Drive over the desolate moorland on the A30 at Bolventor, between Launceston and Bodmin, and you are sure to notice the solitary coaching inn set back from the road. This is Jamaica Inn, the inspiration for the famous novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier.
The 20th century author spent most of her adult life in Cornwall and used many landmarks and now-famous locations as the inspiration for her tales of suspense including The Birds, Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek and The House on the Strand. The area around Fowey is now known as “du Maurier Country” and her life and works are celebrated each year with a Literary Festival in May, around her birthday.
Dame Daphne du Maurier, as she later became, was born in London in 1907 to Sir Gerald du Maurier, an actor-manager, and his actress wife Muriel Beaumont. Her grandfather, George du Maurier was a cartoonist for Punch and J.M. Barrie and Sir Arthur Quiller Couch were family friends. No doubt Daphne was encouraged to write and be creative. Her love of Cornwall remains infectious and visitors today can revisit some of the places she loved and brought to life in her 38 novels and short stories.
Du Maurier published her first novel in 1931 and it was created around the lives of Cornish boat builders. Entitled The Loving Spirit it was written while she was staying at Ferryside, a family holiday home and former boathouse on the slipway in Bodinnick. Polruan became the fictitious Plyn boatyard in the novel. It lies just across the estuary from Fowey. The blue and white house can still be seen at the start of popular Hall Walk and her son, Kit, still lives there.
Du Maurier met her husband, Major Tommy “Boy” Browning while staying in Fowey and married him three months later in the tiny 14th century church at Lanteglos in 1932. This features in The Loving Spirit as Lanoc Church. Visitors can also see the royal plaque presented to the village for its loyalty by Charles II in 1668.
Jamaica Inn, set in the wilds of Bodmin Moor is arguably her most famous novel. It was dramatised by Alfred Hitchcock in 1936 starring Maureen O’Hara and was remade in 1982 starred Jane Seymour. Today Jamaica Inn is a popular place for visitors to drop in for a meal. You can visit the adjoining Smugglers’ Museum which recreates the romantic history of Cornish smuggling with many artefacts and a generous dose of local legend thrown in.
Nearby is the “Cathedral on the Moor”, a tiny 15th century church at Altarnun with one of the highest towers in Cornwall. The nearby rectory and the vicar were depicted in the novel Jamaica Inn. Other connections are her 13th novel Castle d’Or which takes its name from the Iron Age fort near Golant, and The King’s General set in Pendennis Castle.
It was not until 1943 that du Maurier moved permanently to Cornwall; previously she had regularly holidayed there. She rented a house for herself and her three children at Readymoney in Fowey and later moved into her dream home, a semi-deserted 17th century mansion called Menabilly which she rented from the Rashleigh family. This became the setting for Rebecca as Manderley. Today the house is screened from public view but you can see Menabilly Barton Farm nearby, the setting for My Cousin Rachel and The Birds which became the famous Hancock horror movie. Incidentally Readymoney Cove became Frenchman’s Creek where the heroine took refuge and is actually named after a 17th century pirate.
In 1969 when she was widowed, du Maurier moved to Kilmarth, about a mile from Menabilly and that same year she was made a Dame of the British Empire. This house is easy to recognize as the setting for The House on the Strand. She lived here until her death in 1989 and her ashes were scattered on the cliffs she loved so much.
Fans of the author should head for the du Maurier Literary Centre in Fowey which has a feast of information about the author. The week-long Daphne du Maurier Literary Festival is also well worth attending for those staying in a holiday cottage in Cornwall in mid-May.