If you thought white sand beaches only existed in the Caribbean, think again. The sub-tropical Isles of Scilly – just 30 miles off the coast of Cornwall – can certainly hold their own in the beautiful beach stakes, and have much more to offer as well. Regardless of whether you have a dog or not, I cannot recommend this island paradise highly enough. There are five inhabited isles to explore – St Marys, Tresco, Bryher, St Martin’s and St Agnes – and each one will take your breath away. If you’re anything like me, you’ll fall in love with island the moment you step on to it and yearn to return.
WHAT ARE THE MUST-SEES? Aside from the stunning unspoilt scenery, one of the biggest attractions on the Isles of Scilly is the Tresco Abbey Garden. Built in the 19th Century around the ruins of a Benedictine abbey, the garden is home to thousands of exotic plants and will really bowl you over, whether you’re green-fingered or not.
Here, spring comes early, autumn stays late and winter barely exists so whatever time of year you visit, there are sure to be some flowers in bloom – many of which you will not have seen before. Dogs on lead are welcome to explore the grounds but are not allowed in the café or visitor centre. Adult tickets cost £15. Pets go free.
As the water around the islands is so clear, it is home to an amazing array of wildlife and activities such as snorkelling and diving are big business. St Martin’s Dive School offers snorkelling safaris for as little as £25 per person, while Scilly Seal Snorkelling, on St Martin’s, allows you to get close to the locals for £49. Obviously dogs are not allowed on these trips but I couldn’t not mention them because they provide such a unique experience!
After being inspired by the Isles of Scilly, many creative types choose to settle here and as you island hop, you will find a number of art galleries, artisan jewellers and crafty folk, who love nothing more than to show you their wares. St Mary’s – the main island – is home to most of them but there are plenty of others dotted around.
If you are keen to shop local and take back liquid souvenirs, I can highly recommend the wine from St Martin’s Vineyard or the craft beers brewed by Ales of Scilly, which are stocked in pubs and bars on all five islands.
On our travels, we came across a number of enterprising locals selling delicious home-grown produce and handmade crafts from roadside stalls outside their homes, too. It harks back to a simpler, safer time and is truly lovely so if you like what you see, pop some money in their honesty box and support the local community.
If you’re lucky enough to visit during one of the famous Low Tide Events – where you can walk between Tresco and Bryher – make sure you do it! For just a few hours, hundreds of people turn out for this uniquely Scillonian experience, which has a distinct party atmosphere. Flags are erected in the middle of the sandbar, local musicians play and pop-up bars and seafood stalls make sure revellers are fed and watered. It really is good fun and dogs are, of course, welcome.
WHERE’S GOOD FOR WALKIES? Everywhere! Each of the five islands has its own individual personality with lots to offer visitors. Whether you’re keen to get off the beaten track or explore the beautiful beaches, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
There are more than 30 miles of nature trails on St Mary’s alone, while you can walk the length and breadth of all the other islands. St Martin’s, for example, is just two miles long and the hike out to the red-and-white daymark – visible from the Cornish mainland – has a mix of beaches, grassland and rugged cliffs.
The Walk Scilly festival, which takes place twice a year in spring and autumn, attracts people from around the UK. It offers an interesting programme of walks – all led by local guides – and is a great way to explore and find out more about the islands’ history. Dogs are welcome to join in the fun, as long as they are kept on lead.
None of the islands have restrictions on footpaths for dogs and many of the beaches can be visited year-round, too. Bizarrely, dogs must be kept on lead at all times on Tresco so make sure you adhere to the rules. For more information about dog-friendly walks on the Isles of Scilly, visit the Tourist Information Centre on St Mary’s.
BEST PLACE TO GRAB A BITE? You can’t come to the Isles of Scilly and not visit the Seven Stones Inn. This family-run pub, on St Martin’s, is just a short walk from the island’s jetty and super dog-friendly. You’re guaranteed a warm welcome at the Seven Stones, which serves hearty pub grub and fine real ales. You also get great views from the beer garden.
For a yummy cream tea, made using local produce, you can’t beat the Polreath Tea Room on St Martin’s. This family-run business has been feeding hungry visitors since 1955 and occasionally offers evening meals, too. Dogs are allowed in the gorgeous garden as well as the rustic conservatory-style glasshous
Visiting the West Country without sampling a traditional Cornish pasty would be a crime, so look out for Badcock’s Homemade Pasties on St Mary’s. At exactly midday on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, a little white van arrives in the centre of town to sell piping hot, freshly-made pasties. Sandwich boards will point you to where the van parks up but you won’t miss the queue anyway! It’s well worth the wait.
Other dog-friendly eateries include The Mermaid Inn on St Mary’s (dogs are only allowed in the bar area, not the restaurant) and The New Inn on Tresco, which has free-ranging chickens in the beer garden.
WHERE SHOULD I STAY? You can’t beat Karma St Martin’s – a luxurious beachside property that welcomes both humans and dogs with open arms. Read my review of the hotel here. The islands’ official website also has plenty of other ideas for accommodation in the Isles of Scilly, whether you’re keen to camp or go self-catering.
GET ME THERE: There are a few different ways to reach the Isles of Scilly. One of the most popular – and cheapest – methods is by boat. The Scillonian III passenger ferry has been running between Penzance and St Mary’s since 1977 and the crossing takes approximately 2hrs 45mins. The ferry operates between mid-March and October and single fares start from £49.50 per adult. Dogs on leads are welcome onboard and travel for free – just make sure you stay in the doggy-designated areas on the ship.
Alternatively, take the speedy Skybus to the Isles of Scilly, which flies from Lands’ End, Newquay and Exeter – although if you’re travelling with a dog, you have to go from Lands’ End. Depending on where you travel from, flights can take as little as 15 minutes.
Single fares start from £80 per adult and it’s an extra £40 to take your dog, who will travel in a crate in the main cabin. The planes are rather small – seating around eight people – so it is quite an experience! Helicopter transfers to the Isles of Scilly started in 2018 too, but they are not dog-friendly.
Once you’ve arrived, getting around is easy. The St Mary’s Boatmen’s Association run regular services between the islands (tides depending), as well as day trips and excursions. Dogs are welcome on all the boats, provided they are on-lead and well-behaved. Various offers and deals are available but a straight return journey between two of the islands will set you back £9.50 per adult.
FIND OUT MORE: Check out the official tourist board guide for further inspiration and ideas when it comes to visiting the Isles of Scilly.