Agatha Christie on the English Riviera themed tour with Travel Editions
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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
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.
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