Scintillating Scilly Isles

When I opened my eyes this morning, the first thing I could see was a sideways-view of the sparkling sea gliding past our balcony doors; we leave the curtains open at night for this very reason.  Always a great start to any day.  😊

Going out onto the balcony, we were pleased to see fluffy clouds and blue sky at last. We could see that the Borealis was heading for some rugged islands in the distance; the archipelago that makes up the Scilly Isles.  We had never been here before so we were looking forward to our visit.  As we are not allowed to explore ashore independently due to Covid-19 restrictions, we were booked on an excursion at two o’clock this afternoon.

Just a few words about the Scilly Isles… the largest island (where we were going) is called St. Mary’s and has an area of approximately six square miles.  It has a population of 1,800 and has a wonderful dramatic coastline with gorgeous sandy beaches and loads of wildlife, including many seals, cormorants and shags.  If you want to get away from it all, the Scilly Isles is the place to go.  In fact, it’s one of the very few places in Britain where the deadly tentacles of coronavirus never reached, and the life of the locals has just continued as normal for the last 18 months. Lucky them. 😊

I decided not to go up to breakfast this morning, instead making the most of the fresh fruit bowl and the tea- and coffee-making facilities in our suite, as the Borealis slowed down and reached her anchorage for the day. 

We then went up on deck to potter about in the sunshine and participate in that extremely pleasant activity of just strolling the decks, breathing in the fresh sea air, people-watching, looking at the many little yachts and pleasure craft, and staring at that mesmerising sight of the sunlight sparkling and dancing on the little wavelets.

At 11.00am we went along to the Morning Light pub to do the morning trivia, which we lost once again.  So far a win has eluded us, in a complete contrast to our quiz team on the Celebrity Eclipse in 2019, where we won nearly every time!  😊

After the quiz we went back out on deck, to the stern of the ship where they have a sunbathing area and a bar called The View.  We sat on a couple of sun-loungers and nodded to Stefan Ravneng, the staff captain, as he passed by; he came over to us and we spent a pleasant 10 minutes or so chatting. We talked about the Boudicca, the much-loved FOCL ship that has now, sadly, been scrapped, and he informed us that the figurehead we could see above us was from the Boudicca.  Nice to know that a little part of that lovely ship lives on.  (The figurehead from the Black Watch is now on the Bolette, sister ship of the Borealis.)

The figurehead from the Boudicca now adorns the Borealis

Around half-twelve we went into the Lido buffet where I enjoyed a selection of cold cuts and some crisp green salad, washed down with a chilled glass of white wine.  It was then time to go and get ourselves ready for our half-day excursion, so we returned to 6176 and retrieved our bags, ensuring we had our cruise cards, TraceSafe bands, money, phones and our cagoules in case of a sudden shower of rain.

Our excursion began when we descended to Deck A and out onto a pontoon before joining our tour boat.  It wasn’t one of the ship’s tenders, but rather an actual open-topped Scilly Isles Boat Tours craft.  As we boarded, we were greeted by a friendly dog (!) called Pippa.  She must have been the skipper’s dog as there was a dog basket at the front of the boat, as well as a selection of dog chews; a small sign politely asked passengers to not to feed Pippa.

Pippa the tour boat dog!

Once we were all on board (31 of us) we all had to keep our masks on as we couldn’t maintain the one-metre-plus social distancing.  Off we went, gliding along gently in the sparkling water while the skipper gave us a running commentary of what we could see.  What a beautiful place; the landscape was so rugged and we could see strips of perfect sandy beaches at the base of some of the cliffs and rocks.  One of the beaches had two sunbathers on it, and the skip told us it was “crowded”.  😊

It was a wildlife haven too.  We saw lots and lots of seals; some basking on the rocks and others swimming and frolicking in the sea.  You’d be looking at the surface of the water and it would then be broken by a sleek brown head with a couple of liquid black eyes which would gaze at us curiously for a few seconds before disappearing beneath the waves again.  We got loads of photos; we never tired of watching the seals.

We enjoyed our boat tour immensely, and soon we arrived at St. Mary’s, where our boat docked at the landing stage and, one by one, we all disembarked.  We were now going to St. Martin’s vineyard, and vineyard owner Holly was there to greet us and lead the way.

We had a short walk of about 10 minutes (with a loo stop on the way) and then we arrived at the entrance to the vineyard, where a hand-chalked sign underneath a bell proclaimed “Please ring the bell and wait”.  Underneath this was another blackboard on which was chalked the wine list with prices.  About half a dozen wooden tables and benches were spaced out (each table containing a bottle of hand sanitiser). This was where the wine tasting would take place.

But first I must tell you the inspiring story of Holly and her husband James, the current owners of St. Martin’s vineyard. They only looked a fairly young couple in their late 20s – early 30s and they told us that they both came from Nottinghamshire, far from any English coastline. 

In 2018 they had spent their summer holidays in the Scilly Isles and had fallen in love with the place.  They were visiting St. Martin’s vineyard, which was then owned by a couple called Graham and Val Thomas, who had created the vineyard in 1996 and ran it for 22 years. Graham and Val happened to mention that they were retiring and were looking for buyers for the vineyard and winery, and James and Holly realised that this was too good an opportunity to miss.  So they decided to up sticks from Nottingham and purchase the business on this idyllic island, and moved down there in February 2020.

Of course, the pandemic hit almost immediately afterwards, preventing any visitors to the Scilly Isles, but Holly explained that worked in their favour, as it allowed them to learn all about viticulture, grape growing and cultivation and wine-making, and to set some vines.  The winery, buildings and fields cover about five acres, half of which is taken up with the growing vines.  It also contains some large polytunnels and even a borehole for irrigation.  While James and Holly are getting the business more established, they are living in a large yurt and said they were hoping to have a house built soon.  What a fascinating and encouraging story! 

Our group of 31 was split into two groups, Group 1 (which included me and Trevor) and Group 2.  Group 1 would do the wine-tasting first, while Group 2 would take part in the self-guided tour around the working vineyard, for which everyone was given a brochure containing a numbered route-map and explanatory notes as to what you were looking at. Once Group 2 returned, it would then be our turn to do the tour.

We sat at one of the wooden tables in the mellow sunshine and were each given samples of four different types of wine; a very dry white, a medium white, a pale blush wine and a red wine.  The medium white, called “Reserve” was fruity and delicious and we decided that after we’d finished our tour we’d come back and purchase a glass to enjoy.

While we were sitting there, a white and black cat appeared at the door of one of the buildings; we did a double-take because he looked exactly like our cat, Cedric.  There are two cats on site; Simon and Arty (this was Simon) and I’m sure they’d have the absolute time of their lives with all those lovely fields to roam.

Once the second group started to come back for their turn at the tasting, we set off with our brochure and made our way round the vineyard.  As well as grape vines, there were also several apple trees (they produce cider here as well) and lots of wildflowers which were a haven for bees and other pollinators. We saw the vines growing in their serried rows, containing tiny little baby grapes. The vines grow on sloping land, and when you arrived at the top of the slope there was a wonderful view across the patchwork of fields towards a blue sea.  What an idyllic place this is!

We made our way through eight different fields, and read about the variety of grapes that were being grown as well as gaining a little insight into viticulture.  It was lovely just walking along in the sunshine, and we were getting some fresh air and exercise, which was no bad thing after three days of the prodigal food and drink on board the Borealis!

Eventually we arrived back at the main entrance, and we sat in the sunshine and I enjoyed a glass of Reserve.  Unfortunately, we were unable to buy any bottles of wine to take away, as Holly explained they didn’t yet have enough stocks for off-sales; they needed what they had for the wine-tasting tours.

While I was drinking my wine, Simon the cat put in another appearance, and I showed Holly a photo of our cat; she too was amazed at the likeness between them.  I wanted to get a photo of Simon but he wouldn’t come over, and shortly disappeared back inside.

By now, it was time for us to start making our way back down to the landing stage, where our boat was due to pick us up around 5.30pm.  We started walking back down and were surprised by a sudden shower of rain; we were glad we’d brought our cagoules and indeed the predominant sound around us was of the rustling and swishing of waterproofs hurriedly being donned while we waited for the boat to arrive.  By the time we boarded the rain had stopped.

Once again we were greeted by the tail-wagging Pippa the dog as we took our places in the boat for the return journey to the Borealis.  We arrived back about 5.45pm so we had half an hour to get a washed and changed before dinner at six-fifteen. What a truly interesting, delightful tour we’d had today!

Dinner in the Borealis Restaurant was the usual foodie’s delight, accompanied by the pleasant chatter of our table mates.  Around eight o’clock the Borealis weighed anchor and set off once more, next stop Portland, Dorset.

Afterwards we hotfooted it along to the Neptune Lounge to get a good seat for tonight’s performance, called “Ballroom Blitz”, which featured the Borealis Theatre Company.  They are excellent, so we knew the seats would fill up fast, all the more so when so many seats have to remain empty to maintain social distancing.

As the title of the show hinted, the performance was all about different types and styles of dance, and was a high-energy show with marvellous costumes, dancing, acrobatics and singing.  A tremendous way of passing 45 minutes.

Then we did what we always do; went along to the Morning Light Pub to join up with Sid and Carol for the quiz (nope, we didn’t win; in fact for the last few quizzes we’ve only lost by one point). After our action-packed day we were feeling quite tired, so we didn’t go up to the Crow’s Nest this time, returning to cabin 6176 before midnight (early for us!)  We looked forward to what tomorrow would bring.

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