23rd Dec 2012 3:20pm | By Chris Anderson
I’ve always been fascinated by the Isles of Scilly. I remember when I first spotted them on a map at school, and immediately felt cheated regarding a family holiday to Cornwall a few months earlier.
I‘d stood at Land’s End and believed I was looking out over the water towards America; that day at school, I realised I wasn’t – the Isles of Scilly had sat between Land’s End and me.
In fact, the Isles of Scilly lie just 28 miles from west Cornwall’s famous headland, made up of islands of varying sizes – five of which are currently inhabited. The biggest of the islands, St Mary’s, is less than five miles wide, and from there you can jump on any number of small boats that will take you to the neighbouring islands.
An essential Scilly experience is a seal-spotting sea safari, as grey seals are often found around the shores of the North Atlantic. Island Sea Safaris, run by Mark and Susie Groves, takes you on a two-hour journey from St Mary’s around several of the islands. “The seals tend to be found at three specific locations,” Susie informs us one breezy September afternoon. “So we’ll be visiting each of them. You’ve come at a good time of year, too, as this is when the seals tend to have given birth, so we’ll be on the lookout for pups.”
The promise is of some consolation as the boat races out of the harbour, bouncing in belly-worrying fashion over the waves as it gets up to speed. Ahead lies one of the uninhabited islands, Samson, identifiable by its two small hills dotted with ruins, and to the left, on the horizon, the silhouette of the lighthouse at Bishop Rock. We pass Tresco and Bryher on our right, and soon slow to a small rocky alcove to attempt our first sighting.
Susie hands out binoculars, and scanning the coast, it isn’t long before we see the first seal – a large head bobs around in the water, with a small bundle of white fur crawling on the rocks behind. “That’s mother and baby,” says Susie, pointing out how the mother is looking back at her young. “They only stay with the pups for two weeks, though, and that’s it.”