Sea kayaking, island hopping and stargazing

3 minute read

Last summer Clare took on our Scilly Kayak Challenge - an unforgettable fundraising excursion sea-kayaking around the Isles of Scilly. Below she shares with us a look behind the scenes of her once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

When I reflect on 2021, amid the exhaustion of lockdowns, home schooling and mask wearing, I’ll be forever grateful to have experienced an amazing week on the Isles of Scilly.

I’m not sure what first attracted me to the Marine Conservation Society’s Sea Kayak Challenge. Perhaps it was a need to travel as far from the UK as possible, without actually leaving (COVID restrictions being as they were). Perhaps it was a yearning for adventure, something I seldom had the chance to experience with a two- and six-year-old at home. Or perhaps it was a desire to raise some money for a fantastic charity that I had long had a deep love and respect for.

It was probably a mixture of all these and so last September, I joined a group of six other budding adventurers for a five-day camping and kayaking trip on St Martin’s - the northernmost populated island of the Isles of Scilly.

For those not so familiar with the Isles of Scilly, they’re a collection of tiny islands in the southwestern most tip of the UK. Their location means that they enjoy some of the best of the British weather. They’re also famous for their golden sandy beaches (far too many to count) and some incredible sea life.

I think I first realised this trip was going to be special about an hour into my Scillonian ferry crossing. A pod of five common dolphins repeatedly leapt out of the sea to ride the bow waves, just below where I was standing.


Credit: Clare Trotman

St Martin’s is a treat to anyone who wants to get away from the hustle-and-bustle of life. There are no cars on the island, and with only one bakery, a few independent shops and a couple of pubs, food (such as eggs, fruit and veg) is freshly picked by islanders and available to purchase from little stands by the side of the island’s paths.

Take the path to the island’s summit and you’ll be rewarded with the most breath-taking 360-degree views of St Martin’s neighbouring islands. Climb it at sunset for a real treat: a sky full of pink, orange and purple.

My fellow adventurers and I quickly bonded over aching body parts, questionable camping food and the merits of drinking wine from a camping mug (you can fit a lot more in!). Some of us had kayaked before, but most hadn’t. But, that didn’t stop any of us from quickly mastering the basic techniques - thanks to our amazing instructors, Nick, Par and Mark. We were soon travelling an impressive 8-15km each day.

On the third day of our trip, we were lucky enough to be followed by an inquisitive group of grey seals. They spent time watching us, before dipping into the water and reappearing in a completely different location, adding to our excitement.

It also felt great to give something back to the islands: On each of our kayak trips, we would do a quick sweep of the beach for any litter, which we would then load onto our kayaks and take back to base.

We kayaked between beaches and islands to stop for lunch or to take in the scenery. The water was so shallow and clear at times that, if you held your kayak still, you could peer into an underwater world of sea grass and kelp forests.


Credit: Clare Trotman

When someone asks me about my time spent in the Scillies, funnily enough, my mind does not instantly go to the sea or to the time spent in my kayak, but to the sky. Having to get up at 3am to walk to the toilet block did have its advantages! I saw a sky FULL of stars. Without light pollution, the huge cloud of the Milky Way hung above me in the darkness, along with thousands of stars. Each night I would spend a little time outside my tent and wait for the odd star that would shoot across the sky. I’d never seen anything like it, and I know I might never again.

I really hope that one day I can make it back to the Isles of Scilly, perhaps with the kids when they’re a bit older. I would love to show them what I’ve been lucky enough to experience. But until then, a big thank you to the Marine Conservation Society for making this experience of a lifetime possible.

If you're interested in signing up for this year's Scilly Kayak Challenge, click the link below.