This is the first in our “Big Walks for Little Legs” series of recommended walks for parents with young children and toddlers visiting South Devon.
Bigbury-on-Sea to Burgh Island and back (via some rockpools)
When “googling” walks in the South Devon area, there are plenty of choices with many options involving the South West Coast Path or the open spaces of Dartmoor. With a 6, 5 and 3 year old in tow, we were looking for something less strenuous, yet intrepid in the eyes of a small person; a leg stretching walk with a bit of rock-pooling to follow.
A trip to Bigbury on Sea and Burgh Island fits the bill perfectly.
Burgh Island is closely linked to Agatha Christie, as it served as the inspirational setting for Soldier Island (And Then There Were None) and as the setting of the Hercule Poirot mystery Evil Under the Sun.
Let’s start with the admin:
Choose a calm day (in the height of summer it will be busy so go early if the tides suit – as in 9am early…or before).
Before you start, check the tide times. The ideal time to arrive is no earlier than 3 or 4 hours before low tide or no later than 2 hours after high tide. If you arrive at the wrong time, the tide will be in. Fear not, you can take the sea tractor over to the island – making it less of a walk, but no less of an adventure.
When travelling from Pitt Farm Holiday Cottages / Kingsbridge / Salcombe then only take the tidal road at Aveton Gifford if you are 2 hours either side of low tide (otherwise your car could end up with a soggy bottom). If the tide suits, this is a fun way to start the adventure. This route also takes you past the fantastic Oyster Shack. If the tide isn’t quite right, the journey takes a few minutes longer on fairly easy (by Devon standards) roads with passing places.
Check you have some change for the car park (sat Nav TQ7 4AS) – (we took a 2 hour stay (£2.70) which was plenty for the walk and some rock-pooling). The car park is on the Myringgo App but has slightly unpredictable phone reception. Venus Café will give you change if you need some.
There are well maintained toilets next to the Venus Café in the car park.
The tracks / paths on Burgh Island beyond the Pilchard Inn are not suitable for a pushchair or pram.
The walk itself…
From the upper tier of the car park at Bigbury on Sea venture down the sloping concrete path onto the beach.
The sand is flanked by sea on both sides and Burgh Island lies directly in front of you. Our children loved walking in the tyre tracks of the sea tractor (which is not in use at low tide) as we made our way across to the island.
On the walk over we could spot the wind sock, the Burgh Island Hotel, the Pilchard Inn and the derelict building (which is in fact a former chapel – although you’d never know) at the top of the island that was our destination (well half way point, as there was obviously the walk back too).
Your walk across the sand takes you just to the left of the Pilchard Inn (built in 1336) and then round the back of it, past the Burgh Island Hotel to the left to a fixed kissing-gate. Once through the gate we took the path directly to the left which stays close to the fence, past the wind sock and a heli-pad. The views back to the mainland are impressive – with Bigbury, Bantham and Thurlestone all in view.
The walk up is steep with sandy stepped paths (as close to mountain climbing for miniatures as you’ll get). Our three year old could do the sand-carved steps but needed a bit of help with one or two of them. Although this is a child friendly walk, a little caution is recommended about half way up the ascent beyond the heli-pad as the path runs close-ish to the cliff edge to the left. If your children are prone to running ahead, this is perhaps a time to catch them up and make sure they stick to the path.
It becomes flatter and wider at the top. We were more comfortable with our children at close quarters as the cliffs are not fenced. We made it to the brick built derelict chapel where there is some brief information and some fantastic views of the coastline framed by the old window.
A different path back to the beach took us past a jagged cove at the bottom of the hill before turning right to reach the kissing gate again. We then retraced our steps back past the Pilchard Inn onto the sand. After crossing the sand we kept to the right hand side of the beach which reveals rock pools as the tide goes out. A bit of running around and back to the car all within 2 hours – in all around two miles of walking, clambering, splashing and exploring including the rock-pooling.
If you’ve worked up an appetite….
Venus Café – great takeaway with seating, on the lower tier of the car park at Bigbury on Sea
Pilchard Inn – the 700 year old pub on the island. It is open to the public as well as hotel guests (at lunchtime tables are on a first come first served basis)
Burgh Island Hotel – some fantastic dining options where dressing to impress is standard (this is probably not the ideal stop-off on a sandy walk with little people).
The Oyster Shack – between the village of Bigbury and the tidal road to Aveton Gifford. Some of the best seafood around.