Thursday, 23 June 2011

Impromptu weekend away #1 : Bigbury - Burgh Island - Salcombe

After a bit of a rubbish Friday the Chap came up with the spiffing idea of going away on the Saturday for an unplanned impulsive weekend break. *applause*  :-D
He suggested Cornwall and I came up with Burgh Island by Bigbury-on-Sea - which I in fact thought was in Cornwall a fair way down but turns out to be in South Devon not that far from Plymouth.  I had heard of the place from a time a fair few years back when my parents had visited.  It's a tidal island with a (very) exclusive 30's art deco hotel on it and a pub.  It is 'the pub on the island' - which is a bit of a family tale for me but more of that later.
Burgh is on a truly stunning stretch of coastline and has 2 wide sandy beaches facing it on either side of the low headland that rises to Bigbury-on-Sea - a hamlet of what seems to be almost entirely holiday homes built into the hill opposite.  It was very windy here and the beaches were popular with wind surfers and kite surfers whilst we were there.
We walked over the sand to the island and started realising how exclusive the hotel is.  You can't even get near it through the gates without having prebooked.  We saw several big *landy's crossing the sand presumably ferrying the guests back and forth.  [In past times people like Noel Coward and Mrs Simpson stayed here and the hideously expnsive suites/rooms are named after them.]  A sign said you could wander round the marked paths on the west side of the island but the rest was out of bounds as private property belonging to the hotel.  The island climbs a little to the west and south sides - there's some fab rock formations and plenty of sea birds sheltering in the lee of the rocks.  We were hopeful of seals but no luck.  Although whether we would have spotted them through the watering of our eyes in the fierce wind is another matter!
There's a small ruined building overlooking the south side - presumably a look out post was our best guess.  [According to the Wiki link above it could be the remains of the Chapel - very tiny with too big windows though I'd have said.]  The weather had cleared by then as well as the morning had been distrinctly grey and showery - we were rather lucky!  As you circle round and down you can see the roofs of the hotel over the hill and the coastline opposite the island - a beautiful vista.
There was quite the oldest fuschia bush I've seen as we came down some steps cut into the hillside - I had no idea they got all gnarly like this - looks quite odd to see the flowers sprouting directly from what looks like dead wood!  As we carried on down the hillside we more or less got accosted by a walker coming the opposite way demanding to know if we'd seen the pool?  We must have looked somewhat blank as he then expounded that he meant the seawater pool - in a tone of voice that suggested deep disappointment in us for not knowing instantly what he was referring to.  Anyway it turns out this is a pool for the hotel therefore tucked away on a side you can't see.  We carried on down past the hotel's helipad [!] and tennis court and repaired to the pub - the Pilchard Inn for a pint.  We had the local Pilchard ale - brewed on the mainland though rather than on the island - and sat outside in the sun admiring our surroundings.  It's a fascinating place dating from 1336 with tales of smugglers tunnels and a ghost but is now unfortunately split into the hotel guest's and 'locals' bar and the other smaller bar where the rest of us are allowed.  Fantastic setting though and the beer was nice and the staff friendly and a pint cost no more than it does in my local.  Outside is parked the Sea Tractor - a rather fantastic contraption allowing ingress to and egress from the island when the tide is in.  It had quite the cleanest wheels I've ever seen on anything of this size and looks like great fun.  As the tide was firmly out when we visited though we didn't get to ride it.
We returned to the mainland and thought we'd drive into Bigbury-on-Sea and find somewhere to stay - oh no!!  As previously mentioned the place looks to be pretty much all holiday / second homes with nowhere to go - not even a corresponding local to the one on the island!  Having driven round it twice and come to the conclusion that the only thing to do here was visit the local tiny shop cum post office and we'd done that we returned to the cliff top road overlooking the bays and island [where I took the photo at the top of this post from out the van window - so no complaints that it's a wee bit wonky!] and pootled back along the road.  Quick discussion later and we'd decided our destination would be... Salcombe.  I'm not sure if I'd been there before - if so it was when I was very small so I looked forward; and at the map, as Chap drove us onto the next chapter of the weekend.
*Landy - Landrover.  Big burly 4x4 / off roader / ATV.
Oh - for those intrigued by the family tale of 'The Pub on the Island' (anyone intrigued out there?) it stems from a family holiday when I was very small indeed.  I think it may have been somewhere like Solva - certainly right on the coast - and we had a self catering cottage as was normal for our annual hol in Cornwall / Devon / Wales.  I'm guessing the story came about as an inquisitive wee small daddy's girl enquiry as to the whereabouts of her father in the evening.  Certainly what I was told wasn't entirely the truth.  Ma told me that dad had gone off with the earthenware jug (this bit is true) to get some beer to bring back for them.  However - because the pub was on an island (this is the not true bit now) he could only get across when the tide was down that's why he took a while sometimes.  Now, I don't want you to think my dad vanished off each evening of our holiday leaving ma at home with 3 small girls for hours at a stretch but as time seems to expand unrelated to the actual passing of hours and minutes when you're that small I think that the probably couple of pints he had in the local before returning with a jug full of beer to share seemed enough time for the turning of a tide to me aged about 3 or 4.  Anyway - I always believed this and it wasn't until many years later that it happened to come up in idle conversation and I asked as to the exact location of this fabled 'Pub on the Island' - which seemed incredibly romantic and cool to my by then approx 11/12ish year old self.  Well - I was first greeted with somewhat blank looks followed by dawning comprehension on the face of my mother as distant bells got clearer through the mists of time.  'Oh - I made it up' she admitted unbeknownst destroying my entire imaginary vision of the place; a place I'd already firmly set my heart on going to one day.  Dad was completely unaware of the whole story it seemed and after that it became our family tale - a synonym for a place unobtainable and to me, a reminder of a happy childhood holiday scrambling over rocks and falling in the sea and other such things that made up our childhood family holidays.  I was always a little gutted it wasn't real though and thought it would be the best idea for a pub.  Well - many years later and the parents take a wee break in Devon (before I lived here so I guess about 12 years ago now) and they find... [drum roll]... A Pub On An Island!!  You can't imagine how pleased they were to be able to tell me there was one and it's somewhere I've been slowly getting round to going to ever since.  Sadly my father is no longer with us but it was truly lovely to be able to sit outstand the fabled pub and relate the story to my dear Chap.  The sun shone on us and it was a perfect day.  Go there and start your own 'pub on an island' tradition - it's worth it.  :-)


  1. Some fantastic photographs here! Whenever I visit Bigbury on Sea I am always taking photos!

  2. Such a great place! Thanks for stopping past and taking the time to comment. :-) You photos are fantastic. :-)

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