St. Mary’s is the largest of the islands at 2½ miles by 1¾ miles and is home to most of the people of the Isles of Scilly. Here is the town hall, hospital, banks and most of the shops, restaurants and hotels. Hugh Town is the capital and main population centre of the islands. It is situated on the sandbar which separates the Garrison from the rest of the island. The eight pointed Star Castle and Garrison was built in 1593, by order of Elizabeth I. The Garrison itself has a sequence of defences dating from Tudor times to the Second World War. Other fortifications include Harry’s Walls.
The Scillonian, the regular ship to Penzance operates from the quay, as do the inter-island launches to the off-islands. Although most of the accommodation is in Hugh Town, smaller guest houses and self-catering accommodation is found elsewhere on St. Mary’s.
A circular bus service operates during the season on the nine miles of road. During the summer, there are also various coach, minibus and vintage car tours. Bicycles may be hired and taxis are available throughout the year.
St. Mary’s has an Anglican, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches, five public houses, hotels, a disco, cafés and restaurants. Walks around the coast and across the island are delightful with contrasting scenery from woodlands, heaths and marshland to sand dunes with marram grasses and agapanthus flowers. The Carreg Dhu Community Garden in the centre of St Mary’s is worth visiting.
Ancient monuments on the island range from prehistoric sites such as Bant’s Carn and Halangy Down Bronze Age village to Civil War fortifications. The small museum in Hugh Town has many interesting artefacts and the Heritage Centre in the middle of the island displays much of Scilly’s rich history.
In the evenings there are often concerts and plays from both resident and touring companies. Gig racing take places between the islands on Wednesday and Friday evenings. This is exciting and colourful and definitely worth watching. Sports facilities include squash, golf, cycling, tennis, horse-riding, windsurfing, sailing, scuba-diving, fishing, snooker and shooting.
There are many artists and crafts people on St. Mary’s. Studios around the island produce everything from high quality pottery and stained glass to paintings. Above all, St Mary’s is an ideal centre from which to visit the other islands of Scilly.