Magazine article The Spectator

So near and Yet So Far

Magazine article The Spectator

So near and Yet So Far

Article excerpt

The perfect shag. She was wild and alluringly beautiful. She was alone and seemingly unattached, and was certainly not going to hang around.

It had all been so quick. She left barely before I had time to gasp more than a murmur of my appreciation. Afterwards, I felt a compulsion to tell my wife who was 5,000 miles away in India on business about this irresistible force of nature that I had experienced while I was on my own in the Isles of Scilly. Well, not exactly on my own: I was with our three young children. And also, of course, with my wild, wonderful and totally unexpected shag. The children had witnessed it too. They had been as excited as I was. You must tell Mummy, they shrieked. Shhh, I said, as by then they were really shouting. I didn't want them to share this private moment of natural passion quite so volubly with the world at large. It had seemed rather an intimate few seconds. But then everything changed and it became exceedingly public. The captain of the Firethorn of Bryher, our island ferry, boomed out on a loudspeaker the news that what everyone thought was a shag, in fact was a cormorant. Both are black and beautiful and apparently are often and easily muddled. Sorry, guys, I fessed to the children, I got the wrong bird. Silly Daddy, said my six-yearold twins in unison. No, just in Scilly, was my lame riposte.

What was beyond doubt to all of us was that these islands off the coast of Cornwall are truly beautiful. Untouched, wild coastline with perfect white sandy beaches. Hill walks among wild flowers as colourful and exotic as it gets with white harebells and anemones, and all unpolluted by modern agricultural pest control. In Scilly it seems as if time has stood still since the 1950s. No cars. Bicycles and front doors left unlocked. A small village store. Enid Blyton-like innocence blended with Swallows and Amazons-like adventures which are tailormade for young families. Crabbing, sealspotting, bird-twitching, exotic palm-treed gardens, walks across Bronze Age settlements -- everyone entirely reliant on the wind and the wave for all arrivals and departures.

Scilly is one of the last untouched landscapes in Britain -- wild, wilful and wondrous. Tresco, the second biggest island, is where Princess Diana and the princes came on secret, unreported holidays. …

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