2nd Place in our Top Five Iconic Swims in the South of England: Round Burgh Island, South Devon (1.5km)
Only an island at high tide, separated from the popular seaside village of Bigbury-on-Sea by a few hundred metres of golden sand, Burgh Island in the South Hams is the location of our second placed iconic swim in the south of England.
The island’s circumnavigation takes the swimmer on a mini adventure leading them out into deep water, through a rocky gorge, under precipitous cliffs and back again to the safety of the sandy beach from where they started, weaving in and out of the many rocks protruding from the sea. The whole swim is only about a mile long but when you get back you feel like you’ve been on quite a journey and almost certainly, you’ll have tales to tell when you return.
I had my first ever Round Burgh Island experience last year when completing my beach lifeguard course with local expert trainer Loic Doison of the highly recommended Coast to Coast Water Safety outfit which he runs with his partner, Kate. Part of the rescue board competency test was to paddle on our boards from the beach at Challaborough out to the island, all the way round and then back again.
Burgh Island at low tide, showing the famous art deco hotel
We returned to Burgh Island in the autumn with our first Iconic Swims Devon retreat weekend. On the Saturday we enjoyed a joyous swoosh up the Erme Estuary and explored the secret coves around Mothecombe; on Sunday we ventured a few miles further afield with the intention of either a swim down the River Avon from Aveton Gifford to Bantham or a trip to Bigbury to lap the island. With only a light breeze blowing from the north-east and the sun shining in a cloudless sky we opted for the island swim; with a significant offshore section, such a swim is safest when the wind is light and the waves small. We were not to be disappointed.
With our safety paddler to accompany us we set off from the sandy isthmus and swam out along the east side of the island looking up between strokes at the famous art deco hotel nestled on the island’s protected lower side. Just before reaching the end of the island there is a narrow entrance to a steep sided gulley, entry only advisable above half tide, which lops off the southernmost rocky tip. The surging water at the entrance to this gap, noticeable in even the slightest swell, is a little unnerving at first but once through the entrance the gulley widens and deepens and swimmers are treated to a dramatic clear water swim in between the high slate cliffs of Death Valley.
Now on the west side of the island, the swim route heads back towards the shore again, the island cliffs remain high up above and the occasional hiker can be spotted pointing out swimmers in the water down below. Finally, the same beach from where the swim began heaves into view and the adventure is over. We were so excited when we got back after that first swim, a group of us promptly swam round again!
Back on the sand again after our swim, with Burgh Island in the background
Please join us for more swimming adventures in the South Hams when we return there again in September for our swim retreats. If the conditions are right, we’ll be heading back to Burgh Island and exploring many other South Devon Iconic Swims too. If you can’t make it to one of our swim retreats, keep an eye on Kate and Loic’s Coast to Coast Facebook, where they advertise guided swims round Burgh Island throughout the summer.
Check back next week for the last of our five Iconic Swims of southern England and discover the location of our number one swim.