Crashing waves, a tidal island, and a sandy beach that stretches far into the distance, the views from the quaint Devonian village of Bigbury-on-Sea are unrivalled anywhere else in the South West. After all, just across the beach, you’ll find Burgh Island, a mysterious isle that has been intertwined with the history of the area for centuries. Here’s a guide to the best things to do in Bigbury-on-Sea and the adjacent Burgh Island.
Introducing Bigbury-on-Sea & Burgh Island, the beautiful tidal island of Devon
Sand beneath my feet, salt in my hair, head in the clouds, it’s not often that I find myself speechless. But that’s exactly how I feel at Bigbury-on-Sea. I also love the Boxing day* tradition of jumping into the sea sans wetsuit. Maybe it’s the beautiful scenery, more likely it’s the freezing cold water… but I am completely lost for words (not a regular occurrence).
Bigbury-on-Sea is not only the perfect place for a freezing winter dip in the sea, but a dream destination for surfers and hikers alike. Throughout the ages, the site has been used as a home for a small religious community dedicated to St Michael, scores of fishermen, Elizabethan smugglers and a WWII hospital.
*Boxing day is a public holiday in the UK, The Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia, Bermuda, New Zealand, Kenya, South Africa, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica. Although the exact origin for the holiday is unclear, it was traditionally the day when servants would receive gifts from their employers in a box known as the ‘Christmas box’.
Things to do on Burgh Island and in Bigbury on Sea
Walk across the Burgh Island Causeway
The giant causeway at Bigbury-on-Sea is the jewel in the crown of Bigbury Bay. With views over the surrounding cliffs, when the tide recedes, a beautiful sandy beach is revealed. The nature of the tidal causeway means that it is possible to walk out to sea for hundreds of metres in knee deep water.
Explore Burgh Island
A tidal island, much like the nearby tidal island of St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, twice a day the tide draws in, rendering the island impassable- safe for the ‘sea tractor’ that ferries people back and forth during these periods for a small fee.
The entirety of the island is crisscrossed by tiny pathways that offer spectacular views out onto the open sea (on a clear day, that is). Free to visit, it’s thought that the island may once have been home to a monastery, though any traces of this have since disappeared. Some archaeologists believe that if there was a Burgh Island Monastery, then it would have stood where the Burgh Island Hotel can now be found.
Considering that ‘pilchard’ is another name for a sardine, it’s not hard to see how this pub acquired its name. Supposedly frequented by the notorious smuggler Tom Crocker, who used the island (then known as Burr Island) as his base, the pub is reputedly still haunted by his ghost many centuries later.
Although very little is known about this Elizabethan smuggler, he was apparently shot dead on the very steps of the Inn. Today, the inn is the perfect place to get a refreshment after exploring the little pathways that zigzag across the island.
Burgh Island Hotel
The art-deco style hotel gained fame for its portrayal in a Poirot case ‘Evil Under the Sun’ by local writer Agatha Chritie. Built in the late 1920s, the grade 2 listed building is an impressive feat of architecture. During the second world war, it was used as a military hospital for wounded RAF servicemen before bombing destroyed the upper floors. In the 1990s the hotel was purchased by new owners and revived into the hotel that is seen today.
With breathtaking views over the sea, the ruins of the Huers hut on the site of a chapel dedicated to St Michael, are hard to miss. Perched at the highest point of the island, fishermen would have sat in the hut on colder days, watching and waiting for any sign of shoals of sardines. Although the island was once known as Borough Island, it has since been shortened to simply ‘Burgh Island’.
Bigbury on Sea Beach
Don’t forget your swimsuit (or more likely wetsuit) when you visit Bigbury. Windsurfing, kitesurfing, bodyboarding and surfing are all popular here. The sandy beach makes for a perfect place to picnic, build sand castles or walk the dog (in the winter months). During the summer, you can pay to take surfing lessons with the Discovery Surf School. Alternatively, pack your best walking shoes and set out to explore the wider South West coast path.
Where to stay on Burgh Island and in Bigbury-on-Sea
Due to its location along the South Devon coastline and surrounded by golden sands, the beautiful village of Bigbury and the adjacent island make for the perfect location from which to explore the wider South Hams area. Here are the best places to stay in Bigbury on Sea (based on web recommendations and location):
Burgh Island Hotel: If you want to experience a true taste of luxury during your time in the South Hams, be sure to book yourself a room at the Burgh Island Hotel. Built in 1929 and recently restored, the art deco design is simply stunning. Check prices and availability here.