Cornwall - Pubs and Inns with a literary connection


Daphne Du Maurier (1907 – 1989)

The photograph opposite was taken from the west bank of the River Fowey (pronounced Foy). The fishing village situated on the eastern shore is Bodinnick where a ferry terminal has existed for around 800 years. The building in the centre of the picture is the delightful 16th century ’Old Ferry Inn’, part of which is built into the solid rock face.
Daphne Du Maurier first came to Fowey in her early twenties and immediately fell in love, not just with the town but the whole of Cornwall. For many years she lived at Ferryside, the building on the right of the picture, with the two huge gable lofts. And it was here she wrote her first novel ’The Loving Spirit’, published in 1931. But it was seven years earlier when she first saw Ferryside and, on that day in 1926, she lunched here at the Ferry Inn:
"The (hire) car deposited my mother, Angela, me and Jeanne at the foot of the hill by the ferry. We could either cross the ferry to Fowey or lunch first at the Ferry Inn in Bodinnick. It was nearly one o’clock, and we chose the latter course. Before climbing the hill to lunch our eyes were caught by a board saying ’For Sale’ on a gate just above the ferry".
The four storey inn clings and climbs up the rock face. From the street, four internal granite steps lead up into the main bar which is crammed with nautical memorabilia. Wall benches, an old high backed settle and bosun style chairs stand together with iron frame and barrel tables on the compacted sand floor. Plush pink wall seats and shutters are fitted into the window alcoves set in the massively thick walls.
Every inch of the wall space - and most of the ceiling is decorated with life-belts, ships lanterns, sailor’s knots, old anchors and oars and models of sailing ships and beer mats. The family room at the back is actually hewn into the rock and water runs down fissures in the exposed rough rock face into a gulley. From most of the bedrooms, tables by the windows in the restaurant, and from the terrace there are stunning views of the Fowey estuary.
At 5 South Street Fowey is the ’Daphne Du Maurier Literary Centre’, where you can learn about the author’s life and works. And each May in Fowey there are 10 days of entertainment featuring star names, talks, walks, theatre and concerts celebrating the town’s most famous literary resident.

Bodinnick - Ferry Inn - Daphne Du Maurier

As an author, Daphne du Maurier's imagination is unsurpassed. She wrote a total of 38 books including Rebecca, Frenchman's Creek, The Birds and of course Jamaica Inn, in which she immortalised this atmospheric granite-built pub. In her personal memoir 'Enchanted Cornwall' she explained how she first encountered the inn when a friend suggested a horseback: expedition to Bodmin Moor, putting up at the wayside hostelry. "Bodmin is the greatest and wildest stretch of moorland in Cornwall. Like Mary Yellan who, in the novel, comes to Bodmin Moor from the tranquil hills and valleys of Helford, I came unprepared for its dark, diabolic beauty".
In Daphne's story, Mary is delivered by the night stage and stands alone outside the inn with her trunk at her feet: "She heard the sounds of bolts being drawn in the dark house behind her, and the door was flung open. A great figure strode into the yard, swinging a lantern from side to side. Who is it? came the shout. What do you want here?"
Jamaica Inn's most famous owner was thriller writer Alistair Maclean who acquired it in July 1964. Maclean served during the war on the grim and hazardous North Sea Convoys and his experiences provided him with the material to write many of his phenomenally successful novels. He bought the inn as investment and only stayed here briefly - leaving his brother to oversee the business. As an author he was diffident about his talent and would not allow his own books to be sold in the Inn shop.
Jamaica Inn was built in 1750, to provide food and shelter to travellers on the first road to cross the treacherous moor. In 1778 it was extended to include a coach house, stables and a tack room creating the present day L-shape. The Inn's remote and isolated position lent itself as a perfect contraband halfway house and the inn's museum has one of the UK's most extensive collections of smuggling artifacts.
Today Jamaica Inn is a busy tourist attraction with a sound and light experience bringing Daphne du Maurier's novel to life. Visitors continue to arrive by the coach load but somehow the old inn with its cobbled courtyard, beamed ceilings and roaring log fires still manages to exude its magic and it's difficult to fault the food, the real ale and the friendly service.

Jamaica Inn - Bolventor - Cornwall - Daphne Du Maurier, Alistair Maclean

The future author of ‘The Woman in White’ and ‘The Moonstone’ was 26 when, in 1850, he embarked on a walking tour of Cornwall with his friend Harry Brandling. Collins’s account of this summer expedition was titled ‘Rambles beyond Railways’: or Notes in Cornwall Taken A-foot, to which Brandling contributed the 12 lithographs. The route of 234 miles took them along the south coast to the Lizard and Penzance, returning through northern Cornwall to Tintagel and Launceston. In those days "even the railway stops short at Plymouth" and the travelers had to take a rowboat ferry to their first destination at St Germains before beginning their walk to Looe. Their second overnight stop was here at the Ship where Collins recorded his impression of the little harbour town:
"Looking lower down the hills yet, you see the houses of the town straggling out towards the sea along each bank of the river, in mazes of little narrow streets; curious old quays project over the water at different points… the prospect of hills, harbour, and houses thus quaintly combined together, is beautifully closed by the English Channel... Such is Looe as beheld from a distance; and it loses none of its attractions when you look at it more closely. There is no such thing as a straight street in the place… Sometimes you go down steps into the ground floor, sometimes you mount an outside staircase to get to the bed-rooms. Never were such places devised for hide and seek since that exciting nursery pastime was first invented"
Rambles sold well and a second edition was published to which Collins added an 'advertisement', noting "Since this work first appeared, the all-conquering Railway has invaded Cornwall; and the title of my book has become a misnomer already." The Ship, which Collins described as a ‘jovial inn’, is set in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the main street of Looe, a working fishing harbour which has managed to keep much of its charming old world character. This ‘Harvester type’ pub which now forms part of the St Austell Brewery offers a selection of St Austell Ales as well as a full menu. It is now a typical holiday town centre pub with the obligatory Karaoke, Big Screen Sky TV, Pool and both quiz and fruit machines.

East Looe - Ship Inn - Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins (1824 – 1889)

In 1850, ten years before writing his most famous mystery novel ’The Woman in White’, Wilkie Collins undertook a walking tour of Cornwall with his artist friend, Henry Brandling. Collins published his account of this tour under the title of ’Rambles Beyond Railways’, which gives a clue to how remote England’s most Western county must have been at that time. In those days Brunel’s GWR had only reached as far as Plymouth and the two adventurers had to sail across the Tamar River to reach their first destination at St Germains.
Collins found the locals hospitable, though inquisitive, and ’Rambles’ became an amiable mixture of travelogue, vivid descriptive writing, Cornish history, legend and social observation. On the fifth day of the trip the companions walked the eight miles from Lostwithiel to the small town of Fowey and took up lodgings here at the Ship Inn, where they were caught up in the preparations of the festivities for a public boat race.
"In the first place, the dormant public enthusiasm was stimulated by music at an uncomfortably early hour in the morning. Two horn players and a clarionet player; a fat musician who blew through a very small fife and kept time with his head; and a withered little man who beat furiously on a mighty drum - drew up in martial array, one behind the other, before the principal inn".
Another aspect of the celebrations was that the town was decorated with uprooted saplings drilled into the ground and attached to the buildings. Those on the walls of the Ship were secured by strings attached to the furniture inside the rooms.
"We were driven about from corner to corner out of the way of this rigging by an imperious old woman, who fastened and fettered the wretched trees with as fierce an air as if they were criminals whom she was handcuffing, and who at last fairly told us that she thought we had better leave the room, and see how beautiful things looked from the outside".
Situated in Trafalgar Square in the heart of Fowey, the Ship Inn was built in 1570 as a town house for John Rashleigh who was a cousin of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake. It is one of the oldest buildings in the town and it retains much of its original character including oak beams in the bar and a stained glass window in the dining room. Collins would still recognise the old fashioned bedrooms some of which still have the original 16th Century oak panelling.

Fowey – Ship Inn – Wilkie Collins

Dinah Maria Craik (1826 - 1887)      Francis Kilvert (1840 – 1879)

Robert Francis Kilvert was an English clergyman remembered for his voluminous diaries reflecting rural life in the 1870s, which were published over fifty years after his death. An entry on 22nd July 1870 states:
"Visited the Old Inn kept by Mary Mundy, a genuine Cornish Celt, impulsive, warm-hearted, excitable, demonstrative, imaginative and eloquent. We went into a sitting room upstairs, unpacked the hampers, and ordered dinner to be ready when we came back in an hour’s time".
. The visitors’ book of this period records the names of members of the aristocracy including Randolph Churchill the elder, and also Dinah Maria Craik, the well-known English novelist and poet; who began writing fiction for children and advanced steadily until placed in the front rank of the women novelists of her day. She is best known for her 1856 novel John Halifax, Gentleman. ’An Unsentimental Journey through Cornwall’ is Craik’s beautifully evocative account of a holiday she undertook in 1883 in the company of two young nieces. Mrs Craik was also taken with The Old Inn at Mullion and its welcoming landlady:
"She stood at the door to greet us — a bright, brown-faced little woman with the reddest of cheeks and the blackest of eyes… Delighted to see you, ladies and I hope you enjoyed the Cove, and that you’re all hungry, and will find your tea to your liking… she ushered us into a neat little parlour at the back of the inn. There lay spread, not one of your dainty afternoon teas, with two or three wafery slices of bread and butter, but a regular substantial meal. Cheerful candles — of course in serpentine candlesticks — were already lit, and showed us the bright teapot… the gigantic home-baked loaf, which it seemed sacrilegious to have turned into toast ; the rich, yellow butter... ".
The Old Inn in the centre of the village has been popular with both locals and visitors since the sixteenth century. Marconi stayed here in 1903 when the first transatlantic wireless message was transmitted from Newfoundland to Poldhu. It is a traditional, attractive pub with a thatched roof and snug interior. Various small rooms off the bar area are for drinkers or diners and the sense of the history of the place is enhanced with all the black and white photos of Mullion and Mullion Cove hung on the walls. Outside there is a lovely large patio area where you can relax on a summer's day or evening.

Mullion - Old Inn - Dinah Maria Craik, Francis Kilvert

This local village pub stands in a lovely windswept setting near the church and, early in 1916, D.H. Lawrence and his German born wife Frieda came here to stay while they were looking for a cottage to rent locally – he wrote: "At Zennor one sees infinite Atlantic, all peacock-mingled colours, and the gorse is sunshine itself. Zennor is a most beautiful place: a tiny granite village nestling under high shaggy moor-hills and a big sweep of lovely sea beyond, such a lovely sea, lovelier even than the Mediterranean..... It is the best place I have been in, I think".
At the time Lawrence was writing ‘Women in Love’. The couple found Higher Tregerthan, which was one and a half miles North East of the village - one of a pair of small cottages accessed down a stony lane, in farmland near the sea. In 1915 the writer Katherine Mansfield and her publisher husband John Middleton Murray spent some weeks in Zennor, in close and sometimes strained proximity to their friends Lawrence and Frieda. Lawrence, who was unfit for service, was outspoken against the war.
The local people were very suspicious of the Lawrences, believing that they were German spies and they were eventually ordered to leave the area by the local police. Perhaps Lawrence invited this suspicion. When he first went to Cornwall, he was very critical of the Cornish describing them as: "…like insects gone cold, living only for money, for dirt. They are foul in this. They ought all to die. " Yet in the next line he admits: "…Not that I’ve seen much of them – I’ve been laid up in bed. But going out, in the motor and so on, one sees them and feels them and knows what they are like". It’s hardly surprising that the locals didn’t care for the eccentric writer.
The Tinners Arms is the only pub in Zennor and was built in 1271 to accommodate the masons who constructed St. Senara's Church which is famous for its mermaid. This welcoming pub which stands near the coastal path has been gently extended since that time. There are tables in a small suntrap courtyard and fine walks along the nearby coastal path. The flagstones, granite and stripped pine in the bar give it a rather spartan feel which seems somehow right for the miner’s son from Nottingham. It has changed little since Lawrence’s time and still has open log fires, stone floors and low ceilings. Here you will find the traditional pub experience with real Cornish ales and good local food.

Copyright T.W. Townsend - the opinions expressed herein are those of the author and any observations were correct at the time of the review.

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