Burgh Island is an island off Bigbury-on-Sea in Devon. It’s only an island some of the time, because it’s separated from the mainland only by a causeway of firm sand which is covered by the sea at high tide. At low tide the causeway forms a wide sandy beach between the island and the mainland which one can easily walk across. There is a very exclusive hotel on the island, the sort of place Agatha Christie would have had in mind when she wrote Evil Under The Sun, although so far as I know there is nothing evil about the Burgh Island hotel except the prices. The hotel itself is off-limits to non-residents, although on occasion guerilla swimmers have launched assaults on its swimming pool from the sea, appearing suddenly, disheveled and dripping, plunging into the exclusive waters for a victory lap, and then disappearing seawards again.
The Saturday for our assault on the island could scarcely have been better. The sun was shining, there was a cooling breeze and Devon looked stunning as we drove towards Bigbury. The car park above the beach was busy with day-trippers in holiday clothes and business-like surfers with wetsuits and boards. Out on the causeway people were picnicking, playing Frisbee and frolicking in the surf which rolled across the wide flat shoreline. The causeway looked so wide and dry that the hotel barely needed its famous sea-tractor, the transportation by which guests are driven across when the tide is up, perched in an open cabin high above the waves. They did give two guests a treat by driving out into the sea on the trip across rather than straight across the causeway, although that may also have been because it was easier than weaving through sunbathers.
Whilst Olivia and Stu hired kayaks we togged up ready for our swim. Kathrine and Ian were going skins while the rest of us were wetsuited up. I had my bright orange towbuoy, which is always a nice piece of kit to have when you’re swimming in the sea. It makes you very very visible and although it’s not a life-saving device you can hang onto it if you get tired. Olivia briefed us, explaining that we would swim anti-clockwise round the island, that we would probably stay a good way our from the coast because of the waves, that we would take a wide loop round a protruding reef towards the end of the swim and that there was a fair amount of swell on the far side of the island. We made our way down to the beach, grinned encouragement to one another and waded out into the waves.