Burgh Island, United Kingdom - My Family Travels

For a cozy weekend off the coast of England, head for quaint and quiet Burgh Island.

In the south of England, off the coast of Devon, the mysterious Burgh Island, determined to persevere, braces against the oncoming sea. On this rock island there is a charming Art Deco hotel with the air of the 1920 and ’30’s, a throwback to the days of Noel Coward and Agatha Christie.

The 24 suites, named after their notoriously famous guests, offer incredible vistas from their balconies of the surrounding seascape. The Palm Court, with its Peacock stained-glass dome and lush plants, provides the ambience of High Society. Even the remoteness of the place adds to the intrigue and mystery of its Roaring 20’s atmosphere.

Many Sights En Route

While driving from London to Devon last fall with my friend Alex, the English countryside had a hypnotic effect on me. The subtle terrain seen along the M4 motorway, was magical. Even in the rain, one couldn’t help but feel you’d landed in fairyland.

The first wonder that crosses your path, quite literally, is Stonehenge. It’s very hard to resist the urge to pause in amazement. The open rolling fields accentuate the site, with an ever-changing horizon as a dramatic backdrop to the unusual upright boulders.

As we press onward to the west, our next vista is of The Moors. There is something stark yet invigorating about this National Park. Or maybe it’s just that the relentless American in me wants to climb every tor — the unique rock formations — I see.

We stop to climb one. The views from the top are breathtaking; if not from your viewpoint, I guarantee the climb alone will take your breath away.

At this point, we had been on the road for five hours, so we decided to stay overnight at a small but cozy hotel in Bovey Tracey, Dartmoor.

The next morning, we headed south towards Devon. An exhilarating two-hour drive through quaint little towns on weaving roads barely the width of a single car, then finally we arrived at Bigbury-on-the-Sea, an inlet across from Burgh Island.

Getting to Burgh Island

There are two ways to get across to the island: wait for the tide to go out (roughly twice a day) and walk across the sandbar, or ride the giant Sea Tractor free of charge. The Sea Tractor runs every 30 minutes when the tide is in. Parking is provided on the mainland at Bigbury-on-the Sea, but must be reserved in advance if you are planning to spend the night on-island.

Other than the hotel, a local pub called The Pilchard Inn (01548/ 810514), and the sea-made Mermaid Pool Cove that’s available for swimming during the warmer seasons, Burgh Island is very much like Ireland’s western coastline, with lots of nooks and crannies and trails around the big rock. However, parents should note that the hanging cliffs and jagged rocks could be dangerous if small children are not properly minded.

There are an abundance of birds and flowers, and the ruins of a “huer’s hut” at the top of the rock that was said to be a lookout for fisherman scanning the waves for the white frothing pilchards, signaling a catch of fish. On the sandbar between Burgh Island on the mainland, many local families come to play cricket, build sandcastles and hunt for sea treasure, while surfers take advantage of the turbulent tide before Burgh Island once again is surrounded by water.

At sunset, to watch the incoming tide envelope you is awe-inspiring. The surrounding coastline is quite rural, so the spraying sea gives way to a peaceful darkness that makes you feel you have reached the final frontier. Perhaps it is this feeling that makes me think that outside of the sea tractor, sandbar, and trails, older kids may not be so keen on staying overnight. 

A Racy and Charming Hotel

In the evening, for hotel guests only, the Burgh Island Hotel Ballroom serves a scrumptious dinner of local seafood, cheeses and meats, with live musical entertainment reminiscent of a “racy” time. The staff is very friendly and helpful and the service is good. The hotel also has a small Bistro sandwich shop available for the daily tourists, as well as morning coffee and afternoon Devon Cream Teas in the Sun Lounge by the goldfish pond. The island’s Pilchard Inn also serves some food; however, it’s really an ale place.

In this remote place, there are activities: there is tennis, a full size snooker table, a sauna, a sunbed, and exercise machines. For me, just walking around the island and on the sandbar was exercise enough!

With the warm sun and constant breeze, the summer weather is a balmy 70oF during the day. At night the temperature drops considerably in England. However, the sea air around Burgh Island creates a greenhouse effect to maintain a cozy 50-60o F if you wrap up.

A British Romantic’s Secret

If it weren’t for my friend Tracy’s idea to have a small romantic wedding, I would never have known about Burgh Island. It seems to be a British secret. Ask any Englishman about it and, with a faraway gaze, he will surely wax poetic about its charm.

Without the detours, the drive from London to Burgh Island takes roughly four to five hours. Although that’s considered a long drive for this otherwise small country, anyone looking for an old-fashioned holiday on the southwestern coast of England should seize upon Burgh Island as the place to go.

Details, Details

For more about Burgh Island and booking your true hideaway vacation, visit the website: Burgh Island or write to Burgh Island, Bigbury-on-Sea, South Devon, TQ7-4BG, England U.K. For specific queries, contact them by phone: (01548/ 810514 or fax (01548/ 810243).


Regional information is available at the BTA website: www.visitbritain.org.

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