Walk - Burgh Island

0.8 miles (1.3 km)

Marine Drive Car Park, Bigbury on Sea - TQ7 4AY Marine Drive Car Park, Bigbury on Sea

Easy -

A short walk on Burgh Island. Cross the causeway on foot at low tide (make sure you can get back again!) or take the sea tractor. This very small island has a host of fascinating features, including the art deco hotel made famous by Agatha Christie, a fourteenth century inn, an ancient chapel which once doubled as a huer's hut, and a couple of sandy beaches, ideal for a picnic if the weather is good.

There are a range of wonderful places to lay your head near the Coast Path for a well-earned sleep. From large and luxurious hotels, to small and personable B&B's, as well as self-catering options and campsites. The businesses that support the Path, where you've chosen to visit, are listed here.

Parkdean Resorts Challaborough Bay Holiday Park

Set right in the the bay with unrivalled views of nearby Burgh Island and Bigbury beach, this park is the ideal located close to the Path.

Higher Aunemouth Campsite

A small and basic but pretty camp ground located 3/4 mile from Bantham Beach, close to Thurlestone and Bigbury and about .75 miles from the Coast Path.

Shute Farm

16th Century character farmhouse in quiet position. A short distance from the Coast Path and lovely sandy beaches. 3 comfortable ensuite rooms. Open all year.We are willing to pick up and drop off walkers between Salcombe and Bantham

Merrifield House Devon

Views of Dartmoor, 3 Ensuite Rooms (7 adults). Off Road Parking. CCTV. Dogs Welcome. Near Bantham, Aveton Gifford, Bigbury & Salcombe

Ocean Reach Holiday Homes

Modern holiday homes with 360-degree coastal & countryside views. Situated on the SWCP on Bolberry Down. Pet friendly with enclosed gardens.

Carswell Cottages

8 unique holiday homes dotted around our organic dairy farm, just a short walk from the South West Coast Path. Suitable for couples, families & groups.

The Ivy Barn B&B

The Ivy Barn, 6 ensuite letting Rooms, in quintessential English village, situated between Church and Village Pub, opposite village shop & post office

You'll be spoilt for choice for where to eat and drink along the Path. With lots of local seasonal food on offer, fresh from the farm, field and waters. Try our local ales, ciders, wines and spirits, increasing in variety by the year, as you sit in a cosy pub, fine dining restaurant or chilled café on the beach. The businesses that support the Path, where you've chosen to visit, are listed here.

The Venus Cafe, Bigbury

Take away, with inside seating available

Hope and Anchor

Set in the heart of Hope Cove a stone’s throw from the beach & Path. Individual boutique rooms and al fresco dining.

What is on your list of things to do when you visit the Path? From walking companies, to help you tailor your visit, with itineraries and experts to enhance your visit, to baggage transfer companies and visitor attractions there are lots to people and places to help you decide what you'd like to do. The businesses that support the Path, where you've chosen to visit, are listed here.

Bantham Estate Ltd

Bantham Estate covers 728 acres in the South Devon Natural Landscape. Come and discover our Estate including the Famous Bantham Beach and our vineyard!

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Route Description

Not to be confused with the inland village of Bigbury, Bigbury-On-Sea lies above the largest sandy beach in South Devon. At the start of the 20th century, Bigbury-On-Sea consisted of a few fishermen's cottages with fish cellars. The village grew in popularity with holidaymakers and now has its own Post Office and stores and cafes.

  1. From the Marine Drive car park in Bigbury-On-Sea take the footpath down to the beach, and either walk across to the island or take the sea tractor (there is a charge for this).

The sea tractor is managed by the hotel and carries passengers to and from the island when the tide is too high to walk. The original vehicle was constructed in 1930, but the current model (the third) was built in 1969. It was designed by Robert Jackson, a pioneer of the nuclear power programme in the 1950s, who charged a case of champagne for his services. Costing £9,000 to build, this sea tractor uses a Fordson tractor engine and hydraulic motors. It crosses the beach with its wheels running underwater on the sand, with its driver and passengers sitting on a platform high above.

The island was originally known as St Michael's Island (Michael the Archangel was the patron saint of high places), but this was later changed to Borough Island, which over time was corrupted to Burgh. A 1765 map shows it as 'Borough or Bur Isle', while in 1908 a postcard referred to it as Burr Island. As late as in 1947 it was still named Borough Island on an Ordnance Survey map.

Just 250 metres from the mainland, it is often called a 'part-time island', because at low tide a sand causeway links it to the mainland. During the Second World War, two pill boxes were built on the island, on either side of the causeway, to protect the island in the event of a German invasion. One of them was converted into living accommodation, and this unusual dwelling was recently auctioned with a guide price of over £50,000.

  1. On reaching the island, take the footpath travelling around the island to the right, beyond the Pilchard Inn. The right-hand fork a short while later leads down to the beach; but for the walk fork left, bearing right a moment later to carry on around the back of the island. 

Although there was a St Michael's Chapel was recorded on the island in 1411, there was a monastery here for some time before that. The remains of the monastery are thought to lie under the present hotel, and the Pilchard Inn may have been originally built as guest lodgings for it.

Following the dissolution of the monastery during Henry VIII's Reformation in the sixteenth century, the island's community turned to pilchard fishing, and the chapel on its summit was in the ideal place for a huer's hut. A lookout would sit here, watching for the arrival of a pilchard shoal in the water below, and when he spotted the silvery movements underwater he would alert the fleet by 'raising a hue and cry'. When the conditions were right the fleet sometimes caught as many as a million fish in a single day.

Another seafarer operating from the island when the monks left was the notorious Elizabethan smuggler, Tom Crocker. He had a tunnel, (now bricked up), which ran from the Pilchard Inn to a cave on the island's western shore, so that he could shift his contraband away from the gaze of the customs men. In they end his luck ran out and they caught up with him, shooting him dead in the porch of the inn.

  1. After exploring the beach and the chapel at the end of the island, take the path continuing around the edge of the island from the beach at Burgh Point. Bear right at the fork to stay above the coast around the point and return to the causeway. From here you can return to the mainland. 

The first hotel on Burgh Island was a prefabricated wooden hut, built in the 1890s by a music hall star named George H Chirgwin, who used it for weekend parties. In 1927 the island's next owner was Archibald Nettlefold, who was a film-maker and the heir to Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds Engineering Company. Nettlefold built the famous 'white liner' hotel in the style of the art deco movement, which was based on mathematical and geometrical shapes and combined features from many different forms and cultures.

It became a very glamorous place to stay, attracting many celebrities. High-profile visitors included Edward and Mrs Simpson, as well as Noel Coward. It has also been used as the setting for films and TV series, including big-screen adaptations of two of Agatha Christie's detective novels ('Then There Were None', and 'Evil Under the Sun'). Churchill and Eisenhower were said to have met here before the D-Day landings, for which the South Devon coast was a major training area.

During the war itself, the hotel was a convalescence centre for wounded RAF servicemen, and enemy bombing damaged the top two floors. After the war it was converted into self-catering apartments, but in the 1990s it was sold again and lovingly restored to its former glory. Today it is a Grade II listed building. Features include a copper cupola to the lift shaft and a palm court with bars radiating across its glass roof and scale-like patterns in its 'peacock dome'. The captain's cabin came from the 1821 warship HMS Ganges, which was broken up in 1930.


Bigbury on Sea.


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