Last week I found myself in Devon where I had arranged to pick up some Pyrex. As it is virtually the furthest West side of England county I can travel to from my South Eastern corner I had to stay over, the drive is about 5-6 hours, if the traffic is good. With the M25 between me and ANYWHERE the traffic is never good. Procrastinating over booking it I was reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography where she spoke about her holiday home in Devon. At this point I wasn’t even sure that Devon was where I was going, I thought I was going to Dorset! Anyway I did a bit of research and worked out that actually my Pyrex collection was a mere half an hour from Greenway, the holiday home, and that Agatha had huge links with Torquay where she was born and married her first husband, Archie Christie. And fortunately Torquay has an abundance of B&B’s because it is a mecca for tourists. I booked at £30 a night B&B for three nights and started planning my Agatha pilgrimage.
I arrived in Torquay about 3pm, just in time to check in but not without having first got my bearings. Once I had unpacked the car I set off for the 15 minutes walk to the seafront. I managed to find the bust of Agatha but sadly was too late to get the details of the Agatha Mile from the Tourist Information office. I tried to make the best of it and managed to find myself a plaque to Ernest Shackleton, an Antarctic Explorer of whom I am particularly fond, as well as The Grand, where Agatha honeymooned with her first husband.
My first full day in the area and I drove to Exeter to pick up a car load of Pyrex which was quite exciting then spent the rest of the day hunting Exeter and Totnes for more Pyrex, books and bookshops.
But it was day 2 that I was looking forward to. Everyone knew it. The tourists staying with me at the B&B knew it. The hosts knew it. Fortunately I had researched enough to have previously worked out that you need to book parking at Greenway, you can’t just turn up. And I had booked parking for first thing. Of course I was still early but they let me in anyway. The guy at the gate suggested that I stay in my car for twenty minutes as the property doesn’t open until 1030. When the gathering thong started edging their way to the entrance I joined them thinking it must just be on the outskirts of the car park. How wrong I was. A good five minute walk down the drive to the National Trust entrance lobby. What a glorious walk it was though. Beautiful old trees and great big fragrant plants, bird song. It gave you the opportunity to relax and step back in time.
And yet I was still too early and had to wait for them to unlock. As I stood having my card scanned, a very happy newbie member here, I heard the radio of one of the volunteers crackle into life announcing the imminent arrival of 60 French students. Now I have nothing against a bit of education but I was pretty sure that I had quite literally bumped into said French students on Torquay seafront on Tuesday night and most certainly did not wish to repeat the experience in Agatha’s bedroom.
So I scarpered. Straight to the front door of the house, impatiently stopping and making the most of the opportunity to take a great people free shot.
Once in the main door I was told by one of the many lovely volunteers that I came across that day, that Agatha bought the house for £6k in 1938 along with her second husband Max. Agatha had seen the house as a child and loved it so when she saw that it was for sale she bought it as a holiday home. I offered the lady £8k for it but she felt that the National Trust would probably want the £5 million back that they had invested in the house since being given it.
I was advised that the tour takes a specific route and was given a booklet to assist me. The first room was the drawing room and I could hear a piano being played rather beautifully in here. The piano playing volunteer told us that Agatha was a well practiced pianist and had loved to play the piano as a child. She had bought this piano, a Steinway, herself and delighted in playing it. The volunteer offered us all the chance to play it describing the delight of two women who had once just touched a key and gone off happy having touched the piano Agatha had played.
I have to say I understand the feeling. I was emotionally overwhelmed by seeing and being in the house. It has so much atmosphere and appears to be presented as it always was. The spirit of Agatha is definitely there.
I visited other rooms but the real joy of the tour for me was doing the whole of the upstairs by myself. I was literally accompanied up the staircase by the volunteer who covered the area because she hadn’t had to go up yet as no-one had quite got there. I explored the sitting room, fax room, her bedroom and bathroom all by myself, quite alone except for meeting the volunteer in the bedroom where she, just for me, played Agatha speaking about her method of writing. And it was quite delightful to hear her speak in her bedroom.
As the crowds started to join me in the bedroom and ask for the replaying of the voice I made a hasty retreat and was rewarded by a solo exploration of the dining room and library.
The house was requisitioned during WWII and Agatha carefully packed her belongings up and locked them in two rooms. The rest of the house was used by the Americans and practice runs for Normandy were staged just down the road. One of the American personnel took it upon himself, without permission, to paint a freeze around the library commemorating his war! When Agatha returned to the house she decided to leave it up as part of the history of the house. Apparently the chap visited in the 1960’s and was quite taken aback that it was still there!
The cheek of it!!!!
I love looking at a library, it tells you so much about a person. There were several areas in the house displaying her own books but there were so many other books, classics, gardening books, history books, books everywhere.
Oh how I would love a library!
The grounds to the house are extensive and I took a walk down to the boat house where Agatha set the murder in Dead Man’s Folly and where an episode of the John Suchet Poirot was filmed. I must look that out!
The boat house is a magical place. Apparently Agatha and her family would spend hours down here just watching the boats going to and fro. Her grandson remembers the place very fondly in the most useful film that is played on a loop in the stables at the start of the tour.
The walk back to the house is really steep and I was a bit out of breath by the exertion. I visited the shop and bought too much, a copy of Dead Man’s Folly that was stamped with a Greenways stamp, some great postcards that I have sent to my friends, a pretty picture of the house and a bag. Oh and a bookmark.
I remembered when I bought the book that I had brought copies of my recently read Agatha’s to photograph outside the house. That was a good prompt because I would have been disappointed not to have remembered. Then the rain started in earnest. So with much of the grounds left to explore but a homeward drive ahead of me I decided that it was a good time to leave.
I retraced the long walk along the drive, where I met the 60 French students blocking the exit, and found my car. Happy I drove off ready to return home only to be greeted, on the single track road outside the house, by a bus, and I had to reverse quite some distance before he could pass me. Thank goodness I can reverse because at times it felt like I was taking part in some kind of banger derby, the bus driver gave me no room for error! Perhaps someone could have told me the bus times as I was leaving though you can see why there is good logic behind setting parking times at the property.
I absolutely loved visiting this National Trust property. It was interesting to me to see all the different ages of people, the different nationalities, all of whom were ardent Agatha fans or perhaps will be, when they are old enough to read. All around me were people talking about how they grew up reading her novels, grew up watching Poirot, they improved their English with every episode.
If it wasn’t apparent already it certainly was by the time I left, Agatha Christie is a national treasure and how glorious it is to be able to visit her holiday home.
Here is the link to the National Trust page on Greenway
If you are visiting please remember the absolute necessity to book parking, there is nowhere anywhere near to park if you haven’t. In the high peak summer months of July and August you will definitely benefit from researching other modes of transport. You can get a ferry over there, you can apparently get a steam train or, as I found out, you can get a bus!
However you travel there just get yourself there, it is magical and glorious and spectacular and, as one of the volunteers said to me, oh so inspiring.