ISLES OF SCILLY
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Although Lands End may be the last of mainland Britain, there are still chunks of the UK further south-west which have acted as a magnet to the adventurous diver since the early 1960s. These are the Scilly Isles, which like their mainland Cornish neighbour are steeped in mystery and legend, most notably as the remnants of the fabled lost land of Lyonesse. This isthmus of land supposedly once connected the Scilly Isles to Lands End and was a land of great beauty, boasting 140 villages and churches. The Seven Stones reef is apparently all that is left since the drowning of the land in the sixth century, although folklore insists that fishermen still trawl up parts of the buildings in their nets, and even hear the church bells toll in stormy seas.
Although Lands End may be the last of mainland Britain, there are still chunks of the UK further south-west which have acted as a magnet to the adventurous diver since the early 1960s. These are the Scilly Isles, which like their mainland Cornish neighbour are steeped in mystery and legend, most notably as the remnants of the fabled lost land of Lyonesse. This isthmus of land supposedly once connected the Scilly Isles to Lands End and was a land of great beauty, boasting 140 villages and churches. The Seven Stones reef is apparently all that is left since the drowning of the land in the sixth century, although folklore insists that fishermen still trawl up parts of the buildings in their nets, and even hear the church bells toll in stormy seas.

There are, in fact, more than 300 islands and rocks in the Scillies archipelago situated only 28 miles from Lands End, but of these only six are inhabited: St. Marys, Tresco, St. Martins, St. Agnes, Bryhr and Gugh. The small resident population have a mixed economy best known perhaps for the cultivation of early spring flowers, although the major industry here now is tourism and the islands are renowned for their mild oceanic climate and exotic flaura and fauna. As you step ashore, you are instantly struck by the peace and tranquility which results from that slower pace of island life and the very small number of cars on the narrow winding lanes.

Although these attributes will also appeal to the sport diving fraternity, the major attraction is undoubtedly the spectacular underwater topography, marine life and not least the number of shipwrecks which have foundered on these rocky outcrops over hundreds of years. The islands are very low-lying (the highest point only 187ft above sea level) and are scattered across the western approaches to the English Channel ready to ambush the careless or unfortunate sailor. There are many historic and more recent wrecks here, and despite modern navigational aids the islands still present a significant shipping hazard.

Not all losses here were the result of accident or poor seamanship. For hundreds of years the Scillies were feared as the haunt of wreckers, pirates, cut-throats and buccaneers from Cornwall, France and Spain, who lay in wait for defenceless merchant shipping which navigated close to the islands as their first landfall. Although attempts were made to control this piracy with the installation of governors and administrators, many of these officers themselves became embroiled in the lawlessness which prevailed. By the 1700s much of this felony had been eradicated although wrecking and smuggling still persisted into the 1800s, and even today the occasional yacht and crew is impounded for carrying illicit drugs.

Since the late 1960s the Scillies have become synonymous with the recovery of treasure and artefacts from the now famous wrecks of the Association, Hollandia, Colossus and many others which established the names of adventurous salvors like Roland Morris, Jim Heslin and Rex Cowan. However, this is not the exclusive realm of the wreck enthusiast - the location of these islands in the open Atlantic, bathed by the Gulf Stream and coupled with their dramatic underwater scenary, attracts a massive selection of marine life both temperate and tropical.

Being remote from the mainland, planning a diving trip to the Scilly Isles from the UK, is a little like planning a trip to the continent. Initially you need to decide whether your holiday will be island or liveaboard based, and subsequently travel to your port of departure. While there are several liveaboard boats operating regularly in the islands, most visiting divers still opt to be based on dry land. This further narrows your choice to one of three diving centres or the more adventurous, and perhaps uncertain, choice of diving independently from your own RIB.

One of the great attractions of being island- based is that you can truly combine diving with a family holiday. St. Marys, as the largest island, has the best facilities for non-diving partners and children, and diving with one of the island centres will normally return the diving spouse by lunchtime or early afternoon, after two exciting dives. This leaves the remainder of the day for exploring the glorious beaches, island-hopping, indulging in a range of land and watersports activities or simply relaxing and absorbing the islands tranquility.

 
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