Join the Travel With A Paddle team as they explore the Isles of Scilly in the UK by stand up paddle boarding around the islands and snorkel with seals.
The Isles of Scilly are a group of islands 28 miles off the Cornwall coast of the UK. They are made up of five inhabited islands, and each has its own unique personality despite only being a few hundred metres apart. Our draw to the Isles was the amazing marine life you can find by stand up paddle boarding in the surrounding waters. We visited for three days in the summer when the ocean was crystal clear, and we took our Starboard SUPs with us to explore.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding Day One & Two
On our first day we took the Scillonian Ferry from Penzance and arrived on St Marys, the biggest island in the Isles of Scilly, and set up our campsite on the western headland. The land is so unspoilt in this area that you can still see hedgehogs foraging in the bushes. As you eat, songbirds jump down next to you for a crumb.
After an early start, we set off the next day to paddle around St Marys and out to the Eastern Isles. A place well known for its seal colonies. It was a 10km paddle to the Eastern Isles each way and luckily, we had incredibly favourable conditions. The ocean was so flat and clear we could see the jellyfish beneath our boards.
The Eastern Isles
When we reached the Eastern isles, the islands popped up ahead of us and kelp descended below us. We could see five metres deep, all the way to the roots which had little fish moving between the plants. As we got closer, we saw a seal head bobbing in the water! It was watching us inquisitively and as we passed, many more popped up and they began following us!
When we arrived in shallower water close to St Martins, we slipped off our boards and into the water to snorkel with a seal that had been following us. We were so surprised to see a juvenile seal who was swimming within three metres of us. It was an amazing experience that lasted around five minutes. We let the seals initiate the encounter and didn’t pursue them and although we could have stayed hours, we limited our time in the water to ensure we weren’t disturbing them.
As we paddled around the Eastern Isles, which are scattered east of St Martins, we were sure not to paddle too close to the seal colonies. This is because disturbing seals when they have young can be fatal for seal pups. They can be pushed into the water by other larger seals stampeding and because they are without waterproof fur, they are vulnerable.
We took in the scenery, the sun, and the wildlife before stand up paddle boarding our way back to St Marys for a night of camping under the stars.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding Day Three
The next day we decided to drop down from our campsite and SUP across the channel to Tresco and Bryher. These two islands are very close but there is a boat channel between them and St Marys. When you cross the channel from St Marys, Samson is the first island you reach. It is important to check the current, wind and ferry timetables before attempting this crossing. We left early, in favourable conditions and knew the ferry didn’t arrive until later in the day. That being said, there were still some smaller boats around to avoid.
Tresco & Bryher
Once at Samson, we sunbathed on the white sandy beaches and watched oyster catchers take flight. We planned our route between Tresco and Bryher and along the side of St Martins. We saw the old architecture on Tresco and the beautiful coastline of Bryher. They are wonderful islands with lots of amazing beaches you can only explore by stand up paddle boarding to them. We stopped for a snorkel on the backside of Bryher which was cold but we had our wetsuits with us.
As the afternoon approached, we made a dash back across the channel from St Martins to St Marys. This time it was low tide and the current had changed against us. It was a slog, but as the tide was low, we were able to stop on sand banks and have a look around almost the whole way back. When we arrived to the beach, exhausted, we ordered a huge portion of fish and chips to refuel before carrying our SUPs back up the hill to the campsite.
On each of our paddling days we carried our gear on the front of our boards in a dry bag. We took our lunch, snacks, water, camera and puncture repair kit with us. Our Starboard stand up paddle boards performed brilliantly and meant we didn’t worry when we were miles from anywhere, paddling at sea.
We took the Scillonian ferry to get to the Isles of Scilly, although you can also fly. Getting our SUPs to the islands took a bit of arranging, as you can ship them on the same ferry as you even or fly them ahead! However, Isles of Scilly Travel helped us make the whole experience go smoothly. If you don’t own SUPs and only want to go shorter distances on the water, then there is also the option to rent stand up paddle boards from St Martins water sports.
If you enjoyed learning about our SUP adventure to the Scilly Isles, there is plenty more where that came from! Watch our vlog SUP trip to Greece where we search for the Mediterranean Monk Seal, one of the rarest seals on the planet!