We’ve been travelling the English West Country this last fortnight and what a feast of historical discovery it’s been. Let’s say straight away that I now understand why so many famous writers and artists were inspired by the area. There’s just something about it that stimulates the creative juices.
One of the writers I most admire is Daphne duMaurier. Frenchman’s Creek happens to be my favourite of her novels so I was determined to see the famous creek where the fictitious French boat came and went, seemingly at will.
As you will see from this picture of the river, it’s very pretty and even more secluded so I guess the Georgian forces being outwitted by her loveable pirate is fairly believable. I'd often wondered about that.
On to Dartmouth and the almost four hundred year old buildings that are now the Royal Castle Hotel. In the early 1800’s, with the coming of the turnpike and an easier gradient into the town, The Castle Inn became a proper coaching house. Agatha Christie’s home is nearby and she once resided at the hotel, using its wonderful library to write one of her books. The shelves are still lined with ancient leather bound tomes - Justice of the Peace Volume XOV 1931 and Public General Statutes 1883 to name but two.
This is me posing at the typewriter Agatha herself might well have used.
In Lyme Regis we were fortunate enough to stay at the original post office, now a guest house. It first became a post office in 1799 with John Norman as its postmaster. Jane Austen famously spent two seasons in Lyme and almost certainly posted a letter to her sister Cassandra in the original box, photographed here, on 14th September 1804.
It’s called an ostler box. The lower slit is for pedestrians, the upper one being more convenient for men on horseback to use. There was no such thing as envelopes or stamps in those days so the postmaster would have used a wooden stamp to frank Jane’s letter.
Corfe Castle, dating back to the 11th century, was another delight. Mary Banks led the defence of the castle against Parliamentary forces, holding out for six weeks until betrayed from within her own ranks.
All in all, it’s been an exhausting but hugely enjoyable trip back in time.