Isles of Scilly

Isles of Scilly
Isles of Scilly
Shown in relation to Cornwall
Region:South West England
Ceremonial County:Cornwall
- Total
Ranked 351st
16.33 km²
Admin. HQ:St Mary's
ONS code:15UH
- Total (2003 est.)
- Density
Ranked 354th
130 / km²
Ethnicity:99.6% White
Council of the Isles of Scilly
Leadership:[Cllr. Dudley Mumford] 
Executive:[Philip Hygate B.A., F.R.S.A.] 
MP:Andrew George
Missing image
Tresco, the second largest Island of Scillonia

The Isles of Scilly (Cornish: Ynysek Syllan) are an archipelago of islands off the Cornish coast. Traditionally part of Cornwall, the south western most area of the UK, they now have their own local government in the form of a unitary authority and have also been designated the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Note that the use of the name The Scilly Isles is deprecated by the locals, who prefer Scillonia.



The Isles of Scilly are an archipelago of five inhabited islands and numerous other small rocky islets (around 140 in total) lying 28 miles off Land's End - the most southwesterly point of Great Britain. The five inhabited islands and their population in the 2001 census are St Mary's (1,666), Tresco (180), St Martin's (142), St Agnes and Bryher (population 165 between them); the total population was 2,153. There are many smaller uninhabited islands and rocky islets.

The islands' position produces a place of great contrast - the ameliorating effect of the sea means they rarely have frost or snow, which allows local farmers to grow flowers well ahead of those on the island of Britain (the largest agricultural product is cut flowers, mostly daffodils), while the exposure to the Atlantic winds means spectacular winter gales lash the islands from time to time.

This is reflected in the landscape, most clearly seen on Tresco where the lush Sub-Tropical Abbey Gardens on the sheltered southern end of the island contrast with the low heather and bare rock sculpted by the wind on the exposed Northern end.

It was featured on the TV programme Seven Natural Wonders as one of the wonders of the South West.


Scilly has been inhabited since stone-age times and its history has been one of subsistence living until this century with people living from the land and the sea. Farming and fishing continues today, but the main industry now is tourism.

It is likely that until relatively recently the Isles were much larger and that as late as Roman times there was only one large island. At certain low tides the sea becomes shallow enough for people to walk between some of the islands. This is possibly one of the sources for stories of drowned lands, e.g., Lyonesse.

It is not known at exactly which point the islands stopped speaking Cornish, but it seems that they would have been largely so during the middle ages. Strangely though, unlike the situation of Irish or Scottish Gaelic, the islands appeared to have lost the old Celtic language before parts of the mainland.

In June 1651, during the English Civil War, the isles were captured from the Royalists by Admiral Robert Blake for the Parliamentarians.

The wreck of Sir Cloudesley Shovel's ship "Association" in 1707 off the Isles of Scilly due to a mistake in longitude led to the development of the method of lunar distances and to the invention of the chronometer by John Harrison, the first reliable methods of determining longitude at sea.

The sea has always played a huge part in Scillonian history but it was in the nineteenth century that Scilly had its maritime heyday. Beaches which are now enjoyed by sunbathers were then factories for shipbuilding; the harbours now full of pleasure boats were once packed with local and visiting fishing and trading boats.

One continuing legacy of the isles' past is gig racing, wherein fast rowing boats ("gigs") with crews of 6 (or in one case, 7) race between the main islands. Gig racing has been said to derive from the race to collect salvage from ships wrecked on the rocks around Scilly, but the race was actually to deliver a pilot onto incoming vessels, to guide them through the hazardous reefs and shallows. (The boats are correctly termed 'pilot gigs'.)

Former Prime Minister Harold Wilson regularly holidayed on the Isles and eventually bought a cottage there as a holiday home. He is buried on St Mary's.


The principal current economic activity is tourism. The tourist season has been extended into October when many birders arrive. Because of its position, Scilly is the first landing for many vagrant birds, including extreme rarities from North America and Siberia.

The main transport links with the mainland are currently:

The freehold of the islands is the property of the British Crown (except for Hugh Town, on St Mary's, which was sold to the inhabitants in 1949). The crown estate in the islands is administered by the Duchy of Cornwall.

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

In 1975, the islands were designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The designation covers the entire archipelago, including the uninhabited islands and rocks, and is the smallest such area so designated.

See also

External links

Districts of England - South West England Flag of England

Bath and North East Somerset | Bournemouth | Bristol | Caradon | Carrick | Cheltenham | Christchurch | Cotswold | East Devon | East Dorset | Exeter | Forest of Dean | Gloucester | Isles of Scilly | Kennet | Kerrier | Mendip | Mid Devon | North Cornwall | North Devon | North Dorset | North Somerset | North Wiltshire | Penwith | Plymouth | Poole | Purbeck | Restormel | Salisbury | Sedgemoor | South Gloucestershire | South Hams | South Somerset | Stroud | Swindon | Taunton Deane | Teignbridge | Tewkesbury | Torbay | Torridge | West Devon | West Dorset | West Somerset | West Wiltshire | Weymouth and Portland

Administrative counties with multiple districts: Cornwall - Devon - Dorset - Gloucestershire - Somerset - Wiltshire

ca:Illes Scilly de:Scilly-Inseln es:Islas Scilly fr:Sorlingues kw:Ynysek Syllan nl:Scilly-eilanden no:Scilly°yene pl:Scilly sv:Isles of Scilly


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