Exploring St. Agnes on The Isles of Scilly

St. Agnes is the most south westerly island of the Isles of Scilly, and thereby the most south westerly island in the UK. It is set apart from the other islands and surrounded by rocks to the south west, which act as a natural breakwater shielding it and the other islands from the full force of the Atlantic Ocean.

I've been visiting the Isles of Scilly since I was a child in the 1980s, and the island that I've visited most often is St. Agnes. What sets St. Agnes apart, in my view, is a kind of rugged beauty that you don't find on the other islands. On my last few visits I've been taking aerial photographs of the island, and what follows is a brief guide to some of the spots on St. Agnes from the air.

st agnes panorama

St. Agnes Dawn Panorama

I managed to get the whole island in this shot, back in 2019. In this panorama you can see one of the distinctive features of St. Agnes, namely that it is joined to another island (Gugh) by a sand bar at low tide. At high tide the sand bar is completely submerged, creating a channel between the two islands. At low tide the sand bar creates a sheltered bay to the South, but at high tide the channel can become treacherous with strong currents.

All of the rest of the shots in this article were taken on my most recent visit to St. Agnes, in August 2021.

st agnes to gugh

The Cove, St. Agnes

This was taken at dawn looking over The Cove and back towards The Bar. This might not look like an aerial photograph, but using a drone allows for that extra height - enabling a perspective down onto some of the huge granite boulders that line the rugged shores of The Cove here.

small cove st agnes

Rowing Boat In Small Cove

One of my favourite places on St. Agnes is Cove Vean, which lies on the eastern side of St. Agnes and so often provides shelter from the prevailing south westerly wind. Cove Vean has a beautiful little beach, and offers excellent swimming and snorkelling at mid to high tides.

Just off Cove Vean lies another little cove known locally, I believe, as Small Cove. The above shot is of a solitary rowing boat moored in Small Cove. Note that the rocks are too straight to be natural and so it's almost as if someone has built a small harbour wall.

stone dragon st agnes

Nags Head Rock

There are many weird and wonderful shaped rocks on Scilly, and particularly on the Downs of St. Agnes. Probably the best known of these is the Nag's Head Rock, so called... because it looks like a horse.

I wanted to shoot the first light illuminating the rock so that it really stood out from the background. I was lucky enough to score a very colourful sunrise! I guessed that the sunlight would starting hitting much earlier than on the mainland, due to the islands being so close to sea level. I was wrong! For anyone interested, it's pretty much the same as the mainland (about 20 minutes after sunrise is the start of golden hour). So you can shoot sunrise on Scilly and still have an extra half an hour in bed.

This could have been shot with a normal camera, but using a drone made it so much easier! Not having to trample the heather and gorse, and being able to make very small changes to composition to try and achieve 'maximum-horsiness' from the rock - all would have been very difficult without a drone.

castle brose st agnes

Castle Brose View

Some of the most amazing rock formations can be found across the Downs to the South West. There lie the large granite outcrops known as Castle Brose and Castle Vean. At this point thanks are due to Islander Harry Legg, who tells me that the outcrop on the right of the shot is Castle Brose. The outcrop on the left is labelled 'Beat Carn' on the 1890 map, but that is not a name still in use by Islanders today.

This photograph looks over the rocks to St. Warna's Cove, St. Agnes Lighthouse, and beyond to the other islands. The air on the Isles of Scilly is very clean as you can see from all of the lichen growing on the granite, which gives it a green tint - this colouring combined with that of the sea and the fields really makes this shot.

the maze st agnes

Troy Town Maze

Also on the Downs can be found Troy Town Maze. The post-medieval name for a maze in England was a 'troy town', and so much of this area of St. Agnes appears to have inherited its name from the maze.

St. Agnes folktale has it that this maze was made by Amor Clarke, a lighthouse keeper on the island in the 1720s. However, subsequent excavations at the site and the name itself suggest that it is much older. While the maze has probably been rebuilt over time, the current pattern matches a photograph of it taken in 1885.

the lighthouse st agnes

St. Agnes Lighthouse at Dawn

St. Agnes Lighthouse is the iconic landmark of the island. It was built in 1680, partly as a result of the fact that Scilly was inaccurately depicted as being a further 10 miles to the north on the navigational charts of the day!

The building of the Lighthouse had several objections, one of which was from the Governor of Scilly who maintained that it would mean a reduction in income from shipwrecks.

This shot was taken just as the rising sun was casting light across the island. In it you can see some of my favourite places on St. Agnes: Scilly Cottage (run by Author, Musician, Carpenter, and Chef, Piers Lewin); Coastguards Cafe; and Troy Town Farm. Troy Town Farm has what must be one of the most idyllic campsites in the world, as well as making the most amazing ice cream. (I would definitely recommend getting a scoop of their clotted cream on top of your ice cream. I always thought that clotted cream tasted pretty much the same, until I tried this!)  

periglis beach sunset

Periglis Sunset

The sheltered harbour of Periglis is a great place to swim, or hire a kayak or stand up paddle board to explore the beauty of St. Agnes from the water. It is also the best place on the island that I know of to watch the sunset.

In this shot I positioned the drone low over the boats moored in the cove to get them in the foreground. You can see Big Carn, The Daymark, and the uninhabited island of Annet in the background. I was very lucky to get such a colourful sunset, but maybe they're not so unusual on Scilly?

I know there's lots to see on St. Agnes and Gugh that I haven't covered here. Hopefully I'll get to visit again next year!

 

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By Jamie Turnbull