Michael Sissons visits Tresco, a beautiful, tranquil, family-owned island off the coast of Cornwall.

The Scilly Isles are perched just 40 miles off the south west toe of Cornwall, and their history is inextricably linked with Cornwall’s. They are part of the St Ives constituency, yet sometimes they seem very remote, because it is never a simple matter to reach them.

There is very much a maritime rather than off-shore feel to them. It is said that ships off the Scillies were treated gently by German submarines in both wars because the fishermen of the islands had rescued the survivors of a German passenger ship sunk close by in the 1870s.

We were due to fly from Exeter to St Mary’s, the largest island, in the second week of October, but a howling gale off the Atlantic cancelled not only all flights but also the passenger ship Scillonian, the main route by sea, which sails from Penzance to St Mary’s. But when good order was restored we flew in, and then took the jetspeed boat across the harbour to the holiday island of Tresco, skimming through the water in beautiful sunshine.

Tresco

Tresco is an extraordinary magical place, whose sole raison d’etre is to welcome visitors, under the watchful and benevolent eye of the Dorrien-Smith family, who have owned the island since the mid-19th century and have been responsible for developing the most celebrated sub-tropical gardens in the British Isles.

They have taken their responsibilities very seriously, towards Britain as well as to the islands, taking grim casualties in both world wars, and in their hands Tresco runs like clockwork.

Tresco Abbey

Tresco Abbey

First of all, it is spectacularly cheerful and welcoming, from the young men who run the boats to the staff of the only store, a superbly stocked shop close to the harbour, to the bar staff at the only pub, and to the welcome one receives at the one restaurant Ruin Beach Cafe, which serves excellent fish caught off the islands.

Old Grimsby & Sea Garden Cottages, Tresco

Old Grimsby & Sea Garden Cottages, Tresco

Virtually all the houses on the island are owned by the family, and are for rent all the year around, including access to swimming pools and other facilities…. so long as you can get there !

There are bicycles available at the store, you can cycle all round the island, there are lovely beaches, and there are no cars. Moreover, despite our experience above, the weather is normally a significant improvement on the mainland.

Tresco

In short, it is a perfect place for a self-contained family holiday, safe and friendly, and if family pleasures pall you can immerse yourself in the wonderful gardens for many hours. The adjacent island of Bryher, to which you can walk at low tide, or take the boat for five minutes, sports a spectacular restaurant and hotel Hell Bay, which houses a famous collection of modern English paintings.

Robert Dorrien-Smith, a genial and avuncular host, has devoted his whole career since the age of 22 to running the island. If there is a better example of benevolent dictatorship anywhere I have yet to see it.