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An Island Fit For a Crime Queen

Burgh Island Hotel inspired one of Agatha Christie’s most
famous crime mysteries

This wonderful art deco hotel is on Burgh Island, in Devon, and was the setting for two novels by crime queen Agatha Christie, who lived in Devon and stayed at the hotel on occasions. We admired the building, which looks a bit like a 1930s cruise ship, but we stayed with our Elder Daughter, who has just moved to Plymouth. Her boyfriend (I should say partner) teaches at one of the city’s secondary schools, while she has just finished her training and any day now will start her first job as a nurse in the main hospital down there.


Our Younger Daughter travelled with us, which was nice, because it’s a while since the four of us have been together. The Man Of The House and I had a fabulous time enjoying our daughters’ company, and we all had a lovely meal out to celebrate Younger Daughter’s forthcoming birthday. The area was completely new to both of us, so we had a great time exploring and managed to pack a lot into a few days, but still have plenty of places to see on future visits. The only downside was my ailing laptop, which went on strike and ceased to function at all. We are now back home, and it is working in what can only be described as an idiosyncratic fashion, but has refused point blank to let me download photographs from my camera, so I have been forced to store them on another computer.

I’m not very good at taking photos of people, but I rather like
this one of my daughters paddling. Lucy (the elder) is on the
right, and Emily (the younger) is on the left.

Anyway, that’s quite enough of me and my family. Back to Burgh Island, which is around 300 yards from Bigbury Beach, and you can walk to it when the tide is on the way out – Elder Daughter and her boyfriend have done it, and walked on the island, which is about a mile around In addition to the hotel there are three houses, and a pub called the Pilchard Inn. However, when we went to the beach the tide was on the way in, and we were worried we might get stranded there until the tide turned. The Burgh Island Hotel has a special tractor, where seating for the driver and passengers is raised on tall wheels, high above the sand and water, so everyone can cross the causeway safely, without getting wet.


Burgh Island was once known as St Michael’s Island, and there was a monastery where monks brewed mead and caught pilchards, but after the Dissolution fishermen moved in and turned what was left of the chapel into a ‘huers hut’, where a ‘hue and cry’ was sounded to alert everyone when the pilchard shoals were sighted. Look-out posts of a different type were built during WW2, when it was feared the Germans might try to establish a beachhead there. Anti-tank defences were established, with two defensive ‘pill boxes’ and an observation post.
The rocks along the sure were full of fissures and clefts, and
weathered into sharp points and pinnacles, made of
thin layers, like slate or shale.

The island’s reputation for attracting celebrities seems to date back to the 1890s when music hall star George H Chirgwin built a wooden house and invited guests to weekend parties, but the present hotel was created by film maker Archibold Nettlefold who bought the whole island in 1927. For just over a decade it was one of the most fashionable and popular places for the glittering social elite of the day: as well as Agatha Christie, guests included Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, and Noel Coward.


But the war changed all that. The RAF used it for airmen recovering from wounds, and the two top floors suffered bomb damage. Repairs were carried out, but after the war it was turned into self- catering holiday flats. It was restored in the 1990s and the early years of this century, and remains best known as the setting for Christie’s books ‘And Then There Were None’, and ‘Evil Under The Sun’. A TV version of the latter, starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, was filmed on location at Burgh Island and Burgh Island Hotel.

The lower part of the rock was smoothed by waves, and
you could see the twisted strata. Some of the looked like
the feet of giant creatures stuck in the sand.
The golden sands of the beach at Bigbury-on-Sea are popular with families and surfers, and it got quite busy, despite the bitterly cold wind. Many of the visitors set up a home-from-home on the sand, with tents, windbreaks, chairs, tables and barbecues. Mostly they were made of sterner stuff than us, and were clad in traditional beach attire, which must have been chilly, to say the least. We stayed warmly clad, but shed footwear to go paddling, walked along the sand, and sat in the shelter of some rocks to eat our picnic. For more Saturday Snapshots see  Alice’s blog at http://athomewithbooks.net/ 
A view of the island, showing the hotel on the left, and the
Pilchard Inn on the right.

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Author:

I'm a former journalist and sub-editor who loves needlework, reading and writing, and is still searching for the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. Until I find the answer I'm volunteering at an Oxfam Book Shop and learning about Creative Sketchbooks!

45 thoughts on “An Island Fit For a Crime Queen

  1. Margaret, it was lovely to be with both our girls, and we've been up on Plymouth Hoe, and Dartmoor, and have a great long list of places we want to see next time we go down there. It seemed a long way though, and the M5 is very boring!

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  2. Fascinating history! The hotel does look like a cruise ship, doesn't it?! And a 'huer's hut' – so interesting. Years ago when people wanted to convey a message they went to the top of a nearby hill and blew a conchshell by way of alerting people to listen.

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  3. Barbara, when we got there and looked across I got really excited, and kept saying 'It's Agatha Christie…' but my family wouldn't listen. When we get back to my elder daughter's house I borrowed her computer and looked it up to see if I was right!

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  4. Eugenia, the details about the conchshell make an interesting comparison. I must admit, I wondered how the person in the huer's hut made himself heard – it was on a hill on the island, and I thought perhaps they rang a bell or something, to make sure everyone knew.

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  5. How cool is that?! Next time you should just march on in and take a look about. It's fun going to hotels one can't afford just to have a look-see. And I bet they serve a fabulous tea!

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  6. We did just look from afar I'm afraid, because although it was so near, the incoming tide meant there was not enough time to get there, walk around, and then make it back to the mainland. Next time we visit we will make sure we do have time.

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  7. Paulita, thank you so much for the kind comment – I would follow you, but following is one of this this laptop refuses to do. I'm seriously considering a new one. I'm glad you like the photo of my daughters – I think they are fabulous girls, but I'm biased!

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  8. Thank you Leslie. I always love places with a story, and I find most places do have a tale to tell – it's just a question of finding it. Sadly, I have to admit the seagull was more by good luck than good management!

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