The English Riviera – Agatha Christie’s Devon

Fiona Maclean follows in the footsteps of the UK’s most prolific author.

dartmouth 1

Dartmouth ©Fiona Maclean

Greenway - Approached from River

Greenway - Approached from River ©Fiona Maclean

Greenway morning room

Greenway Morning Room ©National Trust Images/Nick Guttridge

Greenway Library

Greenway Library ©National Trust Images/Nick Guttridge

Station Master

Station Master ©Fiona Maclean

Arriving at the Palace Hotel in Torquay is a step back to an era when time seemed to move at an altogether slower pace. And, for the most part, the English Riviera has an old world charm although there are plenty of seaside attractions – a Pier in Torquay, a replica of the Golden Hind in Brixham, a vintage steam train ride along the coast and of course a fun fair.

For Agatha Christie fans, one of the biggest attractions of course is spotting and visiting places that shaped her writing or that had a huge influence on her life. Many of the attractions and sites in the English Riviera DO feature in her books, from the fascinating Kent’s Caves which are referenced in ‘the Man in the Brown Suit’ to the grand and imposing Imperial Hotel which is renamed ‘the Majestic’ for its appearance in ‘Peril at End House’ and ‘The Body in the Library’.

One of the hightlights of our visit was a trip to Greenway – Agatha Christie’s holiday home. It’s a fabulous and beautifully preserved monument to the UK’s most prolific author. We were lucky enough to have a private tour of the building, now owned and managed by the National Trust and then dinner in her own Dining Room. When the property was donated to the National Trust by Agatha Christie’s daughter Rosalind Hicks, the bequest included most of the contents. And the Trust has taken great care to preserve the house as it might have been on any day when the family were staying. The walls are lined with books, the piano has a collection of music including a work by Agatha herself who was an excellent pianist, and there are family photos scattered around the place.

The gardens overlook the River Dart and one of the nicest ways to arrive is by taking the ferry from Dartmouth up the river and then walking up the hill. That way, your first sight as you come through the tree lined walk is of the house fronted by a croquet lawn. When the National Trust first took over the house, the Gardens were the only part of the property accessible by the public while major restoration work and archiving took place in the building itself. Agatha’s family were all great collectors – of china, of art and in Agatha Christie’s case, of Papier Mache! And the house has kept all those collections intact and on display.

There are one or two places to find which are referenced in Agatha’s books – Ralegh’s Boathouse for instance, the place where Marlene Tucker was strangled in Dead Man’s folly. And, some of the collections are a real insight into the inspiration behind some of the books, from the commedia dell’arte figures collected by Agatha’s grandmother and featured in The Mysterious Mr Quin to the archeological collections of Agatha’s husband Max and his campaign bed which is still in their bedroom.

And there are some special and almost private insights into her family life – for me, of particular note, the fresco in the library, painted by a US Naval Officer when the house was requisitioned during the Second World War. When the American Navy, the fresco was left at Agatha’s request as

‘it would be a historical memorial, and that I was delighted to have it’

Both the splendid gardens and the interior are now open to visitors so everyone can have the chance to step back into the world that inspired Agatha Christie.

If you want to explore Agatha’s Devon then there are some great resources available on the English Riviera Website (http://www.englishriviera.co.uk/agathachristie) here. If you simply want a traditional English Seaside holiday, well, Torbay is a great place to visit with a unique microclimate that makes it warm enough for Palm Trees to grow, combined with sandy beaches and coastline cliffs and caverns.

Article ©Fiona Maclean

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