Greenway House Pt 4 - Greenway Today
After spending £5.4m on its restoration the National Trust (NT) opened Greenway’s doors to the public in 2009.
It was extremely popular then and still is today, but the NT has various systems in place to make sure that it doesn’t get too overcrowded.
There’s plenty of space in the woodland garden anyway, although its steep location means that not all parts are easily accessible. Reception will give you a map of suitable access for wheelchairs if you ask them. Dogs are very welcome, except in the house, shop and café - as long as they’re kept on a lead.
The admission price includes both the house and the grounds (see website for all the latest info), so allow yourself plenty of time to do it all justice. A self-guided tour of the house should take around 45 minutes, depending on your own personal interest of course.
The good news is that photography is permitted as long as you don’t use flash or video. The house is spread over 3 floors but the NT have conveniently used the excuse of it being Agatha Christie’s holiday home to use the top floor and part of the 2nd floor as holiday accommodation. I’m quite sympathetic to this arrangement in this day and age, especially as the most important rooms are all accessible to the general public.
The house has been restored, not just how the family would have liked it, but also how visitors would imagine it should be. The family were avid collectors and there’s plenty here to see - and you’ll soon realise why they ask you to put your backpacks into lockers - because it wouldn’t be difficult to cause some embarrassing damage if you’re not careful.
At one time the NT were renowned for being ultra fussy about their exhibits but these days they even let people handle certain items in their properties, and here at Greenway you can play the same Steinway piano as Agatha did when she was here.
Whether you visit the house or gardens first doesn’t really matter, but if you’re anything like me you’ll want to end up with a drink and bite to eat. The Barn Café and Tack Room Takeaway in the Stable Block will satisfy most peoples needs but there’s also another option.
If you’ve read my earlier tip about the Greenway Estate (Pt 2) then you would have realised how important the Elizabethan Sea Dogs were, many of whom came from these parts - and here’s another connection. Sir John Gilbert’s half brother was Sir Walter Raleigh (another Devonian). He visited here often apparently and there’s a boathouse down on the riverside which is known as Ralegh’s Boathouse. (Traditional spelling). Nobody’s suggesting that this boathouse was around when Raleigh was here, but I can’t think of a better place to enjoy a picnic.
Walking down through the woodland estate with its specimen trees to this magical spot will start to give you an idea why successive generations of Greenway families chose to live here - and why Agatha Christie, a well travelled lady, described it as “The loveliest place in the world”
- Historical Travel
Greenway Pt 3 - The Agatha Christie Connection
Agatha Christie moved away from Torquay when she married her second husband, the archaeologist Max Mallowan, in 1930. They had met in Iraq whilst Agatha was following her life’s ambition of travelling on the Orient Express.
She often accompanied her husband on his archaeological digs and, as we know, based some of her books such as Death on the Nile on these trips.
They had a country house in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, and a home in London but Agatha still loved her native Devon, and when Greenway came up for sale in 1938 they bought her “Dream House” as a holiday home.
They both came to love the place and spent spring, late summer and many Christmases here, but it was interrupted by World War 2 when the house was requisitioned, firstly for child evacuees, and then by the 10th Flotilla of the U.S Coastguard in preparation for D-Day. In the Library is a frieze that runs around the room painted by an American serviceman at the time.
After the war they returned to Greenway, and although it’s doubtful that Mrs Mallowan (as she was referred to locally) ever wrote any of her books here, Greenway did feature in a couple of her novels - as Nasse House in Dead Man’s Folly and as Alderbury in Five Little Pigs.
Agatha Christie had one child, Rosalind, from her first marriage to Archibald Christie, and in 1959 she took over Greenway from her mother. Rosalind and her husband Anthony Hicks didn’t make it their permanent home until after the death of Agatha (1976) and Max (1978) and in 2000 they gave the house and gardens to the National Trust.
Rosalind and Anthony Hicks continued to live in the house until their deaths in 2004 and 2005.
In 2007 their son and Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard completed the job and gifted most of Greenway’s important items to the National Trust in order to keep it looking much as it did when the Mallowans lived here.
- Historical Travel
Greenway House - Pt 2 - The Estate
The Gilberts, a well known Devon seafaring family, were the first to build a house here at Greenway during the 16th cent.
The Tudor mansion, known as Greenway Court, was built by Otto Gilbert for himself and his wife Katherine.
During their time at Greenway they had three children, one of them being a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, Humphrey.
In 1583 Sir Humphrey claimed Newfoundland for his Queen while his brother, Sir John, looked after the family home.
These were the days of the Elizabethan ‘Sea Dogs’ and the war with Spain. In 1588 Sir Francis Drake captured the ‘Nuestra Senora del Rosario’, one of the largest ships of the Spanish Armada and the prisoners were taken to Torre Abbey. The ship was then taken back to the River Dart and anchored at Greenway.
Sir John took advantage of the situation and the remaining crew were put to work at the court and started landscaping the gardens.
The Gilberts left Greenway around 1700 for Compton Castle, and Greenway Court was sold to the Roope family. One of the family with the name of Roope Harris Roope had the present Greenway House built around 1780 and had the original Tudor house demolished.
After the house was sold again in 1791 a further four owners - three of them from Cornwall - enhanced the estate in their own various ways until it was purchased by the Mallowans in 1938.
Max Mallowan’s wife is better known as Agatha Christie.
- Historical Travel
Greenway House - Pt 1 - Getting Here
Greenway House was the holiday home of Agatha Christie, and since it’s been open to the public, has become one of Torbay’s most popular attractions.
The Greenway Estate is situated on a promontory above the eastern shore of the River Dart near Galmpton, and just over 4 miles from Brixham.
Being a popular destination in a fairly remote location it’s essential that you plan your visit carefully.
There are four main ways to get here and you’ll need to find the one that suits you best:
1) If you come by car then you’ll have to book your car parking space in advance. If you haven’t pre-booked you won’t be allowed in. It’s also a 10-15 minute walk to the reception area but if you require a lift the car park attendant will arrange one for you.
2) Another option is to come by train. The Dartmouth Steam Railway stops at Greenway Halt but be aware that it’s a 30 minute walk through woodland to the House.
3) Option 3 is to use the ferry from Brixham, Torquay, Dartmouth, Dittisham or Totnes using Greenway Ferries.
It’s a stiff climb from the quay but there is a car shuttle service in operation
4) The same company operates the final option - the Greenway Bus.
The National Trust, who now own the estate, encourage people to use the greener options - but they all come at a price. Personally, if I was on holiday, I think I would choose to come here by ferry - especially if it was a good day weatherwise.
Whichever way you come, try and make sure that you don’t come the same time as everyone else. If you plan the trip in advance you’ll enjoy the experience all the more.
- Historical Travel
Blue Anchor pub
This is a great Devon pub,and as soon as you walk in you get a friendly welcome.The pub is on the small side but cosy, with a nice log fire.It seems that the pub is a popular meeting place for many of the locals,and apparently they have their own drinking area.Did not eat here so cannot comment on the food.
- Food and Dining
- Beer Tasting
The Coffin House
This quirky building in King St is not only worth a look at but also has a tale to it.
Whether it’s true or not I’m not sure but it centres around a young man’s request to marry a certain gentleman’s daughter. Not impressed by the young man he told him that he would see her in a coffin first.
Depending on which story you read the young man either bought, or built, this unusual building and called it The Coffin House.
The idea seemed to have paid off because on explaining to his potential father-in-law that his wish had been granted he relented and gave the couple their blessing.
Today the building is used as a shop selling spiritual goods such as crystals and organise workshops as well as tarot and astrological readings etc.
Heritage Fishing Fleet
Between the end of the 19th and the early part of the 20th centuries Brixham had one of the largest fleets of wooden sailing trawlers in the world and over 300 of them were built right here in Brixham.
Thanks to the enthusiasm of some dedicated people six of them have been located, brought back and restored. They can usually be found over on the Brixham Town Pontoon but you may see them still being worked on around various parts of the harbour.
The owners are passionate about their hobby come business (mostly run by a charitable trust) and will be more than happy to spare you some time telling you about their vessels if they’re not too busy.
Some of the boats are available for hire but even if you don’t manage to take a trip out on one of these historical boats it’s still worth checking them out while you’re here because they are part and parcel of Brixham’s history.
- Historical Travel
- Sailing and Boating
Brixham Heritage Museum
Many provincial towns throughout the country have their own local museum and Brixham is no exception.
Initially founded in 1957 it moved to its present home in 1976. The former police station was built in 1902 and comes complete with its own prison cell.
Its collection starts with finds from caves within the town and then continues through to the days when the Napoleonic forts of Berry Head were manned and of course its fishing heritage.
There are models of the red-sailed fishing boats and even a display of the British Seamans’ (Orphan) Boys Home who used to parade through the streets of the town every Sunday morning.
There’s the usual displays of what life used to be like in days gone by including items from the two world wars.
Volunteers do a great job in helping out, not only in the museum but with archaeological digs at Berry Head’s Napoleonic Forts with displays showing some of the things that have been found.
One thing that the museum is particularly proud of is winning the Telegraph Family Friendly Museum Award for 2013, so if you’ve got kids with you don’t think it’s not worth coming along because there’s plenty for them to do here.
- Museum Visits
- School Holidays
The Fishing Port
One of the things that disappoints visitors when they come to Brixham is the fact that there’s no public access to the Fishing Port. Health & Safety is paramount these days and being a busy working area it’s understandable that it wouldn’t be desirable for visitors to wander freely around the fishing harbour.
However, there are still a few ways that you catch some of the action. Firstly, the best way in my view, but not the most practical for most visitors, is to take a morning tour of the Fish Auction (see my separate tip - link below).
Secondly, and the cheapest option because it’s free, is to climb the steps to the Viewing Platform. This viewing platform is on the northern arm of the Inner Harbour and overlooks the southern arm of the Fishing Harbour, and the third option is to go for a drink in the Crab Quay House, where there’s an upstairs outside terrace which overlooks the Fishing Harbour.
Depending on the time you visit will depend on how many boats you'll see. About a hundred use the port but you’ll probably only see around a dozen or so (more if the conditions are bad) but there’s constant coming and going. At the base of the blue Viewing Platform are some sketches of the 4 main types of Brixham trawlers that use the port and it would be worth checking them out to see if you can identify them.
Henry Francis Lyte
Henry Francis Lyte was born in Scotland, brought up in Ireland, and died in France. Of his 54 years on earth he spent 23 of them in Brixham.
He was ordained in 1815, married Anne Maxwell in 1818, and came to Brixham in 1824 where he became vicar of All Saints Church.
He had a keen interest in the local fishing families and as well as writing hymns and poems for them he would also greet the fishing boats on their return to harbour.
For much of his life he was dogged by poor health but thanks to his wife’s income he was able to go to sunnier climes to convalesce every so often, and no doubt it was also thanks to his wife that they were able to purchase a former military hospital at Berry Head.
Although he wrote other well known hymns, such as ‘Praise my soul the King of Heaven’ it was here at Berry head that he wrote the most famous one of all - ‘Abide with Me’
Suffering from TB he wrote the hymn as darkness fell over the water which may help to explain some of his words…
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
He finished writing it on the Sunday he gave his farewell sermon at All Saints and on the next day he left for Italy to try and regain his health. He never made it and died in Nice on 20th Nov 1847.
When news of his death reached Brixham the fishermen asked Lyte’s son-in-law to hold a memorial service and at that service ‘Abide with Me’ was sung for the first time.
It was sung to Lyte’s original tune but the tune that most people know was written by Henry Monk and known as ‘Eventide’ and Lyte’s is seldom used.
Well known throughout the world the hymn is often sung at the Remembrance Service and FA Cup Final in the UK.
It was a favourite of King George V and sung at King George VI’s wedding and also at Queen Elizabeth II’s.
The present day All Saints Church was re-built in his honour in 1884 and for over a hundred years has rung out ‘Abide with Me’ every evening at 8pm
The Vicarage at Berry Head is now a hotel open to the public where you can sit on the outside terrace and enjoy the same views that Henry Francis Lyte did.
Whether you want to contemplate what was going through his mind if you’re here when “Fast Falls the Eventide” I’ll leave up to you.
- Religious Travel
- Historical Travel
If you fancy a walk around Brixham without having to negotiate the hills and steps you could do worse than take a walk out to the Breakwater.
If you’re starting out from the Fish Quay you can circumnavigate the Inner Harbour and walk past the Marina until you reach the Breakwater.
The Breakwater is half a mile long with views over the Marina and Brixham on one side and out into Torbay on the other. At the end is a small lighthouse, the original of which was erected in 1878. The present one was constructed in 1916.
It’s a good spot to watch the fishing boats coming and going out of the port and if you’re an angler it’s a good spot to catch your own.
Of course, if you walk out to the lighthouse you’ll have to walk back, but there’s a nice little bistro next to the small beach, should you want something to help keep you going back to the harbour.
On your way back make sure you check out the D Day slipways, Lifeboat, Heritage Fleet pontoon and the Coastguard - if you hadn’t already done so on your way over.
The walk is on the level all the way round but if you just want to walk along the Breakwater there is a pay and display car park at the beginning.
- Hiking and Walking
William of Orange
When King James II of England & Ireland (VII of Scotland) came to the throne in 1685 there was a distinct threat that he would try to revert the kingdom back to Catholicism.
His opponents therefore decided to encourage William of Orange to deal with the problem as they considered he had a justifiable claim to the throne through his wife Mary - and so it was that he left Holland on 1st Nov 1688 on the first stage of his ‘Glorious Revolution’.
Along with around 15,000 Dutchmen and some 5,000 horses he landed at Brixham on 5th Nov in his ship ‘Brill’ stating that “The Liberties of England and the Protestant Religion I will Maintain”.
He spent his first night in an old fisherman’s house in Middle St. and then moved on to Exeter. By the time he reached London James had fled to France and on 11th April 1689 he became joint monarch as William III with his wife Mary.
It was the last successful invasion of England and the only time that there’s been a joint monarch. In reality it was William who pulled the strings and his wife played second fiddle.
Not everything went his way though and there was considerable resistance from the natives of Scotland and Ireland where many people supported James. Eventually he dealt with the ex-King once and for all when he defeated him at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland on 1st July 1690. James fled back to France for the last time but the legacy of that battle still lives on to this day.
If you come to Brixham you’ll find two landmarks that commemorate William’s arrival in England and both can be found around the Inner Harbour. Firstly there is a monument, near the old fish market, which says “On this stone and near this spot William Prince of Orange first set foot on his landing in England Fifth November 1688”
Although this obelisk is probably the most important from a historical point of view it’s the statue opposite the Bullers Arms that seems to attract more attention.
This statue of King Billy (as he’s known in some communities of N. Ireland and Scotland) was erected on the 200th anniversary of his landing and each year on a Saturday close to Nov 5th a Loyal Orange Lodge from Plymouth hold a commemorative weekend.
It has to be said though that it’s only a place of pilgrimage for a relatively small number of people.
- Historical Travel
The Inner Harbour
The Breakwater at Brixham protects the Marina, Fishing Harbour and the Inner Harbour and it’s the Inner Harbour that most people get to see.
Separated from the gated fishing harbour the inner harbour is flanked by shops, bars and restaurants of varying degrees of quality.
In the harbour itself the boat that is most likely to attract your immediate attention is the replica of the Golden Hind, the original of which took Sir Francis drake around the globe.
It was a Dutch ship though that brought William of Orange to Brixham in November 1688 before gaining the English throne the following spring. There is a monument not far from the original Fishmarket and a statue opposite the Bullers Arms to commemorate the occasion.
Near to the statue is what’s known as Artists Corner which is self explanatory really.
There aren’t any real architectural gems around the harbour but most are in harmony with the setting. A lot of the shops cater for the tourist trade which means that the summer can get very busy with visitors. A fair number of establishments close up for the winter but it doesn’t die completely because the fishermen who come ashore see to that.
- Sailing and Boating
No visit to Brixham would be complete without walking out to Torbay’s southern arm - Berry Head.
This limestone plateau is a National Nature Reserve with around 500 different types of plant and 28 species of butterfly.
Looked after by the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust your first port of call should be the Visitor Centre in the Guardhouse which also includes an excellent café.
Armed with all the information you need you’ll soon realise there’s more to this headland than just being a nature reserve.
Limestone has always been a valuable source of stone and Berry head was extensively quarried for around 300 years and some of it was used in the construction of the forts that were erected here during the Napoleonic Wars.
There were supposed to have been 3 forts but only 2 were built - The Northern Fort and the Southern Fort. As you walk along the headland though you will soon understand why Berry Head has always been used as a defensive position. From an Iron Age Fort, through Roman times to the 2nd WW there has always been something here to protect these shores. There’s even a Cold War bunker here.
As you walk along the promontory you’ll come to what is Britain’s highest but shortest lighthouse. It’s only 5 metres tall but stands 58 metres above sea level.
When you reach the end there is a sheer unfenced drop down into the English Channel so take care especially in windy conditions. The uninterrupted views out to sea will give you the opportunity to see Bottlenose Dolphins, Harbour Porpoises or even a Basking Shark, all of which are often seen around here.
This is also a good vantage point to see migrating birds. Some 200 species have been recorded here but not all of them pass by. Berry Head is home to the largest colony of guillemots on the south coast of England and a bird hide has thoughtfully been provided near to the Visitor Centre. If you’ve forgotten your binoculars you can nip into the Visitor Centre and watch the birds on the webcam instead. There are around a thousand ‘Brixham penguins’ as they are known locally, jockeying for position on the cliff ledges below.
At the bottom of the cliffs are caves which are not only used by seals but are also home to one of the last British bastions of the Greater Horseshoe Bat.
If you come up here you may not see a Greater Horseshoe bat, basking shark or even a cirl bunting but what you definitely will see is a fantastic view on all 3 sides from Torbay and the East Devon coast to the north, the South Devon coast to the south and right out across the English Channel ahead. As I said in the beginning - don’t leave Brixham without visiting Berry Head.
- Historical Travel
- Hiking and Walking
Brixham Battery Heritage Centre
This small museum just down the hill from the Brixham Battery was founded in 1999 by Ron Coleman who helped man the Battery during the 2nd WW.
Run by volunteers it’s free to visit, but you’d have to be a bit hard hearted not to chip in a small donation before leaving.
The museum may not be big in size but it’s an absolute Aladdin’s cave of memorabilia, not just from the Battery, but the 2nd WW in general. It’s one of those places that you know that you would need to go back to because you can’t possibly take it all in the first time. If I tell you that the volunteers themselves don’t even know all what they’ve got that should tell you something.
The Brixham Battery Heritage Group, as they like to be known, don’t just look after the museum but are also helping to restore the Battery’s landmarks.
You won’t find a more energetic, enthusiastic and friendly bunch of people anywhere - and if they’re prepared to give up their time to show you around then you will be all the poorer for visiting Brixham and not giving up some of your time and not coming here.
Just be aware of the opening times though. They’re open every Sunday, Monday and Friday from 2pm-4pm all year.
- Budget Travel
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits