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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Bantham, Avon, Bigbury, Burgh

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas OCTOBER. 05, 2020

[61-365] 5th. October 2020- A little trip out on a windy wet October day. Not cold, but as the lady walking her dogs said, who was coming the other way, "Bracing". I'm not sure how far the word bracing has travelled but it always sounds quintessentially English to me. It's what elderly couples who drive to the sea front and park facing the stormy seas say, when they don't get out of the car, but watch instead through the seaspray coated windscreen of their Honda while they open a flask of hot tea and pour it into flowery china cups, brought along for this very purpose. They take a sip and their glasses steam over in the warmth inside. Bracing is what's outside. Before starting the car, reversing and driving back home.

But I digress.

This little photo essay will work it's way around the bay, from Bantham which is this side, to the river Avon which meets the sea right here, to Bigbury, the other side and around in a curve to Burgh Island.

Bantham is described as a village but is more of a hamlet. Originally a fishing village, it was first documented as a port selling tin and various tin-made products to the Gauls during Roman times. During their occupation, the Romans built a large settlement to protect the entrance to the river at Bantham Ham, behind the dunes and to the west of the current village. The settlement, with evidence of an associated seasonal trading market, existed well into post-Roman Britain times. Later covered by sand, the settlement is known to have existed from the mid-18th century, after storms uncovered its burnt remains. As the landowners drained the local marshes during the 19th century, the workers were in part rewarded by being allowed to take the recovered human bones away and sell them. Since 1978, extensive archeological excavations have tracked the extent of the settlement, and it is now a scheduled ancient monument protected by English Heritage.

Between 1750 and around 1880, it became a regional centre for the pilchard trading industry during the Cornish pilchard-boom. During this time, the extensive regional stocks of pilchards were processed at salting plants in Cornwall, and then shipped to the Roman Catholic countries of France and Spain. From there, they were either consumed locally or traded directly to Italy – still the primary market for salt pilchards today – where they were used in rustic dishes to give flavour to the staple diet of pasta or polenta. Due to over-fishing, as the trade quickly died the village went into steep decline. (Wikipedia)

The river Avon, or more accurately one of the Avon rivers. There are nine rivers which go by the name of Avon situated within Great Britain. The name Avon, comes from the Brythonic language and stems from the word for river, which is abona. Brythonic was an ancient, insular Celtic language of the British Isles spoken between the Iron Age and the fifth century, by a race of people called Britons. Therefore the words River Avon, actually mean River River, which is a tautology, the mergence of two words that mean the same thing, taken from two different languages. There are five River Avons in England, three River Avons in Scotland and one River Avon in Wales, although the Welsh river is spelled Afon Afan, which is another tautology which also means River River. (Major rivers of the British Isles.)

The Welsh word for river is still Afon, the single f in Welsh being pronounced like the English v. The ff in Welsh is a separate letter of the alphabet and makes the sound of the single f in English. This is because there is no letter v in the Welsh alphabet. There are 29 letters in the Welsh alphabet including the ff mentioned, also ch, dd, ng, ll, ph, rh, and th. Missing along with the v are k, q, x and z. This all explains why most English speakers find Welsh at best unfathomable.

England's shortest River Avon is just seven miles long, and this is it. The river rises near Ryder's Hill, famous for it's standing stones and triangulation survey station, on the boggy moorlands of the three hundred and sixty eight square mile, Dartmoor National Park, in the county of Devon and flows in a southerly direction towards the south Devon coastal town of Bigbury - on - Sea, pictured below, where it drains out into the English Channel.

The river flows through the Devon villages of South Brent, Avonwick and Aveton Gifford and also forms part of the Avon Dam Reservoir, situated near South Brent, which was built in 1957.

This is a small boathouse this side of the river and the river enters the sea just behind this point of land, into Bigbury Bay.

Bigbury on Sea. Bigbury-on-Sea is a village in the South Hams district on the south coast of Devon, England. It is part of the civil parish of Bigbury which is centred on a small village of that name about a mile inland. Bigbury-on-Sea village is on the coast above the largest sandy beach in South Devon facing south to Bigbury Bay. The tidal island of Burgh Island lies about 270 yards (250 metres) offshore. At the start of the 20th century Bigbury-on-Sea consisted of a few fishermen's cottages with fish cellars. The village grew with the growth in holidaymaking and now has a beach cafe. It's large sandy beach is very popular for wave and wind based water sports. There are two large car parks with easy access to the beaches and the walk across the sand bar at low tide to Burgh Island with its Art Deco Hotel and Pilchard Inn. When the tide covers the sand bar access is by the sea tractor. As of March 2020, 63% of properties in the village were holiday-lets or second homes.

Burgh Island Hotel and The Pilchard Inn. Burgh Island is a tidal island on the coast of South Devon in England near the small seaside village of Bigbury-on-Sea. There are several buildings on the island, the largest being the Art Deco Burgh Island Hotel. The other buildings are three private houses, and a public house, the Pilchard Inn.

In the 1890s, the music hall star George H. Chirgwin built a prefabricated wooden house on the island, which was used by guests for weekend parties. The island was sold in 1927 to the filmmaker Archibald Nettlefold of Nettlefold Studios, the heir to the Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds engineering firm, who built a more substantial hotel in the Art Deco style, which became a popular destination in the 1930s. Additions were made through the 1930s, including a room created from the captain's cabin of the warship HMS Ganges (1821). The hotel is now a Grade II Listed Building.

During World War II, the hotel was used as a recovery centre for wounded RAF personnel. The top two floors of the hotel were damaged by a bomb during the conflict. Despite being repaired, it suffered a period of post war decline after being converted to self-catering apartment accommodation. The hotel was restored during the early nineties by Tony and Beatrice Porter.

Burgh Island Hotel is linked to the crime novelist Agatha Christie, as it inspired the settings for both And Then There Were None and the Hercule Poirot mystery Evil Under the Sun. The Beatles used the hotel when they were playing a concert in Plymouth. Other guests who have reputedly used the hotel include Edward and Mrs Simpson and it is said that Eisenhower and Churchill met there in the weeks leading up to the D-Day invasion. (Wikipedia)

It is believed a monastery was established on the island, most of the remains of which may lie beneath the current hotel. The ancient Pilchard Inn may have started life as the guest lodgings for the monastery.

Built in 1336, The Pilchard Inn has been quenching the island’s thirst for over 700 years. The Inn first served the fishermen who lived on the Island and mainland shores; then the smugglers and wreckers who lured ships onto the Western rocks; and now hotel guests and the public.

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Unknown member
Jul 05, 2022

WOW!!! If that first paragraph isn't typical, typical British I don't know what is. I think I have seen many many movies with a scene just like that. I actually had to look up the definition because I know we don't use it here...the word invigorating is the one that is used here, quite often. If I can keep it in my memory, I might have to use it, just to throw people off. 😎

Reading the section about the letters/sounds in Welsh reminds me of the alphabets in the Farsi language, 32 of them and a good number have the same sounds but different "penning" for a lack of a better word. Hence probably why I can baredly read…

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Jul 05, 2022
Replying to

Reading this post again has given me the idea to follow the river Avon from as near as I can get to the source down to the sea, especially seeing all the old bridges. I think it will mean more than one trip due to inaccessibility but I like a challenge.

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