Burgh Island Hotel plays host to our country’s most breathtaking views. Overlooking Bigbury in Devon, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, everything about this hotel is outstanding.
The rugged cliff top setting, dazzling panoramic sea views and the atmosphere are stunning. The romantic location, exquisite food, suites with dynamic and dramatic seascapes, and murder mysteries for clue solving appetites are to be found here. Wild life enthusiasts can enjoy an abundance of flora and fauna, butterflies, moths, foxes, rabbits, badgers, hedgehogs, lizards and a wide variety of birds. Burgh Island has been a pioneer in Green Tourism since 2003. Situated where the Atlantic Ocean meets the English Channel in the ‘Western Approaches’, the island is subject to daily tides rendering land access to the hotel impossible during certain times.Tidal crossings for guests are by the Hotel’s Sea Tractor or, when the tide is out, by a fleet of Land Rovers. The Sea Hydraulic Tractor is an historic icon and the only one in the world.
It was designed in 1969 by Robert Jackson CBE, (a pioneer of the nuclear power station programme in the ’50s), in exchange for a case of champagne. It cost £9,000 to build. Richard captains the Sea Tractor. I asked him how they monitored the weather and crossings on a daily basis. “The Sea Tractor is fifty years old this year. We have a booklet for tide times, it’s only a guide as is the information on the internet. It can come in anything up-to an hour early. It was supposed to come in at twelve o’clock today but it could have come in at 11, but it just suits itself.It is all to do with what the weather decides each day. It is a big challenge as you can be going to sea with up to 30 souls. On rare occurrences we have been stuck in the middle and had to sit there and pray! One of the chefs put on his wet suit and came across with coffee and tea and sandwiches! On Christmas Eve 4 years ago, the front wheel came off the front No one has ever been hurt. Two hours is the longest I have ever been stuck. It was the summer and I had my shorts on so I rolled them up and waded across carrying the luggage. The tractor is maintained on a weekly basis by a specialist engineer. We’re up against rust, all the time. It’s got a John Deere tractor engine inside so like any other tractor it needs servicing on a regular basis. The Sea Tractor is the lifeline of the island, without it we’re totally stuck so whatever the cost the Sea Tractor has to run”
On arrival guests are invited into the Art Deco cocktail bar which is run by Gary ‘Macbar’ Maguire. Gary has been with the hotel for 27 years. He is as characterful as the many famous people he has graced with his memorable cocktail creations. He knows all the history and more. Here is a man who has seen and been part of many a story. “The Devon Riviera was deemed too hot prior to the 20s when Coco Chanel created the sun bathing fad and places on the South Coast exploded into popularity at that time. Art Deco was the Style of the era and Archibald Nettlefold, director of Nettlefold, the nuts and bolts manufacturer and film studio owner, built the place as a private house in 1929 for his partner, (not his wife). He bought the island in 1925 for £6,000. He started to build it as a party house in 1928. In 1932 he turned it into a hotel in an attempt to prevent friends bleeding him dry, but they still continued to visit. By the 1930s Burgh Island had become one of the most popular hotels of its time. Nettlefold was in poor health and Lena Hudson, wife of the island’s caretaker George, was Nettlefold’s nurse. When Nettlefold died in 1944 he left his money, to the Hudsons.
Potentially scandalous. Improvements and additions to the hotel were made during the 1930s, including the original captain’s cabin from the warship HMS Ganges, built in 1821. The hotel was requisitioned by the MOD during the war. The ‘old wing’ was hit by a German bomb in 1941 during the Luftwaffe’s raid on Plymouth. That wing remained empty and derelict until 1946. Christie based her novels And Then There Were None and Evil Under the Sun on the island which she wrote during the war when it was off limits to civilians. In the latter book the house appears as ‘The Jolly Roger Hotel’. After the war it was bought by Lady Anderson, who owned a rubber plantation in Malaya. She used to throw away her used cutlery rather than wash them. The Hotel fell into disrepair and disrepute and went up for auction in 1955. Noel Coward, Winston Churchill, The Beatles, aviator Amy Johnson, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, and Edward VIIIth and Wallis Simpson have all been visitors. It again became very popular in the 80s and 90s and was recently bought in 2018 by Giles Fuchs’ company.
It is now a Grade II listed building and a foremost example of Art Deco style in Europe”. The food in the two restaurants is locally sourced. The meat is free-range, and fish is from day boats. Lobsters and scallops are landed at Beesands (10 miles) and kept in the hotel’s Mermaid Sea Water Pool. Octopus is local, and oysters and mussels are grown at the Avon Estuary opposite the Island. If you prefer black tie and evening dress you can dine à la carte in the Grand Ballroom. You can even hire the whole island. Why don’t you? Burgh Island Hotel, Bigbury-on-sea, South Devon Reservations; +44 (0)1548 810514 www.burghisland.com Murder Mysteries; January, March and November 2020 Valentines Ball weekend 14th, 15th February.