SO begins Enid Blyton’s first Famous Five adventure, Five on a Treasure Island, which was published 75 years ago this month and set in Blyton’s adopted home, Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. With Cornwall off the cards, Julian, Dick and Anne’s parents pack them off to Aunt Fanny, Uncle Quentin and their “lonely” cousin Georgina, in Kirrin Bay. As many families – including my own – love doing, they leave the crowded city streets behind and soon see the “shining blue sea, calm and smooth in the evening sun”.
Purbeck’s not really an isle, more a peninsula, surrounded by water on three sides, with the island-dotted Poole Harbour to the north, the seaside town of Swanage (where Blyton used to stay in the Grand Hotel in the 1950s) to the east, and the secluded coves and bays of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast to the south.
Blyton was born in London on August 11, 1897, and her main home from the late 1930s was Green Hedges (named by her readers in a competition) in Beaconsfield, a London commuter town bordering the Chiltern Hills, but she had a love affair with Purbeck and spent three holidays there every year for more than two decades, even buying the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club with her husband Kenneth in 1950.
With its green hills rolling like sleeping dragons, dramatic cliffs and the ruins of Corfe Castle at its heart, it’s easy to see why she kept coming back and mined the area for her children’s books.
We take a picturesque ride in the Pullman Observation Car, right behind the engine on the impeccably kept Swanage Railway steam train from Swanage to Corfe Castle.
Blyton did just that in 1941, arriving at what she turned into Kirrin Castle, on Kirrin Island, owned by George’s family, where the cousins and Timmy the dog discover gold in the dungeon in Five on a Treasure Island.
There may not be any gold bullion for us to find, but our three-year-old son enjoys hunting for the six shields that are hidden around the 11th century ruins, and answering questions from the facts written on each that will reward him with a rubber Corfe Castle wristband.
A short drive from the castle is Blue Pool, a former clay pit that’s naturally filled with rainwater, surrounded with scented pines and rhododendrons, and perhaps the most
Enid Blyton turned Corfe Castle on the Isle of Purbeck into the fictional Kirrin Castle in her debut Famous Five story, Five on a Treasure Island