Explore du Maurier’s Fowey
Daphne du Maurier is a writer forever linked with Fowey. Having lived in – and loved – the area for most of her adult life, it had a notable impact on her work.
Want to follow in her footsteps? Here, we offer a guide to the local spots that du Maurier fans will enjoy discovering.
Bodinnick, just across the water from Fowey, was du Maurier’s first home in Cornwall. She and her family stayed at Ferryside (then named Swiss Cottage), on the water’s edge, in 1926 and when her parents returned to London du Maurier convinced them to leave her behind.
“Here was the freedom I desired, long sought-for, not yet known. Freedom to write, to walk, to wander” – Daphne du Maurier and Piers Dudgeon, Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall
It was here that she wrote her first novel, The Loving Spirit, after being inspired by the maritime history of nearby Polruan (reimagined as Plyn). Ferryside remains in the du Maurier family today, although it isn’t open to the public. For a lovely view of the house, take the ferry across the river from Fowey – you’ll see the distinctive blue and white building just to the right of the slipway as you cross.
The small cove of Polridmouth (pronounced Pridmuth) lies on the edge of the Menabilly estate, where du Maurier lived for many years. The cove is best known as Rebecca’s beach in the 1938 novel, while the setting of Menabilly (which is private) became that of Manderley. Look up from the beach and you’ll glimpse the path that winds up through the woods to “Manderley”. The house, surrounded by trees, remains as elusive today as it was when du Maurier first tried to find it herself.
“In the distance below us stretched the sea. Behind us the woods and the valley through which we had come. But nowhere was there a sign of any house. Nowhere at all. ‘Perhaps’, I thought to myself, ‘it is a house of secrets, and has no wish to be disturbed.’” – Daphne du Maurier, The Rebecca Notebook
At Polridmouth, you can see the partially submerged remains of the wrecked ship Romanie, which inspired Rebecca’s not-so-sad demise. To reach the cove, you can either park at Coombe and pick up the footpath in the bottom right-hand corner, or park at Polkerris and walk around the coast towards Fowey. If you choose the latter and carry on past Polridmouth, you’ll also come across St Catherine’s Castle. This Tudor blockhouse is found in The Loving Spirit, with Janet Coombe using it as a lookout point. Ultimately reaching Readymoney Cove, you’ll see the cottage where du Maurier lived during the Second World War, and in which she wrote Hungry Hill, published in 1943.
This small and ancient village features in The House on the Strand, as the setting for scientist Dick Young’s drug-induced travels back to the 14th century. The priory he encounters is no longer here, but if you walk around the village today you’ll see remnants woven into the fabric of later buildings. Much of the stone was reused, meaning intriguing glimpses of the past are there for those who look.
Within St Andrew’s Church is a memorial to Honor Harris, a historical figure du Maurier fictionalised in her Civil War novel, The King’s General. The real Honor Harris died on 17 November 1653 and is buried here at the church with her brother Robert.
Published in 1961, Castle Dor was actually a joint work by du Maurier and her fellow Fowey-based writer, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (known as ‘Q’). Following Q’s death in 1944, his daughter Foy asked du Maurier to finish the novel, which reimagines the legendary romance between the Cornish knight Tristan and the Irish princess Iseult.
The castle (more commonly spelled Castle Dore) is an Iron Age hill fort found between Tywardreath and Golant. Though little more than earth and ditches now, it’s a fascinating place – a village was based here from around 5BC to 1BC. Around 6AD, the earthworks housed the hall of King Mark, husband of Iseult and the third side of this ancient love triangle.
Within Fowey, you needn’t venture far to find out more about du Maurier. Local booksellers such as Bookends carry rare and attractive editions of her works, and the Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature, held each May, is inspired by her love of the area. The Tourist Information Centre, found near the church, tells the story of her time here, with pictures and information panels to help you learn more.
If you’re keen to discover du Maurier’s beloved landscape for yourself, take a break at Pont View, conveniently located in the heart of Fowey, or Colbeh in nearby Golant.