Walk Distance: 6.5km (slightly less if you are returning to a different ferry point on Bryher. Closer to 7km if you walk along the whole of Bryher ‘s south coast rather than up and across Samson Hill).
Walk Duration: 3hrs 30 (with a walking 3 y/o and baby in carrier, including stopping time). Allow a good four hours or so if walking with little ones to avoid a rush at the end.
Ordnance Survey: OS Landranger 203 Land’s End & Isles of Scilly, OS Explorer 101 Isles of Scilly
Suitable for: Babies in carriers, older children. Good little walkers will make it round Bryher but please be aware the going is rough and exposed at times with some steep cliff edges in places. The final descent from Samson Hill at the end of the Bryher loop was quite overgrown with high bracken when we visited, making it unsuitable for very little walkers – instead consider using the southern coastal path, perhaps including Samson Hill as a diversion.
Walk Features: Fantastic scenery that changes on each side of Bryher, plenty of great views, seabirds, sandy beaches, Bronze Age history, refreshments including Jamie Oliver favourite Fraggle Rock and stalls along the way such as Veronica’s Farm Fudge, village shop, toilets (by Church Quay), setting of book and film of children’s classic ‘Why the Whales Came’ by Michael Morpurgo.
“Bryher is my favourite Scilly island for a walk. It looks tiny on a map but Bryher ‘s indented coastline offers a huge variety of scenery to those looking for a great walk. The lack of traffic also contributes to the peace and wildness and you soon lose your fellow day-trippers. This walkiant of a round the island loop. Please don’t be put off if you have young walkers who wouldn’t manage the whole route. There are plenty of options to create your own shorter walk. I would suggest a southern island loopnof Bryher for those wanting a good walk with little walkers, starting along the road to Hell Bay Hotel and then following the coast around the south of Bryher. This route also passes lovely sandy Rushy Bay. If you want a quick view with plenty of time left for mooching then try the climb up Watch Hill (the highest point on Bryher) from Fraggle Rock, continuing on to the town to finish, or climb up to Samson Hill – scene of Birdman’s cottage from ‘Why the Whales Came’. The north offers rugged beauty, seabirds and lots of scrambling for more confident walkers. Make sure you have good footwear and watch out for cliff edges.Finally, leave plenty of time to walk back to the ferry. We lingered a bit long in places and had to finish our walk at a bit of a gallop!”
Assuming you are visiting Bryher for the day (though a stay there would be well worth it), this walk can be picked up from whichever of the two ferry points you land at – either Bar or Church Quay. Remember to check with the boatman which quay the return trip from Bryher will leave from as it depends on the tides. For the purpose of this walk description, the route starts from Bar. To get to Bar from Church Quay you just follow the main road through town to the north – the details are at the very end of the description below.
Northern Bryher – Fraggle Rock to Badplace Hill
From the landing point at Bar walk on up the quayside. Turn right along the track through the boat yard and walk past a few cottages. This road leads you down to Fraggle Rock Bar and Cafe whose name is well known beyond the Isles of Scilly thanks to Jamie Oliver’s endorsement of it as one of his ‘Best British Boozers’. Turn left up past Fraggle Rock, passing the old tyre swing hanging from the tree.
The track turns rough before a much smaller path turns right of it. Take this smaller track (for info, following straight on instead will take you up to Bryher campsite and if you take the smaller path off to the left of it a short way on, you will climb up to Watch Hill). Continue to walk north. There are a number of rough little paths leading up over the moorland here. It doesn’t matter too much which one you pick so long as you follow the direction of the coastline. We stuck to the largest of them, following along the cliffs. You get some lovely, calm views over to Tresco from Bryher here, with Cromwell’s Castle clearly visible opposite. There are good views to of eerily named Hangman Island in the central channel – its name rumoured to be taken from its supposed use as a place of execution during the Civil War.
Walk up onto the saddle of the hill. From here Badplace Hill and the island of Shipman Head (appearing as though still attached to Bryher) at the very far north of Bryher suddenly come into clear view. For those wanting a sense of wild Bryher, some rock scrambling and bird watching then the walk down onto Badplace Hill is worth a quick diversion in good weather and calm seas. Roo loved attempting some low level scrambling on the huge chunks of granite here and had a brilliant time popping in and out of her very own little stone ‘house’. I’m afraid I was a big kid and scaled the rocks up above for some fantastic views.
Hell Bay to Gweal Hill – West Bryher
Retrace your steps back up onto the saddle of the main hill, heading to the right (west) this time. Walk along the narrow coastal path as it winds up and over some rocks and along the edge of a very wild section of coastline with the apt name of Hell Bay. The waves crash hard into the rocks below here even on good days – a complete contrast to the relative peace and tranquility of the channel across to Tresco you enjoyed just a short time ago. Take care on this section with children – it is a bit narrow and steep in places with some precarious drops below.
The coastal path follows on along the west of Shipman Head Down. Eventually it drops down to Popplestone Neck Bay – a lovely little horseshoe of relative calm after the rocky outcrops and cliffs you have just walked past. Walk around the edge of the bay taking time to cool off tiny toes as required or add to the stone towers that balance along the bay’s edge during the summer. As you complete the horseshoe you have two options – you can cut across past the inland Great Pool (yes, its name kind of gives it away – it was created by peat digging here in the past). Alternatively you can carry on out west for a bit of a easy scrambling and seclusion for a walk around the outcrop of Gweal Hill. The path takes you up over prehistoric cairns and there are some lovely views out to the Norrad Rocks here – the little rocky islands that dot the waters west of Bryher and home to all manner of seabirds.
Walk back round Gweal Hill towards the Great Pool. Here you will find another lovely little sandy beach. Continue on, joining the track that runs past chic escape Hell Bay Hotel.
If you have had enough at this point then you can turn left on the road up past the hotel. Take the first left onto New Road and this will take you directly back into town and to the ferry landing points on the east side of Bryher. This is also where you will join the route if you are just walking the southern half of Bryher.
Southern Bryher – Samson Hill & Rushy Bay
For those completing the full route, walk straight on past the edge of Hell Bay Hotel instead, ignoring the left hand turn. The path skirts past some houses and leads along the edge of Great Porth beach. Walk straight on on the main dirt track heading to Bryher ‘s south. The track leads past hedged off fields on the left hand side, the hallmark of Scillonian farming. On the right are more sea views across a much flatter landscape than the northern half of Bryher.
A short way on from the last of the main hedged fields, a smaller path turns left off the main track and heads up the stony slope of Samson Hill. You have three choices here: you can continue straight on, walking alonbg the main coastal path. This will eventually bring you back to the east side of Bryher and Samson Hill and rejoin this route there; you can climb Samson Hill and descend on its east side (the descent was pretty overgrown with bracken when we visited and whilst passable was a bit too challenging for our 3 year old who had to go on shoulders); do both – climb Samson Hill and then retrace you steps before following the coastal path back to the east of the island. Finally, a possible alternative descent heads north off the top of Samson Hill before bearing east below and seeming to rejoin the main route into Bryher town – we didn’t walk that path though so I cannot comment on its suitability for children.
If you are walking on Bryher with very young children and especially if you want to visit the lovely sandy and swim-safe Rushy Bay then perhaps the first or last option will suit you better. Allow a little extra time – the coastal route is about 0.5km longer than cutting across Samson Hill. If you want to climb to glorious views over Bryher and visit the site of Birdman’s cottage in the film of ‘Why the Whales Came’ then the quick clamber up to the cairns of Samson Hill is well worth the effort and is the route followed here.
Following the main track up Samson Hill takes you walk up past the cairn to two fantastic viewpoints overlooking the south of Bryher. Walk on directly east and you will join a path that weaves downhill through the bracken before emerging onto the coastal path at the bottom of the hill.
Eastern Bryher and the ‘Town’
Turn left onto the coastal path and walk along the track back towards Bryher town. After the exposed heights of Samson Hill it feels a lot more sheltered and domestic on the east side of Bryher and the path winds past several idyllic looking houses and holiday accommodation.
A little way on there is access down onto the beach of Green Bay on the right hand side – another tempting Bryher stop-off. Continue on the paved track. If you are heading back down to the ferry point at Church Quay on Bryher walk on following as it bends round to the right. This will provide the most direct route. Alternatively you can continue straight before taking the right hand path that leads off the road a short way on. This joins back to the main road to the east of Timmy’s Hill. Continue on this route and you will come to a crossroads. Turn right for a second route back to Church Quay or to walk down to visit little All Saints Church (home of the lovely stained glass windows created by Scillonian artist Oriel Hicks on St. Mary’s. Left would take you back towards Hell Bay Hotel. For the ferry point at Bar or to visit Bryher town with its village shop and other amenities, walk straight on. This road will lead you back out and down to the ferry point and this walk ‘s starting point at Bar.
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