Party in the sea – between the Isles of Scilly | Travel


“After all,” says Diana from Devon, “it’s not every day you get to walk on water.”

In fact, here in Cornwall’s idyllic Isles of Scilly, 28 miles west of Land’s End, it happens twice or occasionally thrice a year. That’s how often spring tides between Tresco and Bryher – two of the five inhabited Scillies – recede sufficiently to expose a sandbank linking the pair. For a brief window of time, we land-dwellers can stand where there’s usually five metres of water; a rare opportunity which feels exciting and special.



Fresh mussels on the beach. Photograph: James Darling

Better yet, a party called the Low Tide Event takes place atop the briefly uncovered spit. The brainchild of some of Tresco’s marketing staff, including manager Tom Matthews, it lasts for as long as the waters allow – usually only about an hour. Festivals don’t come more pop-up than this.

I’m here in late May for the first edition of 2017, and third overall. The next – and last this year – is due very soon, on Sunday 25 June, while 2018 dates will be announced in November, once charts are confirmed. Dates vary, but always fall between March and September (spring tides, their name misleading, can occur in autumn).

Crossing from Tresco to Bryher.



Crossing from Tresco to Bryher.

From Plumb Beach, one of Tresco’s many sugar-coloured beaches, I watch at 11.45am as organisers lug equipment over the retreating channel using a tractor. At midday, the way is clear enough for attendees to strike out from both isles: locals who’ve scored the day off, and tourists like myself and Diana from Devon. We walk like a line of ants through the shallowest reaches, sidestepping scallop shells and sea worm trails. A little water remains in places, and I’m grateful for my flip-flops.

The festival area is only about 100 metres long, and flanked by bright, billowing flags. There’s food at both ends: Tresco-made mackerel or salt-beef sandwiches (£7) or lobster rolls; crab salads and hot paella (from £5) from Bryher’s Island Fish, sold beside the fishing family’s beached green boat. In between beckon Rachel and Katie’s homemade cakes – the flapjacks (£3) most in demand.

Low Tide Event, Scilly



Locals and visitors enjoy May’s Low Tide Event. Photograph: Richard Mellor for the Guardian

I grab some crab and browse the drinks. Now sold at Bryher’s Hell Bay hotel, Beachcomber gin hails from the Southwestern Distillery near Newquay. Here it’s served in tall glasses with lemon and tonic (£6); alternatively, two cheery lads stock prosecco, beer and soft drinks (from £2.50) at the Low Tide Bar. They also have the stereo going, segueing from soul to Celtic folk. This won’t be necessary at the next Low Tide Event, when The Fabulous 59 Ford rock’n’roll band, from Devon, will play live.

By now, about 500 people have arrived and the stands have long queues. Lots of them bring dogs, plaintively eyeing their lobster-eating owners, and even more come with children, who chuck balls, peer into rockpools or build sandcastles. The bravest youngsters are being taught to dig for razor clams by Island Fish’s friendly seamen.

Tresco, Isles of Scilly



Tresco at sunset. Photograph: Rob Lea

It’s all pleasingly twee. Everyone takes photos of everyone and everyone grins – especially Diana, who has befriended me across a picnic table. She’s visiting Tresco for a few days, and is chuffed by her inadvertent good timing. “Isn’t it wonderful?” she repeats, eyes everywhere. Then, less expectedly: “I feel like Moses in the Bible, when the Red Sea parts.”

Suddenly, there are more people going than coming. It’s just before 1pm. The route to Tresco remains mostly dry but, towards my destination of Bryher, it’s filling up fast. I bid Diana farewell, and splash off for shore.



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