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The Garrison Walls

Garrison Walls Isles of Scilly

The Garrison Walls on the Isles of Scilly

Perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the azure ocean lie the Garrison Walls on St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly. Dating from 1593, this perfectly preserved Elizabethan fortress forms part of a huge circular garrison walls complex encircling the main settlement here.

Whether you’re visiting Scilly already or planning a trip, don’t miss the chance to explore these impressive historic ramparts and soak up incredible viewpoints. Here’s everything you need to visit this lesser-known island gem.

garrison walls

Getting There

To visit the Garrison Walls and Star Castle on St Mary’s island, you’ll first need to get yourself across to the Isles of Scilly!

The quickest option is grabbing a flight or passenger ferry over from mainland Cornwall at Penzance. Scheduled boats and small planes make the journey frequently from late March through October.

Once you arrive on St Mary’s, the Garrison Walls can’t be missed! They wrap around Hugh Town’s harbour – the island’s capital and only real village.

The Star Castle entrance sits atop the hill at the end of The Garrison lane, aptly opposite the Atlantic Inn.

Opening Times & Tickets

The Garrison Walls are open to explore year-round during daylight hours. You can freely roam the perimeter path at no cost and enjoy views down to the harbour.

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History of St Mary’s Garrison Walls

For over 350 years, these imposing ramparts have guarded the archipelago, bearing witness to dramatic battles, technological advancements, and the quiet hum of island life.

The story begins in the 16th century, a time of heightened vulnerability for England. The Spanish Armada loomed on the horizon, and the Isles of Scilly, strategically positioned at the mouth of the English Channel, became a prime target. In 1593, construction began on Star Castle, a formidable star-shaped fort perched atop The Hugh, a headland overlooking Hugh Town. 

view of garrison walls st marys

Star Castle wasn’t the only line of defense. Across the harbour, Harry’s Walls rose from the granite, an ambitious artillery fort designed to protect the harbour entrance. However, funding dwindled, and the project remained unfinished, its imposing bastions standing as a solitary testament to unfulfilled ambition.

The 17th and 18th centuries saw further expansions, driven by the ever-present threat of French invasion. The Garrison Walls, as they became known, snaked around The Hugh, punctuated by formidable gun batteries and fortified bastions. These walls, a patchwork of Tudor granite and 18th-century craftsmanship, reflected the evolving art of warfare, adapting to accommodate increasingly powerful cannons.

But warfare wasn’t the only drama unfolding amidst the ramparts. Life within the Garrison bustled with soldiers, labourers, and their families. Barracks echoed with the clang of armour and the shouts of drill sergeants, while bakeries and stores catered to the needs of the garrison. The Sallyport, a hidden passage in the walls, offered a clandestine escape route in times of siege, adding a touch of intrigue to the daily routine.

map of the garrison walls

As time marched on, the threats shifted. The 19th century saw the rise of steam-powered warships, prompting the construction of heavier batteries atop the hill. These behemoths, like the impressive Woolpack Battery, could unleash a devastating barrage of shells, ensuring the Isles of Scilly remained impregnable.

World War II brought a new wave of anxieties. German U-boats prowled the waters, and the Garrison Walls were once again pressed into service, bristling with anti-aircraft guns and radar installations. Thankfully, the islands remained unscathed, and the walls, once instruments of war, became silent guardians of a peaceful past.

Today, the Garrison Walls stand as a captivating open-air museum, where visitors can wander through history, exploring the remains of batteries, barracks, and the imposing Powder House. Information panels whisper tales of battles won and lost, while the salty breeze carries the echoes of soldiers’ laughter and the clang of blacksmith’s hammers.

old blockhouse at garrison walls

Star Castle Hotel

Nestled amidst the historical echoes of the Garrison Walls stands the Star Castle Hotel. More than just a luxurious accommodation, it’s a captivating blend of 16th-century charm and modern comfort, offering a unique island escape steeped in rich history.

Step inside the original castle building, and you’re transported back in time. Stone walls whisper tales of battles fought and won, while oak beams creak with the weight of centuries. Antique furnishings and portraits of past residents lend an air of timeless elegance, inviting you to imagine yourself a lord or lady of the manor.

Yet, the Star Castle isn’t trapped in the past. Beyond the castle walls lie charming country cottage-style rooms nestled amidst four acres of idyllic gardens. These bright and airy spaces offer respite from the island winds, each boasting private gardens or verandas where you can soak in the sun and breathtaking sea views.

Whether you crave gourmet dining or casual pub fare, the Star Castle caters to every palate. Two award-winning restaurants – the elegant Castle Dining Room and the light and airy Conservatory – offer delectable menus featuring the freshest local seafood and island produce. In the cozy Admiral’s Bar, unwind with a pint of Cornish ale and swap stories with fellow travelers under the warmth of a crackling fire.

star castle hotel

Frequently Asked Questons

Are dogs allowed? – Yes, dogs are welcome to walk around the Garrison Walls

Is it wheelchair friendly? – The paths are fine for wheelchairs or buggies, but some of the areas are grass and quite steep

How long do I need for a visit? – It depends on how long you want to spend watching the view, but about an hour is enough for most people get the most of the experience.

gate to garrison

Other places to visit nearby

When you have seen the Garrison Walls, you should consider viting some of these places too:

  • Tresco Abbey Gardens – Take a short boat trip to car-free Tresco to explore the breathtaking sub-tropical Abbey Gardens, home to exotic plants from 80 countries that rarely flower outdoors in the UK climate.
  • Isles of Scilly Museum – Found in St Mary’s Hugh Town, this museum explores the history, culture and environment of the islands through local artefacts like pilot gig boats, artworks, archaeological finds plus geology and wildlife displays.
  • King Charles’ Castle – Accessible from the Garrison at low tide, explore this picturesque ancient ruined fort with panoramic views over to neighbouring islands from the northern tip of Tresco.
  • Porthcressa Beach – One of Scilly’s most popular white sand beaches conveniently located near Hugh Town, with tropical-like azure waters perfect for swimming and watersports.
  • Star Castle Hotel – This atmospheric Elizabethan stone fort turned hotel is connected to the Garrison walls. It offers history and paranormal tours plus great views over the islands while dining.
  • St Mary’s Boatmen Trips – Take relaxing wildlife spotting or inter-island hopping boat trips to uninhabited islands like Teän or the Western Rocks to observe seabirds and marine mammals in the surrounding waters.
  • Hugh Town – The capital ‘town’ is a picturesque cluster of traditional cottages and houses in old Scilly style, with local shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants plus the harbour front and beach nearby.
  • St Martin’s Vineyard – Take a boat trip to the northernmost inhabited island St Martin’s, to tour and taste award-winning white wines – the first and only vineyard planted in the Isles of Scilly.

Whether you want to soak up epic scenery, delve into military history or simply let imaginations run wild, the Garrison Walls and Star Castle on Scilly deliver intrigue and adventure. Just don’t lose your head on the castle ramparts!

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