Un­cover the mys­ter­ies of Agatha Christie’s Devon

As Ken­neth Branagh’s ver­sion of Mur­der On The Ori­ent Ex­press hits cin­e­mas, LAURA HANNAM fol­lows in the foot­steps of the famed crime writer

Solihull News - - TRAVEL -

Get­ting to Green­way is half the fun for visi­tors who choose to travel as Agatha did... by train and ferry

KEN­NETH Branagh’s all- star re­boot of Mur­der On The Ori­ent Ex­press, star­ring Judi Dench, Pene­lope Cruz and Johnny Depp, is set to spark a resur­gence of in­ter­est in au­thor Agatha Christie’s books and the ex­otic lo­ca­tions she fea­tured.

But you don’t have to splash out on tick­ets for the Ori­ent Ex­press or travel to Egypt to feel close to her works. Sim­ply head to Devon, where she spent most of her life, and found in­spi­ra­tion for many of her books and char­ac­ters.

Agatha spent her first 28 years in the coastal town of Torquay, the faded glory of which has be­come its charm. A blue plaque marks the place where she was born at home on the hilly Bar­ton Road, and there’s a com­mem­o­ra­tive bust in the town square.

Lo­cal guide John Ris­don, who is a foun­tain of knowl­edge when it comes to Agatha Christie, is avail­able for pri­vate tours. He re­veals that a young Agatha would roller- skate along Torquay’s Princess Pier, where she played pranks on un­sus­pect­ing lo­cals with her school friends.

Leg­end also has it she would taunt prud­ish el­derly pedes­tri­ans by peel­ing off one glove and de­fi­antly wav­ing her nude hand – a ma­jor taboo in those days.

Just a few min­utes’ walk from the pier is Bea­con Cove, for­merly Ladies Bathing Cove, where Agatha claimed she once al­most drowned while try­ing to save her young nephew. Agatha was dragged out of her depth by the cur­rent, only for a lifeguard to scoop her up at the last minute. As John quips: “There would be no Mur­der On The Ori­ent Ex­press if it wasn’t for him!”

There’s also the re­mote and un­de­ni­ably ro­man­tic An­steys Cove, only ac­ces­si­ble by foot, where Agatha was sup­pos­edly once caught canoodling with a young man by the name of Amyas Bos­ton.

While their ro­mance was short- lived, as­tute Christie fans will note that Amyas is the name of a vic­tim in Christie’s cel­e­brated novel Five Lit­tle Pigs.

But it wasn’t all fun and games for young Agatha. She stud­ied to be a nurse dur­ing WWI and helped wounded vet­er­ans at a lo­cal Torquay hos­pi­tal that in­cluded a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal dis­pen­sary. Now a block of lux­ury con­verted flats, this is where Agatha gained her vast knowl­edge of poi­sons and felt in­spired to start writ­ing her first de­tec­tive novel, The Mys­te­ri­ous Af­fair At Styles.

Agatha stayed at many of the board­ing houses and ho­tels across Torquay, hav­ing set­tled for a new life in St John’s Wood, Lon­don, with her first hus­band Archie Christie. Mar­ried in 1914, they stayed at Torquay’s The Grand ho­tel for their hon­ey­moon. Dat­ing back to 1881, Torquay’s “his­toric jewel” is still one of the town’s most pop­u­lar ho­tels.

Fans of the writer will be pleased to know that her suite is still avail­able to book and re­tains many of its orig­i­nal fea­tures, boast­ing Art Deco de­sign flur­ries and glo­ri­ous views of the sea. Nat­u­rally very pop­u­lar, the suite books up quickly, and typ­i­cally costs around £ 300 per night.

What’s more, The Grand reg­u­larly holds mur­der mys­tery­themed din­ners, run by Can­dle­light Mur­der Mys­tery.

A short drive away from The Grand lies the stun­ning 12th cen­tury Torre Abbey, where the In­ter­na­tional Agatha Christie Fes­ti­val is held ev­ery Septem­ber. Each year thou­sands of Christie fans gather to swap books, hear lec­tures and en­joy high tea.

Although the writer had no di­rect links to the abbey, its team of gar­den­ers has planted a poi­son gar­den patch in her mem­ory. Fea­tur­ing dozens of sur­pris­ingly lethal plants fea­tured in her nov­els, it’s be­come a pop­u­lar talk­ing point at the an­nual fes­ti­val.

An es­sen­tial stop for any Agatha Christie afi­cionado is Green­way Es­tate, on the River Dart near Brix­ham. It is the mag­nif­i­cent ru­ral sum­mer home she pur­chased with her hus­band in 1938.

She fondly de­scribes it in her mem­oir as a “dream home” and it’s even re­ferred to in some of her nov­els, in­clud­ing Dead Man’s Folly and Five Lit­tle Pigs.

Get­ting to Green­way is half the fun for visi­tors who choose to travel as Agatha did – by train and ferry. Board the fab­u­lously ro­man­tic Dart­mouth Steam Rail­way train at sea­side town Paign­ton, then hop off at Dart­mouth to board the Dart­mouth Ferry as it steers to­wards Green­way Quay.

The en­tire jour­ney should take you no longer than an hour, de­pend­ing upon con­nec­tions, and costs around £ 17 per per­son for a round trip.

Views of the wa­ter and sur­round­ing forests await, as Green­way Es­tate peeks out through the wilder­ness.

Visi­tors can roam the sprawl­ing grounds of the Na­tional Trust prop­erty ( en­try for non- Na­tional Trust mem­bers is £ 11 per adult), which fea­tures the Christie fam­ily’s pet grave­yard and Agatha’s own flower gar­den.

The house is packed with mem­o­ra­bilia and many of the au­thor’s first- edi­tion works.

The gar­den­ers are keen to main­tain much of the prop­erty’s orig­i­nal rugged and wild charm, mak­ing it a labyrinth to ex­plore.

There’s even an op­tion to stay at the house. The Na­tional Trust has con­verted parts of the man­sion’s first and sec­ond floor into a lux­ury hol­i­day rental that can sleep up to eight. Visi­tors are re­quired to stay for a min­i­mum of three nights, cost­ing around £ 500.

Charm­ing and quintessen­tially English, a trip to Agatha Christie coun­try is worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

Agatha Christie spent much of her youth in pretty Torquay Many of Christie’s per­sonal items, such as this pass­port, re­main at Green­way Quay

From top: Johnny Depp in Mur­der On The Ori­ent Ex­press and Christie’s beloved Green­way Es­tate

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