Nov 05 2016

Back to Bryher


The old Scillonian pitched and rolled her way along the Cornish coast, past Land’s End and beyond Wolf Rock lighthouse. Onward she ploughed into the vastness which is the Atlantic Ocean. White horses became rolling waves, whipped into magnificence by the roaring wind. As quickly as giant raindrops pelted the deck, brilliant sunlight steamed them away. A perfect rainbow bridged the sky framing the disappearing cliffs. We were on our way back to Bryher.

Each year we vow to explore somewhere new, each winter I find myself booking a cottage at Hillside Farm again! Azure blue sea and white sand have something to do with it. But there is so much more.  There is silence, no traffic , no bustling streets, just one shop, one  art gallery, one hotel, two cafes and   green, treeless hills rolling down to the sea. Boats ferry everyone everywhere. Boats take children to school, boats become doctors surgeries, boats take farm animals to market, boats bring all supplies to the islands, boats catch fish. Boats do everything. And everything boats do is dependent on the sea, the wind and the tide.

No night time predators stalk the island. Chickens, ducks and geese stroll around nonchalantly at dusk, no sign of a fox or a badger to threaten their sleep. Seagulls are the main annoyance and, for me at least, source of amusement. Not everyone agrees!

While sparrows queue in ordered battalions ready to pinch your pasty off your plate or eat it out of your hand, the seagulls have no such manners and simply move right in crash landing on the table and grabbing what they can with varied degrees of success!

Ruth and Graham have been at Hillside farm just over a year now. We met them last year and, of course, the top topic was farming; what new plans for Hillside farm? As we return a year later we are amazed at their progress. Beautiful Red Ruby cattle graze a hillside on the edge of the ocean. Gradually Graham is restoring the little fields and improving the grass. He trails great bowsers full of water across the rough ground to each little group; cows feeding with their calves here, bullocks there; no mains water to the fields.

Hillside Pigs have arrived too. We can see Babs and Betty from our cottage, noses down, foraging in the mud or sunbathing together. I love pigs and miss the days when I used to keep my own. They have to me something of the charm of dogs about them! But Ruth assures me this does not apply to grumpy Babs!

Away across the farm of perfect little hedge lined fields we meet the big boy, Jerry. “We called him after you” said Ruth. Paul and I look puzzled. “Well” she laughed “Graham thought your name was Jerry…..! “ A compliment of sorts, no doubt! Dina is the favourite sow who likes to have her ears tickled.


And then of course there are all the children.

Farming on Bryher requires a great deal of planning and lateral thinking. No farm store down the road. No garage to repair farm machinery. No vet on the island when things go wrong. No market or abattoir on the Isles of Scilly. The only way to get to any of these is by boat.

Animals are loaded into a stock box or trailer on the farm. The old land rover tows them down to the quay to meet the boat.  They cross the water for the forty minute trip to Hugh Town on St Mary’s. Then together with everything and everybody, it’s onto the Scillonian. Three hours later, weather permitting, they reach the mainland. That is in spring and summertime: the boat only sails to the mainland from March to the end of October; no winter crossings at all. From Penzance the trailer is hitched up and the animals are off to their final destination be it abattoir, market or farmer. It makes our road trips to Ashburton, Exeter and Kingsbridge seem very simple indeed!

Our week passed quickly and quietly in autumn sunshine. When we weren’t talking farming with Ruth and Graham we walked around the island by Great Pool, Gweal Hill and Sinking Porth up to Hell Bay and over the hill to Fraggle Rock Bar for fish and chips and a glass of wine. We had delicious take-away paella from “Island Fish”, and huge crab sandwich lunches in the sun on the terrace of the lovely Hell Bay Hotel looking out across the ocean to America.

We crossed the water to nearby Tresco and visited the famous sub-tropical Abbey Gardens. We’ve been there many times but the planting never ceases to amaze me. How different the climate is here, just thirty miles from the main land. Planted by Augustus Smith in 1834 over 2000 tender plants thrive in the seventeen acre garden all year round, not a glass house in sight!

Refreshed and restored once more we returned home, flat sea and sunshine all the way! Next September we are off to Japan again but somehow I feel sure we’ll fit in another trip to Bryher!

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