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  • Writer's pictureRoyston Nicholls

Burgh Island - Agatha Christie's 'Soldier Island'

Burgh Island

A few weeks ago, I did a Blog about Lindisfarne, a small island off the Northumbrian coast. Britain has more than 6000 islands around its coast, some part of larger groups of islands, like the Scilly Isles or the Channel Islands, or the Inner and Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, but there are also numerous smaller, individual islands. Off the southern coast of Devon is Burgh Island, a small, tidal island covering just a few acres, and one which I have had the pleasure of visiting many times.

The 1930s Art Deco Burgh Island Hotel and the 14th century Pilchard Inn

The island is approximately 270 yards (250 m) from the mainland at Bigbury-on-Sea and is approachable on foot at low tide. There are several buildings on the island, the largest being the Art Deco Burgh Island Hotel, together with several private houses, and a pub, the Pilchard Inn. The island has been occupied intermittently, probably since the Iron Age (Bigbury Bay was a significant trading port as early as the 1st century BCE) and it is believed a medieval monastery was established on the island, most of the remains of which may lie beneath the current hotel. The ancient Pilchard Inn may have started life as the guest lodgings for the monastery and has a history that dates to 1336. Many of the inn’s original patrons would have been local fishermen, as well as smugglers and wreckers, who enticed unwary ships on to the rocks locally, and who then plundered the wreckage.

Bigbury on Sea and Bay

The South Devon coastline

The hotel dates from 1927, when an earlier, Victorian building was rebuilt in the Art Deco style by the filmmaker Archibald Nettlefold. Throughout the 1930s the hotel was a bolt hole in the 1930s for some of London's rich and famous, including Noël Coward. Burgh Island is also linked to Agatha Christie, as it served as the inspirational setting for Soldier Island (And Then There Were None) and for the setting of the Hercule Poirot mystery, Evil Under the Sun. Inevitably the island has been a filming location for several TV and film versions of several of Christie’s novels, as well as other TV shows and films.

The Burgh Island Hotel

The 'sea tractor', that makes the island accessible at most times

It is fun to visit at low tide and to walk across to the island via the strip of sand, but even at high tide, when the sand is completely covered, you can access the island by means of a sea tractor. The island has lovely sandy beaches and there is an abundance of wildlife that lives on its shores, or you can walk to the remains of a chapel on top of the island, which later became a "huers hut" — a place where fishermen would make a "hue and cry" call to inform other fishermen of shoals of pilchards.

All photos courtesy of the public domain

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