National Geographic : 1938 Dec
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE natural charm of the rock-strewn, pool edged islands. Who could not find interest in a place which has a Holy Vale, Hell Bay, Jolly Rock, Maiden Bower, Appletree Banks, and an Irishman's Ledge, as well as a Lion Rock, Mare, Crow Rock, Beef Neck, Horse Point, and a Dolphin Town? KING ARTHUR AND LOST LYONNESSE Climb to the top of one of St. Mary's hills and you can see the entire compass of Scilly, with the larger islands grouped around a little inland sea of purest blue. Outward from these extend clusters of jagged rocks, girded white with the spume of Atlantic breakers. The granite crags and islands are the summits of the same bold ridge that forms the backbone of Cornwall. Were they once joined to the mainland? Legend's answer is affirmative. Tradition of a lost land link, called Lyonnesse, hangs over the sea like a mist. Where restless waters now roll, we are told, once stood prosperous towns and no less than 140 churches. Like the Israelites of old, who walked dry-shod across the sea bed and saw the waters swallow up Pharaoh's hosts, the followers of King Arthur, of Round Table fame, were supposed to have hurried across the land span of lost Lyonnesse, pursued by the traitor Mordred and his men. Having left the body of Arthur where he fell, they rode onward toward the setting sun. Then, as the day dawned, they reached the spot which now is St. Martin's Head, and, looking back, saw an unac countable inrush of the sea, burying the land and sweeping away the pursuers! Tennyson has embodied the tale in his Idylls of the King. Was there a land of Lyonnesse? Or is it only vivid Celtic imagination that has seen tops of houses through the clear water? GEOLOGISTS SHATTER LAND-LINK LEGEND Geologists refuse to be convinced that such a land existed as late as the eleventh century, or that there was such a sudden inundation, even though the western coast of England has seen considerable sub mergence. In confirmation, however, is an old Saxon chronicle, dated 1099, which bears this entry: "This year on Martinmas Day, November 11, sprung up so much sea flood and so mickle harm did as no man has minded ever afore." Then, too, what about those sunken for ests, where hazelnuts still hang on the sand and-peat-mired branches? Lost Lyonnesse is a delightful story to contemplate. But Scilly has a more tangible heritage from the misty past. Beneath patches of gorse and bracken and on her open downs are many prehistoric cairns and stone sepul chers (Color Plate III). In fact, in these small islands there are more than three times as many ancient burial mounds as can be found in all Cornwall. It is probable that these are the historic Isles of the Blest, where the Romans said the Britons took their dead for burial. From stone hammers, flint arrowheads, crude pottery, mortars and pestles, and saddle querns used for grinding corn, archeologists are piecing together the story of the people who dwelt in Scilly some 4,000 years ago. Breaking cliffs from time to time reveal circular beehive homes in which these pre historic villagers lived. From the early days when the Romans made St. Mary's a penal colony and the seafaring Danes used the islands as head quarters for their raids on the Bristol Chan nel, to the immediate yesterday when the British built an aircraft station on Tresco and used the archipelago as a base for patrol boats working against German sub marine raids, the Scilly Isles have had an interesting history. Around them cling memories of Bene dictine monks, of fleeing princes during civil wars, of pirates, smugglers, and just plain "hard times" under greedy island stewards. DAFFODILS NOW SCILLY'S GOLD Steamships, replacing sailing craft, put Scilly on the ocean byways and ruined her shipbuilding trade, leaving the people to eke out a precarious existence by burning kelp and salvaging wrecks until they found silver and gold in the white narcissi and smiling daffodils. Today practically all of the cultivated area on the five main islands is devoted to the growing of flowers. During the main season, from December to June, every thing is sacrificed to their care. During these months fields nod with bursting blooms of narcissi, arum lilies, wallflow ers, and other plants. In daffodil time Scilly is a fairyland (Color Plates IV, V, VII, and VIII).