Burgh Island

By Jaclyn A. Lurker

When the tide is low, one can walk across the beach from the mainland of Bigbury-on-Sea to Burgh Island in Devon, England. I had almost made it all the way across when the tide started coming in too quickly for me to make it. I was forced to retreat and wait for the sea tractor outside the gift shop on the mainland. The sea tractor promptly arrived and was true to its name, a contraption of steel and wheels that rolls over the sand and through the water during high tide.

When I disembarked, the 14th century Pilchard Inn was there to greet me; however, the gates to the elegant Burgh Island Hotel were closed right in front of me, the hotel being open only to guests. My visit to Burgh Island coincided with the English Riviera's Agatha Christie Festival in September. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the "In Character Brunch" in the hotel and chose to visit the island the day after the "official" brunch. Although I would have liked to have seen the interior of the hotel, the island was the main purpose of my visit. In actuality, I could not have explored the island as thoroughly as I did had I been dressed in 20s/30s attire and heels.

The hotel itself may be restricted to guests, but nature is open to anyone who is willing to accept her challenge. Honestly, my interest in the island is solely Christie-related. She holidayed on the island, and the settings of two of her books, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE and EVIL UNDER THE SUN, are generally thought to have been inspired by it. The former has been my favorite book since my pre-teen years, and the goal of my visit was to experience firsthand the locale that had thrown strangers together at close quarters while isolating them from the rest of the world.

The legends of pirates on Burgh Island lend credence to the theory that the island inspired EVIL UNDER THE SUN as most of the events of that novel take place in the Jolly Roger Hotel on Smuggler's Island. Burgh Island's beach and geography also correspond with descriptions in the book. The theory of the island inspiring AND THEN THERE WERE NONE is more of a stretch. (Doubt was even expressed by author and Christie expert John Curran at the Greatest Works Panel that was held during the festival.)

I can well understand the skepticism. The fictional locale is located farther from its mainland in the novel and is a true island, unlike the part-time isle of Burgh. Depicting the island as it truly is would have robbed the novel of the sense of dread and destiny facing its characters. There is also more than one house on Burgh Island, as well as more activity in general.

Despite these differences, however, there is some evidence to the contrary, to my mind at least. Ownership of the island has a varied history, with some similarities to the theories about the "unknown" owner proposed by the characters in the 1939 novel. Early in the twentieth century, ownership was attributed to a well-known entertainer, and then, in the late 1920s, to a wealthy filmmaker.

Regardless of whether Burgh Island actually provided the inspiration for the setting of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, the atmosphere is spot on. During my time on the island, I came to understand the loneliness that would have fed the fear and lowered the inhibitions of the characters.

I started up one of the footpaths alone. One is lulled into a false sense of security upon seeing how well-maintained the grounds are, since the terrain is not tame. The views are beautiful and awe-inspiring, but evoke a menacing feel at the same time. There are clear drops to the sea below, and one must be cautious not to misstep when standing close to the edge of the cliffs.

As I journeyed farther upward, I felt more akin to the characters in AND THEN THERE WERE NONE than EVIL UNDER THE SUN. Perhaps this was because the day started out overcast and periodically cleared and drizzled, which felt more suitable to the former novel than the latter. I could picture Lombard, Vera, et al., searching the island for possible hiding places of an unknown perp, and could understand their not finding any. I could imagine the body washing ashore towards the end of the novel. One of the only scenes I could picture from EVIL UNDER THE SUN was that of Christine Redfern waving to a girl bathing in the sea below, an action which certainly could cause vertigo in a person prone to the condition. In summary, I felt more Vera Claythorne-esque than Christine Redfern-ish.

Reaching the top of the island was spectacular. The views through the windows of the lonely hue's hut were picture perfect. I must have been thinking in literary terms at the point, because, when I noticed the broken lens of the telescope outside the hut, I considered the inherent symbolism — its manner of forbidding, or, at least, skewing the viewpoints of those looking for answers or enlightenment.

I made my way back down the island noting the change in the ominous sounds and appearances of the waves and wind at the different altitudes. When I arrived back at Bigbury, after another ride on the sea tractor, a rainbow appeared. How appropriate, I thought, to end the visit with light shining through the rain, much like the endings of Agatha Christie books illuminating the mysteries at the end of the characters' journey. Another appropriate metaphor.

So, what is left now but to wrap up my own tale? No, the setting of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE may not be an exact replica of Burgh Island. And, no, Burgh Island may not have provided direct inspiration for my favorite novel. Nonetheless, it is a fascinating and inspiring place to experience.

Jaclyn A. Lurker is a New York based writer/playwright and avid Christie fan. This is her first time appearing in OMDB!. Jaclyn can be reached at facebook.com/JaclynALurker, pinterest.com/JaclynALurker, and @JaclynALurker.

Copyright 2012 Jaclyn A. Lurker. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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