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
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