Imagine taking the kids to a remote and rocky inhabited island which has no cars, fantastic wildlife and totally unpolluted air. Then imagine the fun of getting there by helicopter!
The five inhabited islands that make up the Scilly Isles are St Mary's, St Martin's, Tresco, Bryher and St Agnes with 50 smaller islands surrounding them. The islands are known for their subtropical vegetation, white sandy beaches, wildflowers, butterflies and birdlife.
The cheapest way to get there is on the Scillonian III which sails from Penzance to St Mary's from March to early November and takes about 2Â½ hours each way. However, the most exciting way to visit is by helicopter. Flying from Penzance to St Mary's and Tresco, it is more expensive than by boat but only takes 20 minutes, leaving you with a full day to explore the islands.
Things to do on the Scilly Isles
Boat trips depart from each of the islands' jetties on seal watching trips or on an inter-island water taxi service. One company runs exciting jet boats which speed over the waves in an exhilarating ride. You can see the remote Bishop Rock Lighthouse which is beyond the Western Rocks.
A good way to get around St Mary's and Tresco is by bike. It is safe, fun and bike rentals are available on both islands. Another fun thing to do as a family is follow one of the two nature trails on St Mary's. There are some excellent leaflets telling you what to look out for, available from the Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre on Hugh Town Quay.
Tresco is best known for its beautiful Abbey Gardens. The exotic landscaping was created in the 19th century by Augustus Smith who imported plants from all over the world. The mild climate ensures that bamboos, palms, proteas, agave, strelitzia and even banana plants flourish. Architectural features along the winding footpaths include the ruins of the abbey itself along with pools, grottoes, a Shell House mural, statues and King Neptune himself.
Nearby is the Valhalla Museum which is fascinating and unique. It has a collection of carved ships' figureheads and other interesting exhibits reclaimed from shipwrecks that foundered on the surrounding rocks.
If you reach the island of St Agnes, head for the Big Pool. It was the site of a 17th century shipwreck and its cargo can still be found in the shallow waters. Unfortunately, it was not carrying gold coins but beads, and they are still easy to find. The island of Bryher has several bronze age cairns and is very unspoilt. St Martin's has a beautiful beach at Great Bay and you can walk to White Island at low tide.
There are miles of walking paths all over the islands, with few steep hills to contend with on these flat isles. Outdoor cafés serve lunches and cream teas and there are plenty of sunny beaches and grassy headlands for enjoying a picnic before your return to the mainland.