The exposed fringes of the Isles of Scilly include the Norrad Rocks, Samson, Tean, St. Helen’s and the Eastern Isles, Nornour. The Western Rocks – “the Dogs of Scilly” according to sailors in the past – which have often claimed many ships and lives over the years.
Further west in the Atlantic ocean lies the Bishop Rock, marked by a lighthouse – visible from the eastern-most Islands on a clear day – which was completed in 1881. This was the third structure built here – the first, in 1847 was washed away before it began operating; the second, started in 1858, did not prove tall nor strong enough and was sheathed in the stone coating of the current lighthouse, which is now fully automated. You can take a boat trip, weather permitting, to see Bishop Rock close up.
The untamed wilderness of granite outcrops between the bird sanctuary of Annet and the Bishop Rock lighthouse is home to sea bird and Atlantic grey seal colonies, and puffins arrive to nest on the Islands in Spring.
Samson, north west of St Mary’s was once home to many families, and until the 1850s up to 50 people lived there. But hard living, poor shelter, lack of water, and – eventually – enforced removal by the Island’s proprietor, Augustus Smith, ended habitation there.
North east of Tresco is Tean, where cattle once grazed and which – it is said – was once a summer home for St Martin’s families. Nearby is St Helen’s, which boasts Scilly’s oldest Christian building, and is allegedly the burial place of St. Elidius, a British Bishop, son of an English king and subject of an annual pilgrimage to celebrate St. Elidius’ Day.
The small and uninhabited Eastern Isles are these days home mainly to basking seals. On Nornour there is a settlement of Iron Age courtyard houses, where a violent storm and subsequent excavations uncovered an amazing hoarde of Roman brooches, pins, glass beads, jewelry and coins. Examples of which can be seen in the Isles of Scilly Museum in Hugh Town on St Mary’s.