Posted by: marymarthatours | January 27, 2014

A Little Pre-trip Reading

Helford_Estuary, Chris Johnson, ccasa2.0

Helford River Estuary

Although it’s cold and wintery now, our spring tour to Cornwall and Devon is really just around the corner.  I’m sure the folks who will be traveling with us are thinking ahead to warm weather and beautiful gardens.  Some of those travelers like to read a bit in advance – either in guidebooks, on-line, or in books and novels that focus on the areas that we will visit.  For those people, and any others who would like a literary taste of our tour to SW England, may I suggest the following:


Frenchman’s Creek by Dauphne du Maurier.  Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning, was born in 1907 and died in 1989.  She lived in and loved Cornwall, which is the setting for a number of her novels and short stories.  Among her better-known works are Jamaica Inn and Rebecca.  For our travelers, I would recommend reading Frenchman’s Creek.  The GoodReads review says, “Frenchman’s Creek is the breathtaking story of a woman searching for love and adventure who embraces the dangerous life of a fugitive on the seas”.  It is a combination of swashbuckling adventure story and dreamy historical romance.  The novel is set on the Helford River, very close to the Meudon Hotel where we will be staying for three nights.  Hardy walkers will be able to walk down the ravine garden at the Meudon to the coastal path with leads around Rosemullion Head to the mouth of the Helford River.

Lost Gdn Heligan2    eden

The Lost Gardens of Heligan and Eden by Tim Smit.  Tim Smit is the genius behind two of the gardens we will visit on our tour, the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project.  The gardens at Heligan date from the mid 18th century, but during the middle part of the 20th century, they became overgrown and almost totally lost.  Enter Tim Smit and friends in 1987 with the vision, drive, and enthusiam to rediscover and restore the many acres of gardens to their former glory.  The Eden Project, on the other hand, is a very modern place, with two huge transparent domes, or biomes, containing plants from rainforest and Mediterranean climates.  The Project was built in order to educate people about environmental issues and to encourage greater environmental understanding and care. 

lady_alminaLady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon.   Many people know that the real-life setting for the Masterpiece series, Downton Abbey, is Highclere Castle in Hampshire.  But not everyone knows the amazing story of Lady Almina, the wife of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon.  Almina was the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, who like Lady Cora in the TV show, brought huge wealth to her marriage to the 5th Earl.   She also turned Highclere into a hospital during World War I, perhaps further inspiring Julian Fellows, writer of Downton Abbey.  The story of Lady Almina is charmingly told by the current Countess of Carnarvon, wife of Almina’s great grandson, the 8th Earl.  Not surprisingly, the book leaves out some of the “juicy bits” about Almina’s life, but for those who will travel with us this year to Highclere, it provides a wonderful background for our visit.

And then there’s Jane Austen.  I’m not a big Jane Austen fan, but I do love Bath, the city where much of her work is set.  Since we’ll be in Bath for four nights, Austen fans on our tour will have plenty of time to visit the Pump Room for afternoon tea, see the Assembly Rooms and Fashion Museum, and enjoy the beautiful Georgian streets that fill Jane’s novels.


Georgian Bath in an early morning rain


So on these cold winter days, pick up a good book, and get ready for spring.

(by Mary)

Photo credits:  Helford Estuary, copyright Chris Johnson and licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license.  Bath street, copyright Mary Wallace, 2013.



  1. I just discovered Charles Finch via his wonderful “Death in the Small Hours.” I didn’t know what a “vertical” was — lots of fun English trivia. And a garden mad squire too!

    • Sounds like another author I might like, Ellen. I love a good English mystery. Thanks for the tip. Mary

  2. Don’t forget that Bath is not that far from Chawton, Jane Austen’s home – where she lived and wrote her novels. The garden there is beautiful in Spring too. Her quilt is hanging in the house for visitors to see as well.
    Jan x

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