull Rock. The course is easily picked out by the covering of weed on the surrounding rocks. Alternatively, watch the comings and goings of the local boatmen at low water to see the best approach.


The slip, its breakwater with Gull Rock and Carrickstarne in the backdrop
Image: Michael Harpur


Land at the slip and pull the dinghy free to clear access. Alternatively, land on the beach.


Why visit here?
Old Town Bay takes its name from its overlooking settlement of Old Town. It, in turn, takes its name from being the oldest settlement on St Mary's and during the medieval period, it was this bay that was Scilly's principal settlement main harbour and the administrative centre for the archipelago as a whole.


The remains of Castle Ennor today
Image: Hornbeam Arts via CC BY 2.0


At this time St Mary's was known as Ennor and Old Town, as it latterly became know, was then called Porth Ennor, or Porthenor, meaning 'the harbour of 'Ennor'. The town had very early origins and a church was established here about 1130-40, most probably by Tavistock Abbey. This was soon followed in the late 12th or early 13th-century by Castle Ennor a small shell keep castle probably built by the Earls of Cornwall under the Norman kings, to defend the growing town. It occupied a small but prominent knoll on the east side of the broad Lower Moors valley behind Old Town Bay which provided commanding views over Old Town Bay and the adjacent Porth Minick. The castle was first referred to in a deed of AD 1244, by which time it noted that Ennor, or 'La Val' in Anglo-Norman documents, had been the main settlement on St Mary's for some time. The settlement continued to grow around these focal points and its naturally sheltered bay that created a harbour.

Seal of Richard
Image: Michael Harpur
It was, however, the monks from Tresco Priory that controlled Porthenor during these early years. First founded in 946 AD, and re-founded as the Priory of St Nicholas by Tavistock Abbey in 1114, the monks were a formidable commercial force. They levied tolls for all goods landed at Porthenor as well as mooring fees for vessels using St Helen’s Pool which, during this period, was the principal anchorage for the group. Landing fees were even applied to priests and pilgrims and on each and every fisherman that came in with catch to be salted ashore. This was non-trivial as all the fish of the islands were brought here to be cured with stages were erected in the adjoining field for drying fish in the sun. There was no way of evading the burdensome toll as the monks hoisted a chain from Tolman Head to Carn Leh to bar entrance until the toll had been paid.

The tolls levied must have been burdensome as they were so universally unpopular that complaints made their way to Richard, 1209 – 1272, second son of John, King of England and Earl of Cornwall. So vocal were the complaints that the future crusading Earl himself came in response, disguised as a humble pilgrim. Refused entrance without paying his tole to an old priest, a heated debate ensued where Richard leapt over the chain and struck a mortal blow to the prior that barred his way. The dying priest used his last breath to call down vengeance on his murderer and, legend has it, that it was this curse caused that would blight the future of Porthenor and its castle.

Ralph de Blanchminster and Isabel
Image: Public Domain
The Anglo-Norman interest in the isles was further sealed when the crusading knight Ralph de Blanchminster, of the manor Bien Amie in the County of Cornwall, came to Castle Ennor to manage affairs in 1306. He held the castle in return for provisioning 12 men-at-arms, to maintain the peace, and a payment of an annual tribute to the king of 6s 8d or 300 puffins at Michaelmas, a tribute whose actual payment was always recorded in money. Blanchminster’s was a devoted husband and father, but his wife Isabel seemingly found island life dull as Ralph became latterly famous for being the subject of a ballad 'Blanchminster of Binamy' lamenting how he was abandoned for another man by his wife’s adultery.

By 1337, the castle along with the rest of Scilly was included in the lands of the newly created Duchy of Cornwall. More than two centuries later it still formed an effective fortification, when in about 1539 Leland visited the islands and noted the castle was a ''moderately strong pile''. Later, in May 1554 it was recorded in a survey that Ennor Castle ha been armed with a cannon. But this would be the last investment in the castle as the turning point for it and the once-thriving settlement of Porthenor had arrived. It was not the Priest's curse that would bring the demise but rather the danger of a Spanish invasion albeit in a zealous desire to spread catholicism.

The need for national defensive initiatives had been established by the Crown during the reign of Henry VIII and during Elizebeth I’s reign, the fear was of a Spanish invasion. In the aftermath of the Spanish Armada, when the Spanish seized and held a foothold in Brittany for a short time in 1590, the vulnerability of Scilly came into sharp focus. National defensive considerations required a complete revision of the island's defences and its fortifications. The resultant plan of 1591/2 was... ‘drawne for the fortefenge of the Iles of Sylley and especiallie St. Marie Iland, for defence of the roade’. This would lead to defensive enclosure being build on what was then called the 'Hugh', now 'The Garrison', and the construction of 'Star Castle' in 1593 to act as a centrepiece to the stronghold.


Star Castle at dusk
Image: Michael Harpur


The presence of the fort and the 'old quay' build in Saint Mary's Harbour to service it at the same time, shifted the focus of settlement and trade to St Mary's Pool. Soon after Hugh Town become the islands' capital, leaving Ennor Castle redundant and Porthenor in decline. A survey of 1652, refers to the settlement at St Mary's Pool, the present Hugh Town, as 'Hue or New Towne', while Porthenor was termed 'Old Town'.


Old Town today
Image: Michael Harpur


Today, the remains of Castle Ennor on a knoll with a sub-rectangular keep wall are scant. Recent scrub clearance makes part of it visible again. It is said that the castle was dismantled to build Star Castle, but this is unlikely as it remained useful during this period and it was too far to cart the stone. It is more likely that Ennor Castle was progressively dismantled to provide building stone for local purposes in Old Town. Its remains are nonetheless important as it is the only medieval castle on the Isles of Scilly. It also represents the earliest element of an almost continuous sequence of fortifications on the islands that only concluded after the end of World War II. Overgrown with mesembryanthemum, the flowers brightening up the outcrop in summer, Ennor Castle is on private land and should only be viewed from a distance.


The view south from the slip over the bay at low water
Image: Michael Harpur


The remains of a stone quay at Old Town is another major surviving part of this once important settlement during the medieval period. Just above it on the east side of Old Town Bay a deep rectangular trough, cut out of a single granite block, that served to salt the islands fish can be seen.


Old Town's stone quay is one of very few surviving elements of the medieval
period

Image: Michael Harpur


This little churchyard by the blue waters of Old Town Bay is the final remaining element of its history. This is the site of the original church which has been constantly re-build down through the centuries. By the 19th-century, it was derelict and was restored under the orders of Augustus Smith, Lord Proprietor of the Islands, in the 1830s when was constructing the new church that replaced it in Hugh Town. The building is quite small inside and what remains is only part of the previous structure. A tall stone monument was erected in the churchyard to recognise Smith's involvement with the Islands.


St Mary's Church, Old Town
Image: Visit Isles of Scilly


The little church contains sad memorials of many wrecks. Victims of the Scillies naval disaster of 1707, see The Cove, and one hundred and twenty of the three hundred lost in the wreck of the German mail steamship Schiller. The ship was on her way from New York to Plymouth when she struck on the Retarrier Reef, close to the Bishop lighthouse, in a fog on the night of May 8th, 1875. She sank almost immediately and only forty-five of the three hundred and fifty-four persons on board were saved. The cemetery also contains the grave of ex-Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. With beautiful views over Old Town Bay, it is a beautiful place and is much loved both by islanders and visitors.


The very tranquil Old Town Bay beach
Image: Michael Harpur


The little village now consists of a few cottages, a church, a pub, two cafes and a shop, all of which are located around a beautiful sandy cove. The crescent-shaped beach is seldom busy and flanked by Tolman Point and Peninnis Head is very sheltered.

From a boating point of view, akin to its neighbour of Porth Cress around Peninnis Head, Old Town Bay offers reasonable access to Hugh Town without its commercial hustle and bustle. It feels more a remote haven of peace secluded tranquillity that can be the perfect antidote to the principal port with the constant coming and going of the island ferries. Likewise, for those intending on St Mary’s Pool and are met by unsuitable weather or the tide is running foul on arrival in St Mary's Sound, it provides another solution.


What facilities are available?
The little village has a pub, two cafes and a shop, all of which are located close to the slip. Hue Town is only 20 minutes walk from here.


With thanks to:
Michael Harpur


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