The Pilchard Inn, Bigbury-on-Sea
What do the playwright Noel Coward, novelist Agatha Christie, musician Ben Howard and a bunch of mead-loving monks all have common? Drive down to our beautiful south coast and you’ll see it sitting proudly, semi-marooned in the glistening sea.
The answer is that this eclectic bunch have all either stayed on, been inspired by, or sung about this month’s destination. I think it’s fair to say some places are defined by their location – situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and sat approximately 250 metres from the mainland at Bigbury-on-Sea, Burgh Island is undoubtedly an iconic and much loved landmark in these parts. Cut off twice daily, at high tide a quirky, hydraulic sea tractor – a time machine of sorts designed back in 1969 and totally unique – whirrs into action to transport visitors back and forth.
The island is famously home to a Grade-II listed Art Deco hotel of the same name. Opened in 1929 and second only back then to The Ritz, the spectacle of everyone dressed for dinner and dancing in black tie and glamorous 1930’s glad rags must surely have been a sight to behold. The good news is you still can. True to that original vision, guests today can book in, dress up to the nines and channel their inner Poirot in the Grand Ballroom, Martini in hand.
The Pilchard Inn, built in 1336 and one of the oldest pubs in the country, sits next door to the hotel and has been quenching the island’s thirst for nearly 700 years. Go right back and it would originally have served the local fishermen – the ruins of a former chapel that once crowned the island later became a ‘huers hut’ where a watchman would look out for shoals of pilchards. Fast forward a bit and you’ll then find smugglers and wreckers luring ships onto the menacing rocks…. rest easy, these days it’s just our Wildsider that might catch you off guard if you stay too long!
Accessibility here, albeit in a different sense, has in the past been an issue with the building effectively partitioned and the larger half reserved for hotel guests. Thankfully that has all changed. Now under new management, the pub – the last remaining one in Bigbury – is now more vibrant and local-friendly than ever. With its huge fireplaces, stone walls, exposed timbers, paved floor and views back across to the beach, you instantly get a sense of all those centuries of history contained within.
Lunch upstairs was a simple but tasty affair. We choose the beer battered cod and chips and ‘Bigbury Bay’ pizza topped with prawns, tuna, squid, mascarpone, chili and tomato. Washed down with a pint of Tarka Four it could either set you up for a spot of paddle boarding or sandcastles and a snooze. Downstairs you’ll find the Pilchard Café – a new addition to the pub offering with an all-day menu…. think sandwiches, cream teas, cakes and soup. Conscious of modern dietary requirements there is also a strong vegan offering and a focus on reducing plastic waste with paper straws and reusable plastic glasses.
As the 12-month multi-million pound investment programme by the new owners passes its half-way mark, the island’s long-term future has been assured and the pub feels more local than ever. Walk, wade or ride across the sand and check it out for yourselves – I’ll see you at the bar!
The Pilchard Inn, Bigbury-on-Sea. TQ7 4PG.
Tel: 01548 810514