Winter breaks in lovely country hotels are made for days spent lounging by the fire reading books and eating scones. I find that in order to truly enjoy this pursuit I have to build up a good appetite and feel physically spent beforehand and there really is no better way to do this than to take a bracing walk along a British beach in December.
Although perhaps not the most impressive beach in Devon, I do love the walk across Bigbury Bay to Burgh Island. This tiny part of Devon has impeccable Agatha Christie credentials as not only was she a frequent guest at the gloriously Art Deco Burgh Island Hotel, she set her Poirot story Evil Under the Sun there and used the island as the inspiration for Soldier Island in And Then There Were None.
Art Deco buildings can rarely be accused of being built in the vernacular style or of blending in with their surroundings and the Burgh Island Hotel is no exception. The large hotel was pretty much just plonked on the side of the tiny island, dwarfing The Pilchard Inn, the quaint smugglers’ pub that had sat happily in solitude on the island for 600 years before the hotel arrived to upstage it. But in the spirit of what-goes-around-comes-around, the mainland perhaps had the last laugh when the not-particularly attractive village of Bigbury-on-Sea sprung up right opposite the island, tainting the view from hotel, perhaps out of spite.
As a tidal island, Burgh Island is part of the mainland and can be reached by foot when the tide is out but becomes cut off when the tide is in. There is something I’ve always found irresistible about these half-islands. When the tide is in residents reach the hotel by way of the funny sea tractor.
We arrived just as the tide was more or less fully out which meant Edward could spend plenty of time bombing about the beach, chasing balls and destroying abandoned sand castles. I think the beach is pretty much his favourite place in the world.
We took a little walk around the island, sadly it was just a little walk as the current owners of the hotel have made many of the paths private. The hotel is out of bounds to non-residents and also to dogs and the unfriendliness I always feel emanates from behind those closed gates is only slightly assuaged by how lovely those gates actually are.
We walked along treacherous cliffs and passed little swimming coves only accessible by descending terrifyingly steep ladders. The top of the island provides stunning views of Bigbury Bay and we passed the helicopter pad which must be a very agreeable way to avoid the heavy traffic on the M5.
We ended our walk, as we always do, with halves of cider and beer in The Pilchard, undoubtedly one of the cutest pubs in Britain. This 14th century inn is absolutely tiny inside – two little rooms with log fires separated by a bar in the middle. The ceiling of the bar is hung with fishermen’s nets groaning under the weight of hundreds of packets of crisps. The only food they serve is baguettes made by the hotel but there are few nicer places to sit and have a glass of cider on a cold winter’s day and after this I was ready to go back to Hotel Endsleigh where we were staying and assume my position on our favourite sofa in front of the fire.