by G.M. Malliet
I've just returned from two weeks in England. Not entirely by design, the trip turned, in part, into a pilgrimage to sites associated with Agatha Christie's life and works.
We began, however, with a few days in Cambridge, where I was not so much doing research as refreshing my memories for the third book in the St. Just series, which book is scheduled to appear early next year. The book's theme is rowing, and having been nowhere near good enough at rowing to be in a Blue Boat, I wanted to double-check some of the details surrounding the training for this fantastic sport.
From Cambridge, then, it was on to Oxford, a bus journey of well over three hours--a journey so tedious it reinforces the impression that the authorities don't want the members of Cambridge and Oxford to cross-pollinate in any way. But near Oxford is Wallingford, where Agatha Christie lived for several decades, and where we have friends who had kindly offered to drive us to her house and on to see her gravesite. (Wallingford, for Midsomer Murders fans out there, has also been the scene of filming for several episodes, and is used as a stand-in for DCI Barnaby's town of Causton.)
The first picture on this blog entry, then, is of Winterbrook House, in the hamlet of Winterbrook near Wallingford. Agatha Christie purchased the property in 1934. Actually, as the house is currently occupied, and surrounded by a screen of trees, the best I can offer is a shot of the front door. The house sits very close to the street, but on an enormous tract of land that apparently stretches all the way to the Thames. (My friend and I skulked around the perimeter of the grounds as far as we could go, no doubt looking fairly mysterious ourselves in the process. I trust that the owners are used to this by now.)
The second picture is of the cottage (well, the roof of the cottage) just adjacent to Winterbrook House. Agatha is said to have used this as her office.
The next stop was at the Parish Church of St. Mary, Cholsey. Sunday services were in progress, so we didn't venture far into the building, but we stopped outside at Agatha's grave, where she was buried in 1976. Her second husband Max died less than two years after she did and is buried next to her. I paused and tried to say a prayer but could really only come up with a heartfelt "thank you" to her for providing me with so many hours of distraction and entertainment in my life, whether or not I needed them at the time. As I stood there, I could see and faintly hear a train going by in the distance. I think the author of Murder on the Orient Express and The Mystery of the Blue Train would have liked that.
In fact, anyone who doubts novelists and their wild, fanciful stories serve a useful and long-remembered purpose should have seen the crowds at the next stop on the pilgrimage, Agatha's vacation home at Greenway. From Oxfordshire we had traveled by train to Torquay (Agatha's birthplace), and from there by passenger ferry on the River Dart for a visit to the newly opened Greenway (last photo is of me, dwarfed by the front door). Now I truly was in heaven. The house tour is designed to allow the visitor as much time as needed to browse around. Nothing is roped off, although you are asked not to touch, and the house, comfortable and welcoming, is much as Agatha (and later, her daughter Rosalind and her husband Anthony) left it.
I'm out of time and space so for fellow Agatha fans I plan to blog more about Greenway next week as a guest at Writers Plot and/or to post photos of the Agatha Pilgrimage on my Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/g.m.malliet. Or maybe the public link will work this time). I took literally hundreds of photos of sites associated with Agatha, thanks to the wonder of digital technology, so imagine the self-discipline required today to winnow it down to these few. ;-)