Bryher: The Isles of Scilly

The tiny island of Bryher lies just 30 miles south-west of Lands End. Staying at the luxurious Hell Bay Hotel, Michael Edwards meets some of the population of just 90 people.

St Bryher

Warm Gulf Stream winds bring summer to Bryher early. This year the first visitors to the Hell Bay Hotel in late March were buying bottles of sun-protection. With calm azure seas, white sand beaches and a sprinkling of palm trees there’s a Caribbean feel to “The Island of Hills”.

Sun-bathing in the sheltered garden of one of Hell Bay Hotel’s blue clapperboard Low Tide Garden Suites – or sat on the balcony of a High Tide Suite – guests struggle to understand why this genteel coastline gained its name.

“I’ve seen waves 150 feet high,” claimed one of the local inhabitants. Come winter elemental storms race in from the wild Atlantic, thrusting vast rollers into the foaming cauldron of Hell Bay. Wisely, Hell Bay Hotel closes for winter from November through to mid-March.

For an island just over a mile long and just half a mile at its widest there’s plenty to keep visitors enthralled. Hell Bay Hotel has much to occupy its guests. As a relaxing sanctuary from the pressures of contemporary life the spa offers a range of treatments. There’s a newly opened room too, for slow flow yoga. Alongside that there is a gym, jacuzzi, heated outdoor pool and sauna.

Hell Bay Hotel suite

The Atlantic has a hypnotic attraction and it is easy to watch the waves through the picture windows from the comfort of your pastel cream and pink suite. But sooner or later most visitors will pull on their walking boots to explore. Bryher is a haven for seabirds: cormorants, gulls, heron, oystercatchers and many more. Keep your binoculars to hand to spot seals around the craggy south of the island.

For most Hell Bay Hotel guests, trekking south, after around 200 yards, they reach Richard Pearce’s seaside studio. He is a fair-weather artist, painting gentle inviting scenes of the Isles of Scilly beaches. Although Richard is a great traveller in all of his 65 years he has never missed a Bryher summer. If he’s not there you can help yourself to cards and paintings leaving your money in the honesty box. That’s how Bryher works.

Terrace overlooking the bay

Richard has another, larger studio in “The Town” next to the shop where Mark keeps stocks for all the residents’ needs. As you walk on, slightly uphill along a narrow-cracked road, you will probably meet Brendon the postman.

If it’s lunchtime you might want to head for Crab Shack, a pop-up restaurant that serves crabs, lobster and scallops in an assortment of salads and sandwiches during the warmer months of the year.

Walking Isles of Scilly

Continuing your exploration, you’ll pass what is probably a contender for the title of “World’s Smallest Museum.” Currently, the red telephone box hosts a tiny exhibition on the making of the film of Michael Morpurgo’s novel, “Why the whales came”. Three decades ago the island hosted Paul Scofield, Helen Mirren and David Threlfall as they filmed.

To the east you’ll see the quay where your boat first landed on Bryher. A small fleet of boat transports visitors from the larger island of St Mary’s, where the Scillonian ship from Penzance had docked or where the Skybus had landed at the airport.

Many visitors return to that quay to take day trips to the other Isles of Scilly.

Around three o’clock every day, the Pender’s family fishing boats will return as they have for three centuries. By five o’clock the fish and shellfish will be ready for delivery to Hell Bay Hotel’s Restaurant.

Hell Bay Hotel

At the Hotel the menu changes daily as the chef adapts to what nature has provided. And that sums up Hell Bay Hotel. Guests are so close to nature, yet staying in a luxurious hotel.

Fact file

Hell Bay Hotel, Bryher, Isles of Scilly,

TR23 0PR | Tel: 01720 422947

Garden Suites begin from £140 in low season.

Dinner including canapés, coffee and petit fours costs £49 per head.

The Hotel usually opens in late March and closes in late October.

Getting there

Fly with Skybus from Exeter, Lands End or Newquay to St. Mary’s Airport.

Sail on the Scillonian from Penzance Quay to St Mary’s Harbour.


View Richard Pearce’s work at



Last modified: April 7, 2021

Written by 1:47 pm Around The UK