Devon sent – a celebration of English style
Tove GOTS-certified organic cotton dress, £625. Hunter FSC-certified natural rubber boots, £105. Jewellery throughout: Wild Fawn ethically sourced recycled and traceable gold necklace, £200. Kimai recycled gold bracelet, £475, and necklace, £945. Ilaria Icardi recycled yellow- and white-gold and repurposed diamond ring, POA. Le Hat straw Valentina hat, £85
Maria McManus cupro dress, £735, and recycled cashmere and cotton jumper, £642
As you stand on Bigbury Beach looking across to Burgh Island on the south coast of Devon, it is easy to see why Agatha Christie imagined it the perfect setting for a novel. Some dastardly deed; a group of highfalutin socialites stuck in a remote place; even a Belgian investigator with a “gigantic” moustache. John Ruskin apparently once said, ironically I’m sure, that no good books were written in towns, and walking across the slip of sand that separates Burgh from the mainland, it is hard not to feel inspired by its remoteness and palpable sense of mystery.
As a child, I devoured stories of adventure. Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame soon made way for Enid Blyton and CS Lewis. My early teenage years were infused with the escapades of Holmes and Hannay, the Bagginses and Harry Potter. The “boy who lived under the stairs” was 11 when he first boarded the train at King’s Cross in 1997, which is when I was eagerly counting down the days to my own (underwhelming) arrival at secondary school. By the time I got there that flame had dwindled somewhat. The spirit of imagination had been replaced by apprehension.
It is still early in Devon and the sun has not burnt away the clouds. The island sits in a low fog. The steps leading up to Burgh Island Hotel are smooth, in the way that only stone eroded by centuries of saltwater can be. I wonder how many smugglers have crossed cutlasses on the way up to The Pilchard Inn with its sign creaking eerily in the breeze. It is quiet – maybe too quiet. I half expect Blind Pew to come stumbling out and thrust the black spot into my palm before disappearing into the fog. The illusion is rather unceremoniously punctured by the sudden arrival of guests in a jet-black Land Rover.
Navygrey traceable Scottish-spun Responsible Wool Standard-certified wool jumper, £190. Chanel vintage silk jacquard shirt, £1,020, hardlyeverwornit.com. Raey natural-fibre linen/wool coat, £895. Gerbase recycled mohair and wool trousers, £995
I take a detour past the croquet lawn and up to a rocky outcrop. What is it that brings us back to quintessential stories of adventure? Stepping through the portal, escaping our humdrum existence and accepting the call remains an enduring part of what it means to be human. The “story” is an unkept promise to our childhood selves that we won’t give up. Lucy brushes aside the coats in the wardrobe before stepping out into snowy Narnia, Jim leaves the Admiral Benbow Inn in search of buried treasure, Alice tumbles down the rabbit hole… In Nebraska, a man recently set a new world record for paddling 38 miles in a hollowed-out pumpkin that he grew himself. If curiosity and escapism are part of our humanity, surely we shouldn’t repress them? Do we all need to cross the threshold to grow? (Ourselves, that is, not oversized veg.)
A sign marks the cliff edge and I peer over: 50m below me sits a pool of water enclosed by menacing cliffs, its colour a beguiling emerald-green. I toss a stone down. The boom of the travel economy has meant it has never been easier to leave the country – but we neglect our own shores. I recently came across a Twitter thread that was titled “Growing up this is what I thought England looked like”, accompanied by images of various enchanting scenes from The Wind in the Willows. The first comment beneath was: “It is. But without the animals wearing clothes.” Correct. England does really look like this if you are prepared to leave our major cities. A reframing of exploration is necessary. It involves learning about where you live, purchasing a sturdy pair of shoes and being comfortable with getting lost once in a while.
Because England is an Island of Adventure. It is found in the hills, the rock pools and at the bottom of the garden; through the binoculars and under the microscope; in the conscious and unconscious realms of our own psyche. TS Eliot remarked that it was not till we were done exploring that we would “arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time”. As the giddying height gets the better of me I listen to my own gut. I step back from the cliff edge and take a deep breath. Peeking out on top of a hill above me are the ruins of an old stone fort. An inviting mini-adventure of its own on the horizon. Do I dare?
Jil Sander by Lucie and Luke Meier recycled viscose dress, £1,670
Chanel vintage silk jacquard shirt, £1,020, hardlyeverwornit.com
Atlein recycled viscose dress, £660
Navygrey traceable Scottish-spun Responsible Wool Standard-certified wool jumper, £190. Chanel vintage silk jacquard shirt, £1,020, hardlyeverwornit.com. Gerbase recycled mohair and wool trousers, £995
Another Tomorrow Gold Level Cradle to Cradle-certified traceable and ethically sourced merino wool jumper, £552, and matching skirt, £459, and recycled nylon coat, £1,772
Totême recycled polyester coat, £1,290. Chloé recycled cashmere dress, £1,320. Hermès vintage silk scarf, £198, resee.com. Ariat leather and recycled rubber boots, £230. Ray-Ban vintage Wayfarer sunglasses, £67.68, vestiairecollective.com. Billingham vintage camera bag, photographer’s own
Model, Luca Biggs at Premier. Casting, Ben Grimes. Hair and skin, Tomi Roppongi at Julian Watson Agency using Oribe and Violette_FR Boum Boum Milk. Photographers’ assistant, Jim Tobias. Stylist’s assistants, Daniel D’Armas, Aylin Bayhan and Timothy Brooks. Production, Noot Coates at Town Production. Special thanks to Giles Fuchs and Lily at Burgh Island Hotel and Louisa Nairne at Sapience. Shot at Burgh Island Hotel, Devon