Writing What You Know – My Date with Daphne, Part III

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Ah, the famous first line that lured me into the Hitchcock film, then to the novel it originally came from and had me dreaming of going to Manderley…

Well, I got pretty darn close.

As you may already know from Part I and Part II of this series, I’m playing unofficial-cyber-tour guide through Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall this week. Yesterday, we hiked through the old marshland and priory of du Maurier’s novel The House on the Strand. Today, we’ll venture uphill and onward into Rebecca and The King’s General territory.

Our tour picks up from where we left off in Tywardreath. Hoist that backpack and make sure you have plenty of drinking water and something healthy to snack on as we climb this hill to venture into those in the distance…

Once we make it out there and follow the coastal path a ways, we’ll again pass beneath du Maurier’s Kilmarth home, from which all this gorgeous rolling farmland dips down into the sea.

For a while it appears it’ll just be the grass, dirt, livestock, sweet air, and sea keeping you company, until eventually you round a bend and lo and behold: Polkerris.

Polkerris goes by “Kerrith” in Rebecca and makes for a lovely little beach spot (and bathroom break because this is your last chance for a while…). The Rashleigh Inn there is named for the family that owned all this surrounding land as of the 16th century and who had originally utilized Polkerris to house old pilchard cellars and the fishing fleet. In The King’s General, this is the site of Richard Grenville’s escape to France on a boat, only to return ashore to be with Honor Harris.

Continuing south on the coastal path, some ups and downs and twists and turns will bring the Gribbin Head tower into site (built in 1832 for the safety of mariners). Standing below it, if you turn your back on the sea, you can take in the vast expanse of land surrounding Menabilly:

Now, what’s the big deal about Menabilly that I strained my eyes close to popping trying to find that large Elizabethan manor hiding in the trees? To start, Menabilly is the main Rashleigh family estate where du Maurier lived for about 25 years. She adored the home and raised her children there, but, alas, had only been able to lease the property, as the Rashleigh descendants never put it up for sale. I believe it wasn’t too long after du Maurier’s husband passed away that she likewise received the heart-breaking news she had to vacate Menabilly so the Rashleighs could reclaim it. It was then, in 1969, that du Maurier moved to nearby Kilmarth.

Walking from the Gribbin Head tower toward Menabilly and Polridmouth beach.

These fields and valleys between Gribbin Head and Menabilly feature in du Maurier’s Rebecca, The King’s General, and My Cousin Rachel. The farmland to the left is where du Maurier was inspired to write The Birds when she saw a flock of birds swarming around a farmer on his tractor. Menabilly itself inspired and featured in The King’s General as a Royalist stronghold during the 17th-century English Civil War. It was centuries later in 1824 that renovations commissioned by then-owner William Rashleigh uncovered a skeleton in Cavalier clothing of the Civil War period; it was the remains of a young man who had evidently been in hiding in a chamber at the base of a buttress. This is the skeleton I mentioned yesterday that’s buried in the Tywardreath churchyard (where there’s also a memorial to the real-life Honor Harris) and gave du Maurier the idea for her novel’s dramatic ending.

But also…Menabilly is Rebecca’s “Manderley“! And it’s back there somewhere in that cluster of trees, but I’ll be damned if I could find it; it’s just as concealed as Manderley is described in the book, though not nearly as large and extravagant as depicted in Hitchcock’s film:

What I could get right up close to, however, was further along the coastal path, which leads down to Polridmouth beach. It was at the boathouse here that the infamous Rebecca of the novel of same name carried on her infidelities and ultimately met her death (not a total spoiler there—you know she’s dead from the beginning). The shipwreck where Rebecca’s body was found was also in this bay:

Polridmouth beach (left) and Rebecca’s boathouse (right).

View of the bay from Polridmouth, with Gribbon Head in the distance.

An actual shipwreck that can be seen at Polridmouth at low tide.

Polridmouth is also the beach at which the Roundhead foot soldiers amass and await rescue in The King’s General. Alas, they are left at the mercy of locals, including those from the Cornish town of Fowey, where we’ll travel onward to in my next post.

In the meantime, sit for a spell at the beach, perhaps fix yourself a lovely picnic, forget the darkness of our dear Daphne’s tales, and just enjoy the breezes and waves. Ahhh…





About thefallenmonkey

Primate that dapples in writing when not picking others' fleas or flinging its own poop. View all posts by thefallenmonkey

10 responses to “Writing What You Know – My Date with Daphne, Part III

  • Alannah Murphy

    Beautiful, and a landscape familiar to me, who’s been to Cornwall many times, though not exactly to that area. Been to St Ives, Penzance, The Lizard, Mousehole, and other towns I can’t recall. I even cleaned their beaches for 7 days, many moons ago, on a volunteering holiday 🙂

    Thank you for following in the footsteps of Daphne. It’s always nice to get a tour of a place that’s meaningful to another writer. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do about Highgate, but I haven’t organised myself well enough to do it…but one day….

    • thefallenmonkey

      That’s so wonderful that you helped clean the beaches in other areas of Cornwall – those efforts are what keep those places beautiful! I hadn’t originally intended for my visit there to center on du Maurier, but as I was researching accommodation in different spots, her name kept coming up as significant to the region, so I couldn’t resist making it a pilgrimage of sorts. It is so fascinating to see what inspires another writer and that du Maurier in particular was able to come up with so many different, dramatic tales inspired by villages that are otherwise quite sleepy and uneventful. Tywardreath, for instance, endeared itself to me to be sure, but it’s the last place I’d ever expect to have a novel named after it! At any rate, while I’m not as steeped in the Cornish history and culture as Daphne was, I feel redeemed for having based my two first manuscripts on two cities I’ve lived in and loved.

  • Writing What You Know – My Date with Daphne, Part IV « The Fallen Monkey

    […] conclude our long walks at the beach with our gal Daphne. If you joined me for Parts I, II, and III of this series, I hope it’s been worth your while and that you’ll indulge me for one […]

  • writeinberlin

    Amazing pics, monkey! Keep following your path and had to also mention that “Bag of Bones”, one of Stephen King’s novels, also refers a lot to Rebecca and Manderley. Sadly, I have so far never managed to read the original, so maybe a good reason to finally do so.

    Also, this makes me want to go back to Cornwall. Sooo nice!!

  • Jane Risdon

    I too love this area and the books of Du Maurier. I have often thought Menabilly was Mandalay and I have walked these fields down to the beach and imagined Rebecca there. Also the river where the Frenchman moored his ship. Thanks so much, this is wonderful.

    • thefallenmonkey

      Hello, Jane! Massive apologies for the belated response–as you probably discovered, the Monkey has been hibernating. 🙂
      At any rate, I am SO pleased to find a Du Maurier kindred spirit! I’ve been pining for Cornwall again so finally returning this weekend–out by Falmouth this time, so I’m excited to explore new terrain.

      Thanks for visiting my blog and do swing by again! I promise to write some new stuff soon. 🙂

      • Jane Risdon

        Wonderful, thanks so much for your reply and I will be back. Really loved it all. Spent so many years down that way, in a recording studio most of the time, but when we had a little free time we would drive around, stop and walk and also visit the National Trust places as loved them too. Miss it all, so your blog is much appreciated. Let me know when you are in full swing again. I will be back. Enjoy Falmouth. 🙂

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