Daphne du Maurier, Cornwall and Me
Cornwall has always been a place that I have loved to visit. There is an energy about it that refreshes and invigorates. For our holiday this year we craved an escape to the coast, a chance to recharge batteries and share some family time together. Cornwall was the perfect choice.
After searching the internet a few months ago we came upon a holiday let that looked cosy, was big enough for our small family of three, and was close to Fowey, a place that I have often been drawn to. The name of our home for the week was Jenny Wren which was located in a small village called Tywardreath about three miles from Fowey and within walking distance to Par beach. It was perfect and just right for our break. Comfortable, very clean, with stunning views across the village and continuing countryside, I felt very much at home from the moment we arrived. We were tired from a long, slow journey and happy to make the most of our accommodation after an exploratory stroll down to Par beach.
Upon the bookshelves in Jenny Wren were a wide selection of novels, biographies and non fiction titles including a short book entitled The Cornish World of Daphne du Maurier, which had been published by Bossiney Books, a small publishing house based in North Cornwall specialising in books about the West Country. I knew that Daphne had lived for some time in Fowey at Ferryside and also at her much love home Menabilly, which was close by but I didn’t realise just how soaked in her history the local area of Fowey, Par and Tywardreath is. The book was fascinating and perfectly placed upon the bookshelf of our summer home. Reading it during my visit bought me a little closer to this author who has fascinated me for so long. Over the years I have been discovering her work, beginning with one of my all time favourites Rebecca and most recently The House On The Strand. It seemed utterly right that I should begin the latter whilst staying in the very village in which the novel is set.
For the first few days of our holiday we were treated to glorious blue skies and warm temperatures. Ideal beach weather in fact and as I sat on Par beach enjoying the stunning coastline I felt a little closer to her still. I can understand why she felt such undying love for Cornwall. There is a sense of calm yet also an unrest, a peace yet a thousand stories waiting to be told. It feels rather exciting and inspiring and I felt very at home there.
We discovered Par beach on the night we arrived and returned many times over our stay. Only a mile from our home for the week, it was a pleasant 20 minute meander away. The bay itself was unspoilt and enjoyed a lovely view. Although busy it never felt crowded and indeed we did feel rather put upon when new arrivals plumped to set up towels right behind us when there was so much space to choose from. I took with me books and notepads but my attention was stolen by my surroundings and the sea, and I felt content to simply soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the moment. A natural mindfulness perhaps, with very little effort required. The sand cold and damp beneath my feet. The salty freshness of the sea air. The chatter of people. The holler of others. The cry of the seagull chasing the breeze and the rumble of the waves gently coming closer or moving farther away.
There is something rather wonderful about mornings in Cornwall, even on a cloudy day. There is a fine mist in the air or ‘mizzle’ as I’ve heard it referred to. The birds are louder, their cries cutting through the air, shattering the silence. At home they are gentler in their song, more like the softer side of the percussion section in an orchestra. Yet here in Cornwall they boom, dramatic and clear across the Cornish skies. There are of course many gulls but also other birds each with a unique voice which when combined creates quite the orchestra to awaken me from my dream filled sleep.
The weather can be moody and incredibly atmospheric as captured so perfectly in any of du Mauriers tales. Glorious blue skies and sunshine or clouds tumbling dark and sinister filled with menace, or light and whispy, like the breathe of an angel. Our holiday home rose high up on a residential area which enabled us a view far across the countryside. From the kitchen we could sit and watch the weather roll in, distant clouds carrying rain which we could see falling on the hills, whilst we sat emersed in the warmth of the sunshine until the clouds would finally reach us before disappearing as quickly as they had arrived.
I love this place, it soothes my soul and I can see why Daphne du Maurier and so many writers and artists have been inspired by it. The history, the atmosphere and the dramatic coastline all hold such magic.
She was never anything but perfectly suited to the place in which she lived. Without that stability, I very much doubt if those novels would ever have been so immensely enjoyable. For that, we can thank the Cornish landscape that she so loved. Above all, of course, she was the supreme story-teller. A master craftswoman in the fine art of narration.
An excerpt from The Cornish World of Daphne du Maurier
It does make me question if the Cornwall we see today would have existed if not for Daphne du Maurier, or even would the Daphne du Maurier we know and love have existed without Cornwall? So intrinsic each was to the other.
Towards the end of her life Daphne wrote Vanishing Cornwall, a fascinating insight into the Cornwall she knew and loved. I have since purchased a copy and look forward to returning via the pages of her book over the coming winter months.
We spent only a week in Cornwall this summer, but on that visit we travelled in time, back to where knights protected our shores from enemies across the seas, to the future and a visit to Mars via a speedy tour of our wonderful solar system. It filled me with such wonder and we returned home with so many fantastic memories.
Walking through history at Tintagel
and Restormel Castles
And river adventures with Fowey River Hire
A visit to The Eden Project took us to Mars
Family fun on the Lanhydrock bike trails
Daphne first moved to rented accommodation in Readymoney Cove in 1942. She’d discovered and fell in love with Menabilly many years before but it wasn’t until 1943 that her perseverance paid off and she convinced the owners to lease it to her. Menabilly was then her home for over 20 years but when the lease ended she was forced to move on to her final home, Kilmarth. Sadly her husband of many years died just before they moved and so the house that they had chosen together would be hers alone. Yet she found contentment there and made it her home for the last twenty years of her life.
This grand old house, overlooking the majestic sweep of the bay beyond began to spur Daphne’s curiosity and imagination and the result was The House on the Strand, first published in 1969.
An excerpt from The Cornish World of Daphne du Maurier
Cornwall is steeped in history, mythology and legend. There are stories in every corner and for me it is somewhere I feel at home. I love the sense of space, the fresh air, the feeling of becoming whole again – if only for a brief time. I feel I can stretch and breath deeply. Indeed a holiday should give you a sense of freedom, freedom to relax, to take in the world around you. To just be. Yet this Cornish landscape also feeds the soul from the moors to the coastline, it fires the imagination and for me, provides a sense of balance. I wish I could stay but I know that it will always be a part of me and I’ll be back.
When I made the booking I had no idea that I would be spending quite so much time with Daphne du Maurier. Yet I could feel her there with me, in the smells on the air, the sea breeze, the summer rain, and the birds as they flew through the air, sending their message out to the world. Perhaps that is why it feels so familiar and so much like coming home. I have visited many times before both in person and through her novels. Cornwall is ever-changing and yet its ghosts surround you as you wonder. Their stories permeate through sand, stone, grass and skyline, and there still so many yet to be told.
We booked our holiday through Sykes Cottages.
You can find out more about our fabulous holiday let, Jenny Wren here. It was absolutely perfect for the three of us and had everything we needed. The owners, Dave and Dianne were incredibly friendly and welcoming. The location was very peaceful but close to the village centre. We slept well throughout the week and were very sad to leave.
We booked our kayaking adventure through Fowey River Hire ( it was excellent)
We had a fantastic day at Lanhydrock where we hired bikes and explored the cycle trails.
There is always something new going on at The Eden Project and on this visit We travelled to Mars.
One favourite pub was The New Inn in Tywardreath. They have wonderful food, good beer and a warm welcome.
The Yummy Scrummy cafe in Par was an absolute find and did THE most delicious savoury pancakes and cooked breakfasts. We visited throughout the week. Yum.
And finally… visit Cornwall. It’s wonderful.