Cathy Bartrop joined a Travel Editions UK literary themed tour
I should perhaps confess I’ve never read an Agatha Christie novel. I know – shock, horror! That said, whether it is through TV, film or theatre, it’s impossible not to be aware of the impact of this inimitable author. Nevertheless, I was astonished to learn her book sales exceed 2 billion worldwide, putting her second only in sales to the Bible and Shakespeare. Clearly, I have been missing out.
Travel Editions have put together a fun weekend tour that delves into Agatha’s life story, based in her hometown of Torquay on the English Riviera. Having made our own way there, our group of 30 assembled on the first evening at our base for the weekend, The Grand. It’s fair to say it’s a hotel that has seen better days – faded grandeur is perhaps the kindest way to put it – but the staff are absolutely lovely, the food is good and it does occupy a prime location on the seafront. And, most important, it has a direct connection with Agatha as this is where she spent the first night of her honeymoon with her first husband, Archie. The rather splendid Agatha Christie honeymoon suite, I am told, gets booked up months, if not years, in advance. It also makes the hotel the first stop on the so-called ‘Agatha Christie Mile’ – it’s actually more like 3 miles if you walk it but more of that later.
On the first evening, we were in head first with an entertaining Murder Mystery to solve over dinner. The plot of ‘Murder on the Riviera’ was revealed by a talented trio from the local Moonstone Theatre Company and involved multiple costume changes and some very clever ad libbing when put under fairly intense scrutiny by the Travel Edition sleuths. Turned out one of our number was a retired detective and his line of questioning was, well… forensic… but also highly entertaining. As to ‘who dunnit?’ – my lips are sealed but let’s just say you need to keep your wits about you and it proved to be a great icebreaker.
Our second day began with a very informative illustrated talk from our very engaging Tour Manager, Jane Tapley, all about Agatha’s early years and connections with the Torbay area. This set us up nicely to then drive along that ‘Agatha Christie Mile’ and see many of the places that mark memorable moments in her early life – the pier where she roller-skated, Beacon Cove where she swam and the Pavilion where Archie proposed, sadly boarded up but a listed building that will, in time, hopefully be given a new lease of life. The end of the mile is marked by the Torquay Museum with its quirky collections of dinosaur bones and natural history exhibits but also, a floor dedicated to the town’s famous daughter.
Next it was on to Greenway, which Agatha bought in 1938 as a summer residence for the incredible price of just £6000. Now a National Trust property, it’s a 20-minute drive from Torquay, set at the end of a long, narrow country lane. An absolute haven of tranquillity, it is surrounded by 30 acres of woodland that lead down to the River Dart. The grounds are a delight, especially the river views from the Boathouse (featured in Dead Man’s Folly 1956). The Georgian house is also impressive. The family were great collectors of china, silverware, archaeological finds and, of course, books and there is certainly plenty to look at. There’s also a very human and nostalgic side to the displays too – the unfinished game of dominoes on the living room floor, much loved toys propped up on sofas and a glimpse inside Agatha’s dressing room with monogrammed suitcases ready to be packed for the next adventure. A rather delicious Devon cream tea in the lovely Barn Cafe rounded off a perfectly lovely afternoon.
Overnight the tail end of Storm Gabrielle swept in to the South West and we feared our highly anticipated Sunday outing might be a washout. Luck was on our side though, after a late-ish breakfast and then a 90-minute coach drive further south, by the time we arrived at Bigbury on Sea the rain had finally stopped, and the tide was out. The winds were still whipping around us, but we were able to appreciate the magnificent setting of our destination, the famous Burgh Island. When it is cut off at high tide, they operate an elevated tractor to ferry visitors back and forth, but it cannot operate in high winds so, heads down against the wind, we made our way across the sands on foot.
First stop, a quick drink by the welcoming fire at the famous Pilchard Inn, established in 1336 and one of the oldest pubs in Britain. Its two tiny rooms were soon packed out by our group but would once have been full of fishermen and smugglers. No wonder this atmospheric watering hole and the island in general proved inspirational to our Agatha.
The highlight though, without doubt, is a visit to the Burgh Island Hotel, sitting proudly on the hilltop commanding the most stunning views of the bay. Lovingly restored as a luxury Art Deco hotel, it takes very little imagination to picture Agatha and her High Society friends enjoying cocktails at the bar and dancing in the ballroom. No dancing for us, but we did enjoy a delicious 3-course Sunday lunch in that very room. A fitting end to a highly entertaining and enlightening weekend that left me suitably intrigued… and inspired to solve the mystery of how her books have evaded me ’til now!
Travel Editions two nights escorted Agatha Christie on the Riviera tour costs from £489 per person (not including transport to Torquay). For more details and departure dates visit www.traveleditions.co.uk/tour/agatha-christie-on-the-english-riviera
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Travel Editions.