My fave places: Dr Laura Varnam’s Du Maurier Country
Daphne du Maurier was one of Cornwall's best known writers and her books are pretty much synonymous with the Duchy. Literary expert Dr Laura Varnam picks her fave Du Maurier inspired places - ready? Let's go.
In Rebecca, the fictional estate Manderley plays a central role, based on Menabilly, one of author Daphne du Maurier’s Cornish houses, but where else in Cornwall can we go to find out what inspired her writing (and which books should we be reading where?).
Dr Laura Varnam regularly appears at the Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature, giving talks and running her popular reading groups on Du Maurier’s novels, and she is currently writing a book on Daphne du Maurier.
Over to you, Laura.
Fowey and Bodinnick (Ferryside) – The Loving Spirit
For me, Fowey is at the heart of Du Maurier country. Daphne’s family came to Fowey in 1926, on the lookout for a holiday home, and she immediately fell in love with the beautiful coastal town. ‘I for this and this for me’, she famously said, and I feel just the same when I visit each year for the Fowey Festival!
Daphne wrote her first novel, The Loving Spirit (1931), at Ferryside (above), the house on the River Fowey at Bodinnick that her parents bought and renovated. Now a grade II listed building, Ferryside remains in the family- Daphne’s son Kits Browning lives there- and if you see the house from across the river, you can spot the figurehead of the Jane Slade attached to one of the beams. This boat inspired The Loving Spirit so it’s a lovely connection with the book that launched Daphne’s career as a novelist.
The Rook with a Book, Fowey Town Quay – The Birds
No visit to Fowey would be complete without seeing the ‘Rook with a Book’ sculpture on the Town Quay. Created by father and son team the Thrussells, this fantastic sculpture celebrates the life and works of Du Maurier. The rook holds a copy of Daphne’s famous 1952 short story ‘The Birds’, which inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film.
Readymoney Cove, Fowey
My other favourite spot in Fowey is the gorgeous Readymoney Cove. Daphne lived in a house at Readymoney with her children for a year during the Second World War. The beach itself is the perfect place to sit and read a Du Maurier novel and you can treat yourself to an ice cream or some tea and cake from the brilliant Readymoney Beach Shop too!
Hall Walk- Bodinnick, Pont Pill, and Polruan – The Loving Spirit
From the Hall Walk you get the most marvellous views of Fowey. This is a walk that Daphne herself knew well and she described the landscape so evocatively in The Loving Spirit. Daphne first came across the abandoned ship the Jane Slade in Pont Pill and Jane Slade and her husband are buried in Lanteglos church, where Daphne herself was to marry Boy Browning in 1932.
On the Hall Walk you also pass the Q Memorial stone which celebrates another important literary figure in Fowey’s history, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, better known as ‘Q’. Professor of English Literature at Cambridge, prolific writer, and Mayor of Fowey, Q was also an early mentor to Daphne. This is one of my favourite walks in Cornwall.
Tywardreath – The House on the Strand
The village of Tywardreath, which means ‘house on the strand’, inspired Daphne du Maurier’s 1969 novel in which the main character, Dick Young, time travels back to the fourteenth-century. The House on the Strand is a special novel for me because it’s the first Du Maurier book that I read as a teenager and from then on I was completely addicted!
Daphne’s research for the medieval parts of her book was excellent and she maps Dick Young’s adventures perfectly onto the landscape of Tywardreath, Par, and the surrounding area. Dick is staying in a house called Kilmarth in the novel, this was the dower house on the Menabilly estate (behind Polridmouth beach, above), which Daphne herself moved into when her lease at Menabilly ran out in 1969.
Both Menabilly and Kilmarth remain in private hands but you can visit the church at Tywardreath, which not only features in The House on the Strand but also has a connection to Daphne’s 1946 novel The King’s General as it contains a memorial to Honor Harris, the narrator in Daphne’s famous story of the Cornish Civil War.
The Helford River – Frenchman’s Creek
Frenchman’s Creek (1941) is Du Maurier’s only romantic novel- she described it as ‘romance with a capital R!’- and heroine Dona St Columb’s adventure with her French pirate takes place in the creek where Daphne and her husband spent their honeymoon.
The opening chapter of the novel has a magical description of a solitary yachtsman who comes to the mouth of the creek and senses that ‘there is something of mystery about it, even now, something of enchantment.’ It’s a beautiful spot to take a boat trip and imagine yourself on a romantic adventure!
Dr Laura Varnam is a Lecturer in English Literature at University College, Oxford, and she is passionate about the works of Daphne du Maurier.
The Rook with a Book photo © Thrussells