Sea kayaking and camping in the Isles of Scilly

Ok, there may seem something a bit off the wall about a sea kayaker running a business on the Isle of Bute in Scotland writing about sea kayaking in the Isles of Scilly’s but these islands call be back time and time again. Maybe it’s just that they tend to be a little more sunny and drier than my beloved west coast of Scotland, maybe it’s the contrast they provide to paddling in another favourite place, Shetland, maybe it’s just they are what they are, fantastic! Anyway if the mood takes you to journey to the most south western islands of the British Isles here area few tips based on half a dozen visits to the Scilly’s, which really do feel like a ‘distant land’.


All the main islands have commercial camp sites and they all have their unique appeal and different natures and for the record as one who loves to ‘wild camp’ I do think they are right on the Isles of Scilly not to allow wild camping. The islands just too small, the density of usage too great for unregulated camping not to put intolerable pressure on the ecosystems.

The site on St Mary’s’ has the advantage that it is on the island where the main ferry port is, but it is a bit of walk up the hill to it from the beach and dingy park at Porthloo which is pretty much the nearest area that kayaks can be left at. The main beach in the harbour covers at high tide. St Agnes has a great camp site but if the swell is up, the tide running and the wind a blowing it can be a bit of a challenge to reach it. The Bryher site is just great  as is the one on St Martins and it is St Martins that is my favourite being on a little bit ‘quieter’ but I’m sure you will find your own a personal favourite! And there are no Scottish midges to bother you.

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It is perfectly feasible in a week to visit all the camp sites on all islands, as I have done. If you do this do your tidal planning carefully as some of the walks up the beach a low tides can be nothing short of major expeditions in themselves! It is for this reason that I base myself at my favourite site on

St Martins


You can then paddle to the other islands with a relatively lightly packed boat on a day trip basis. This means that you can put camping kit into one or two big hold alls and have it delivered to the camp site of your choice, you just label it for its destination put it in the appropriate container at Penzance before boarding the ferry. Your kayak and day paddle kit go as deck cargo then on inter island ferry and you don’t see your heavy bags again until the camp site owner greets you when you arrive. If you want to give a little simple protection to your kayaks when they’re being handled by the ferry crew here’s my simple solution — but it’s also appropriate to state I have never had a problem with them being treated roughly.


A trolly is useful for getting kayaks from the ferry to the launch point on the beach adjacent to the main per in St Mary’s where the ferry docks but it is also a ‘do-able’ carry for two.

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The whole process works in reverse for departure, you just organise it with the camp site owners and book your through tickets for your baggage accordingly. If it looks like poor weather for the day of departure then [addle over the day before and stash your kayaks at Porthloo and use the frequent inter island ferries, and they do operate in gail force winds!

If you do chose St Martins as your base I would recommend landing and storing your kayaks at approximately OS Grid ref 914 152, a couple of hundred meters south go the hotel, which has a kayak friendly bar. Leave your kayaks at the top of the beach with the bows up in the grass and walking round to the camp site by road (very little in the way of cars) or via the coastal path. Having your boats here means easy access to the water at all states of the tide.



It’s a leisurely hours paddle back to St Mary’s or a quick nip through Tean Sound (quite strong tidal flows)  to the drama of the North and west side of the islands from this launch spot.


If you feel like a big day out and the conditions are within your comfort zone then 40 odd kilometres should see you out to Bishops Rock and back.

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Don’t underestimate how far it feels back to the nearest skerries when you do get out there and watch your transits!



The shop/post office on St Martins is really well stocked, they will deliver to the camp site and there are several market gardens adjacent to the camp site that have fresh veg picked daily, just pop your money in the honesty box! There is also a local baker and several really nice local places to eat on the island. Ben and Caroline, the camp site owners keep a great stock of essentials such as gas, fuel, etc , etc. They are totally friendly and positive about kayakers visiting, have great local knowledge about the seas and will make you very welcome. Enjoy the Isles of Scilly.

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