Saturday, 31 October 2015

Inspired by Agatha, by Lynne Benton

Earlier this summer my husband and I decided to take a rather special trip, to celebrate a big birthday and our 45th wedding anniversary, and go somewhere that had long captured our imagination.

Our first stop in Devon was at Greenway, Agatha Christie's holiday home.  Nowadays it is run by the National Trust, but many of the writer's things are dotted around the house so you can easily imagine her still living there.  We saw things she'd collected over the years, especially some from excursions to Egypt with her second husband, Max Mallowan, and heard recordings of her speaking.  We particularly liked the frieze in the library, painted by one of the American Coastguards billeted here during WWII.  After the war, when he volunteered to paint it out, Agatha asked him to leave it for future generations to enjoy.

Greenway was also the setting for "Poirot and the Greenshore Folly", and at the bottom of the garden you can visit the boathouse where the murder took place.

But the highlight of our holiday was a night spent in the hotel on Burgh Island, just off the coast of Bigbury-on-Sea in Devon.  Agatha Christie used the island, and the hotel, as the setting for "Evil Under the Sun", and the TV version starring David Suchet as Poirot was actually filmed there.

I need hardly add that we have watched it more than once!

If, however, you have seen the big screen version of "Evil Under the Sun", starring Peter Ustinov, that was not filmed on Burgh Island but on Crete!

When we arrived we enjoyed exploring the island and spotting the tiny cove, again mentioned in the book and filmed for TV, where the murder took place.  Apparently Agatha stayed in a small shack just below the hotel on several occasions while she was writing the book.

She also used the island as inspiration for "And Then There Were None", except that in this case she "moved" the island further out to sea so the characters could be truly cut off from civilisation.  

In fact Burgh Island is so close to the mainland that when the tide is out you can walk across the beach to get there, but it was fascinating to watch the tide coming in from both sides at once, meeting in the middle and cutting the island off completely.

When this happens the only way of reaching the island is by taking the Sea Tractor, an amazing contraption (also used in the TV film of "Evil Under the Sun", much to Poirot's disgust.)

We were hoping to catch a rid on it at least one way, but sadly we missed it and were taken across by taxi, which lacked the romance of the Sea Tractor but was probably more comfortable.

The hotel, which is he only building on the island apart from the Pilchard Inn, is entirely decorated in the Art Deco style, and boasts that apart from wifi there are no modern trappings like televisions in the place.

Unfortunately this also meant there were no tea or coffee-making facilities in our room, which I rather missed!  However, we were offered a free tray of tea or coffee first thing the next morning, and it was rather nice to be woken in our luxurious period suite by a knock on the door, followed by a waiter carrying a tray laden with full silver service.

And in the evening everyone dressed up for the bi-weekly Dinner Dance (the brochure said it was "impossible to be overdressed" for this occasion, so we took them at their word.)  We felt as if we really had stepped back in time, as we sipped our cocktails in the Cocktail Bar before being led into the Ballroom for dinner.  As we ate, a three-piece band played music from the period, eg songs by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin etc, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  Not many couples got up to dance, but we did our best (ie we shuffled round the floor in time to the music, but "Strictly Come Dancing" it wasn't!) and felt we'd truly entered into the spirit of the occasion.

The next morning at breakfast we were interested to discover that one of our fellow-guests (celebrating her 50th birthday, her mother told me) had been into the Mermaid Pool, a natural pool just below the hotel, for an early morning swim, wearing a period bathing costume with long sleeves and legs.  

We were impressed and congratulated her, and she said she'd always wanted to come and "do it properly"!  I was not similarly tempted, I'm afraid!

As we returned to our car on the mainland we were very glad we'd had the experience of staying there, even if we could only afford one night.  By then we felt as if we knew something about the places which inspired Agatha Christie to write.

They have certainly inspired me!


Sue Bursztynski said...

Oh, half your luck! What a wonderful trip you had! An Agatha Christie pilgrimage sounds a terrific way to spend a special holiday.

Sue Purkiss said...

Sounds marvellous - have always liked the look of that hotel, and am very keen to go to Greenaway.

Jenny Alexander said...

Lovely article, Lynne. I've recently blogged about reading Orwell in Jura and will add the link to this post there

Lynne Benton said...

Thanks to you all for your comments - glad you enjoyed the post.

Julie Sykes said...

Congratulations on a special birthday and an anniversary. Your trip sounded wonderful. I loved the idea of the Mermaid Pool but I'm not sure that I'd have gone swimming in it either ;)

Lynne Benton said...

Thanks, Julie!

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Katherine Roberts said...

Greenway is not far from me - local residents can get various deals that include entry all year so I've spent hours in the peaceful gardens writing and plotting. If anyone wants to visit, I think you can rent a holiday cottage/flat there... it is indeed a very special place.