Windswept coastlines, rugged beaches, and tightly-knit fishing communities: the real Cornwall is just as dramatic– and oftentimes just as creepy- as the backdrop for the jaw-dropping tales depicted in iconic novels such as ‘Jamaica Inn’ and ‘Rebecca’. Author of these well-loved stories, Daphne du Maurier, lived in Southern Cornwall for over fifty years. And so, today, it’s possible to follow in the footsteps of Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall for yourself…
Just below Menabilly House, where Daphne du Maurier spent many years writing and based both herself and her fictional novels, Polridmouth Cove and Beach can be found. During Du Maurier’s lifetime, the secluded beach was one of her favourite bathing spots.
Today, you can swim in the crystal clear waters for yourself, as long as you don’t mind braving the freezing cold waves! The area is well-known for its prime bird spotting and the beach itself offers picture-perfect views over towards St Austell, as well as East towards Fowey.
Menabilly House, Tywardreath
Inspiration for the house of Manderley in the novel ‘Rebecca,’ Menabilly House has been the seat of the Rashleigh family since the 16th-century and remains so to this day. The current mansion house was constructed in the Georgian Style and was built on Elizabethan foundations. Du Maurier first fell in love with once abandoned Menabilly House in her early 20s, and visited time and time over the years. Eventually, she was able to move in as a tenant in 1943.
Unfortunately, for us wishing to catch a peek of the inspiring house, the Menabilly Mansion is located in the very heart of its own estate and so is not visible from any part of the land (believe me, I tried hard to find a good viewpoint!) But then again, sometimes these kind of private and historic houses are best left to the imagination…
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.” – Opening lines of ‘Rebecca‘, Daphne du Maurier
Vintage print of Menabilly House, via Wikimedia.
Frenchman’s Creek, Helford
Daphne Du Maurier loved this part of the world so much that she rarely left, and even spent her honeymoon aboard a motorboat, barely thirty miles away from Fowey. Frenchman’s Creek appears in several Du Maurier novels, notably her book of the same name, Frenchman’s Creek.
Today, you can visit the Creek, a small inlet of the River Helford, if you don’t mind driving through the narrow lanes to get there! At certain times of the year, it’s possible to kayak towards the creek on a summer’s day, and admire this area of outstanding natural beauty from a different viewpoint.
Fowey Historic Town
Dating back to time immemorial, the fishing community of Fowey is a town worth of a visit on any Cornish adventure, let alone a trip to follow the trail of Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall! Set against the backdrop of roaring waves and nestled at the mouth of the River Fowey, wander through the historic town to get a feel for how it must have been during Du Maurier’s time.
After all, not much has changed in the centre of town over the past century! Each year, during the month of May, the Daphne du Maurier Festival of Arts and Literature is held, celebrating all things arts related. There, another writer who once inhabited Fowey, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, is also celebrated. As well as Quiller-Couch, strong ties between Wind in the Willows author, Kenneth Grahame, can be found throughout Fowey.
Read more: A Quick Guide to Fowey.
Daphne du Maurier Literary Centre, Fowey
Open on a daily basis, the Daphne du Maurier Literary Centre can be found in the very heart of Fowey. Surrounded by cafés, eateries and traditional Cornish pubs, the centre is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of busy Cornish life.
Inside the literary store, books, books, and more books can be found among displays dedicated to Du Maurier’s works. There is also a small gift shop selling Cornwall related gifts where you can purchase a small souvenir of your trip.
Fowey Museum, Fowey
Elsewhere in the ancient fishing port of Fowey, you’ll find the Fowey Museum. Don’t be fooled by the fact that this culture space only has one room: there’s still an awful lot to learn about the centuries worth of history and dramatic events that have occurred in Fowey.
While the focus of the museum is on the history of Fowey as a whole, there is an entire exhibition dedicated to Daphne du Maurier. Other interesting exhibits of the museum include life in Fowey, as well as artefacts dating back to the 15th-century.
Ferryside at Bodnick (originally called Swiss Cottage)
In 1927, Daphne du Maurier had her first real taste of living in Cornwall when her family bought a summer house in Bodnick. Born in London, Daphne Du Maurier grew up in Hampstead and around Regent’s Park. On the day the Du Maurier family moved into Bodnick, they enjoyed a stroll in the surrounding countryside and ate lunch at the Old Ferry Inn. Though the family loved their new home, they soon renamed it from ‘Swiss Cottage‘ to ‘Ferryside‘.
Jamaica Inn & Bodmin Moor
Now a major tourist attraction a little off the A30 at Bolventor, Jamaica Inn has certainly lost much of the atmosphere it must have had when Du Maurier visited the windswept pub in the 1930s. While there in the 30s, the author learned of smuggling tales, and the pub’s alleged ghosts (though it’s worth noting that no paranormal activity ever occurs in Du Maurier’s stories).
Now, the pub has an incredibly touristic gift shop, lots of modern accommodation, and a sprawling extension to cater for the ever-increasing number of visitors pulling up at its front door. Truth be told, the majority of the Inn’s popularity is thanks to Du Maurier’s novel of the same name, the Jamaica Inn. Nearby, small country lanes will take you into the heart of Bodmin Moor, a windswept grassland where ancient ruins are abundant and hiking trails will take you for miles in all directions.
Read more: A Visit to Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn.
Lanteglos-by-Fowey Church, Polruan
Of all the places to visit on this trail of Daphne Du Maurier’s Cornwall, Lanteglos Church in Polruan may well be the most off the beaten path location. After all, if you don’t take the short ferry ride between Polruan and Fowey, the drive around the headland is an incredibly long one, taking you along twisting roads and through the true Cornish countryside.
Daphne Du Maurier married in 1932 to Major Tommy (‘Boy’) Browning. Du Maurier met her future husband when he became so enthralled by her books and writing that he sailed to Fowey to meet the author herself. They soon married and had three children together.
Pendennis Castle, Falmouth
With its solid fortifications and precarious location on the edge of the sea, Pendennis Castle is awe-inspiring and well worthy of a visit. Built during the reign of Henry VIII, as a way of defending this part of the coastline against French invaders, it remains one of the best castles in Cornwall to this day. Pendennis Castle was the inspiration for various castles within Du Maurier’s novels and can be visited today for a small fee.