HAVING first visited the Scillies as a teenager, I have always been fondest of the island of St Agnes, with its magical landmarks: The Nag’s Head standing stone, Troytown Maze (created from pebbles, for reasons unknown), and Beady Pool, where the bead cargo of a 17th century shipwreck used to be found in their dozens in the shifting sands. There’s also the beach where generations of locals and visitors have stacked wave-smoothed stones into hundreds of oddly-balanced towers, making it resemble the seaside retreat of Makka Pakka.
Being a Scilly-hardened family - or so we thought - by our third visit, we used the fleet of small boats to take daily trips from the main island, St Mary’s, to the off-islands with as little thought as we would catch a train back home. But there would be one trip to St Agnes which would be unforgettable.
Half of the Scilly passenger boats are 70-year-old wooden launches; the others are more modern. At the time of our holiday, in 2007, only one had an upper deck. It was a sunny day, so naturally we (me, my husband, and son George, then five) plumped for the top deck, settling ourselves on the bench at the back for the best view. It was a little bumpier up there than down below, but we were enjoying the ride, until about halfway between the islands, a freak storm struck, and the gentle swaying of the boat turned to a violent rocking.
Almost immediately a boatman’s head popped up from below. “Stay where you are, and hold on,” he called. The other families, nearer the steps, responded to natural instinct and dived straight down. Sat at the aft, we were furthest away, and clung on tight. But George panicked, and screamed that he couldn’t hold on. I was gripping him, but with him flailing in terror it was hard to feel secure. We decided to make it to the steps.
Lashed with rain, we crouched and crawled along the deck, grabbing at the benches to keep us steady, but still being bumped around like rag dolls. At the steps, hands reached up to grab George, and then I followed, tumbling down in a most ungainly manner, to add to my catalogue of bruises. As passengers and crew checked we were all right, the boatman looked at me. “I told you to hold on,” he said, sagely. Within another minute or so, the storm had passed, and the sea was calm once more.
So, why is this my favourite holiday memory? Well, clearly I would rather it hadn’t terrified George; but it is still special to me, because it is something we went through as a family. We disembarked at St Agnes, had a fun day in the sunshine, and caught the return boat with no fear of a repeat event. The wonderful boatmen of Scilly steered us safely through the freak storm, and it is a memory that will stay with us after those of sunshine holidays in further-flung locations have long faded.
- Originally written for an Onthebeach.co.uk/ Goodtoknow.co.uk travel writing competition. Again, I lost out to someone who had actually been abroad. Bit of a pattern emerging there. Also noticed that the winner wrote about a "nice" holiday memory. Mine was more "unforgettable" though, which was the theme of the competition. And I was clearly more deserving of the prize holiday by dint of the experience chronicled above.