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Being Scilly: Recreating the islands in cities and suburbs

By Johnny O'Shea
BBC News

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  • Coronavirus pandemic
image copyrightColin Peyton
image captionIt took Colin Peyton a week to create the Birdman's house in Surrey

Some regular visitors to the Isles of Scilly have created their own reminders of the islands in their homes, to help them feel closer to holidays they have not been able to enjoy this year.

The islands, 28 miles off Cornwall, would normally attract 70,000 visitors annually.

Although tourists have been welcomed since 4 July, many have chosen not to make the trip because of Covid-19 and lockdown measures.

But some people have used the time to mark their fondness for the "magical" islands in their own way.

A literary cottage - and seagull noises

image copyrightColin Peyton
image captionModel seagulls form part of Colin Peyton's creation

Colin Peyton is a retired primary school teacher from Warlingham in Surrey, who used to read author Michael Morpurgo's Scilly-based book Why the Whales Came to his Year 6 pupils.

The story features a mysterious man called the Birdman who lives alone in a ramshackle cottage on the island of Bryher, and is also set on Samson.

Mr Peyton has recreated an interpretation of the cottage at the bottom of his garden.

image copyrightColin Peyton
image captionMr Peyton plays the sound of seagulls and the sea to complete the effect

"I became fascinated by the whole place," he said. "Eventually my wife and I managed to go and it was one of those magical places.

"I've only ever cried twice when I've visited somewhere but I sat on Samson beach and suddenly the whole story started to all come back to me and it was wonderful, so that's what I've tried to create.

"The neighbours think I'm slightly bonkers because when I'm down there I play the sounds of the seagulls and the sea - I sit down there on a deckchair, with a beer, quite happy."

Clay holidaymakers in Scilly scenes

image copyrightFiona Martin
image captionAs part of their festival, the Martin family put models of themselves in front of pictures from the islands

Fiona Martin, from Walthamstow in East London, would have gone camping on St Agnes in May, with her husband and 12-year-old daughter. But they were unable to go this year because of Covid-19 travel restrictions.

In place of the holiday they held a festival in their home, arranging a number of activities inspired by previous trips.

These included baking biscuits in the shape of the islands, making jewellery and placing clay models of themselves in front of A2 size photos.

image copyrightFiona Martin
image captionThey made biscuits in the shape of the islands, and jewellery using sand and shells from previous trips

In the evenings they held zoom calls with the other families who would have been camping with them, with the owner of the campsite sending his own video message.

She said: "It's about as far away from our normal day to day life as you can get. The children can wander off and roam quite safely, the scenery is amazing. Even on the grey days it is fascinating."

Model boat therapy

image copyrightSimon Walsh
image captionSimon Walsh builds scale models of well-known Scilly ferries and tripper boats

Simon Walsh, 49, has a long family connection to the islands, with his grandparents first visiting in 1952.

He is a director of an architectural practice in Glasgow and used any spare time during lockdown to build scale models of well-known Scilly boats, an activity he described as "very therapeutic".

image copyrightSimon Walsh
image captionMr Walsh has made six models in total, four of which have been constructed during the summer

Mr Walsh researched the original plans for the ferries and tripper boats from the National Historic Ship Register, and has been constructing them in plywood and balsa.

Having first had the idea 30 years ago to create replica Scillonian boats, lockdown has finally allowed him the necessary time.

He said: "In the absence of being able to visit lately the boats are a wonderful reminder of Scilly in my new 'home office' and hopefully I've done my bit to record some Scillonian heritage along the way."

A pond with a Scillonian flag

image copyrightTom Firmin
image captionTom Firmin has dedicated a corner of his garden to the islands he has been visiting his whole life

Tom Firmin, 44, has been going to the islands since he was a child and has visited more than 40 times.

Working as a finance director for Pizza Express he said his work has been "absolutely nuts" but "visualising being back on Scilly is one of my relaxation techniques."

Early in the summer Mr Firmin, from Harpenden in Hertfordshire, thought a trip to the islands was unlikely so set himself a project to "put in a pond and dedicated part of my garden, so it could give me my little bit of peace and calm and my Scilly satisfaction".

Alongside the pond is a Scillonian flag, some fishing net and fish, crabs and an agapanthus, a purple-headed plant synonymous with the islands.

"It's been really calming sitting outside by the pond dreaming of being back there, as I do quite often," he said.

But what does Mr Firmin love so much about Scilly? "The peace and calm, the fresh air, the people, the sea, the local beer, the pubs - I just absolutely love it, as indeed the family do as well."

A garden reminder of 'paradise'

image copyrightLouise Francis
image captionLouise Francis has designed a front garden inspired by the Isles of Scilly

Louise Francis' love of Scilly ran so deep she got married there, and has named her daughter after the island of Bryher.

Unable to visit this year, after being furloughed from her job at Paignton Zoo, she "decided creating a Scilly-inspired front garden might keep me out of mischief for a while".

"We're starting from scratch with the garden," said Ms Francis, from Plympton in Devon. "It's all been cleared and covered with a weed-proof membrane. We're just awaiting a builder to secure the front retaining wall and then we can get the plants and gravel in.

"Every time I look out of our window I will see the garden and be reminded of a little piece of paradise."

Driftwood in a Midlands shed

image copyrightLouise Hutton
image captionLouise Hutton calls her Scilly-themed shed "my little escape"

Louise Hutton, 53, lives 92 miles from the sea and was so "struck" by a visit to the Isles of Scilly that it inspired the conversion of her shed in Kenilworth, Warwickshire.

Outside there is a palm tree and white pebbles, while the inside has driftwood and white stained boards.

For Mrs Hutton it was "the colours in the sea" that she most loved, and she said a visit to the islands was "like going back in time - so chilled out".

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