I’m heading up the latest National Rust artistic appreciation tour to the Menabilly estate. Although this has been owned by the Rashleigh family since the reign of Elizabeth 1 it is best known for the 20 odd years that Daphne du Maurier lived here. As a young child on a family holiday at Fowey where her father Gerald owned a home, where Daphne’s son Christian still resides, she first came across the wild and woody Menabilly which she and her sister Angela discovered whilst waking along the coastal path.
Following her early success a writer she first made an unsuccessful bid for the property but was granted a lease at a peppercorn rent in condition for repairing and restoring the property which despite the lack of labour in World War Two she succeeded in doing. She was mortified some 20 years later to be told that the Rashleigh family wanted the property back and after a bitter dispute she was relocated in the Dower House.
Menabilly inspired some of her best writings many of which became films. The most famous of these was Rebecca who met her end at the lovely Pridmouth cove. Last year I stayed at the house there. This year we are at the smaller Keepers Cottage. A blind old lady once stayed here too. She formed the clairvoyant character in the sinister Don’t Look Now. One day whilst walking on the estate Daphne saw a bird pester a tractor driver. This inspired The Birds another story adopted to the cinema by Alfred Hitchcock.
Walking after supper down the cove through the dense woodlands there was an eerie sinister quality as well as considerable natural beauty which we all appreciated. In Rebecca this atmosphere combined With the dark scary housekeeper Mes Danvers so loyal to Rebecca, first mistress of the house, created a gothic disquieting atmosphere which made the film so memorable. Like the Brontes whom Daphne much admired and the contemporary American writer Ann Tyler, Daphne was able to weave stories of great imagination based in and on the narrow domain of one area, Cornwall.