30 years of age. Married – check, mortgage – check, baby – check, National Trust Membership,…eek check! Strangely, it was the latter that made me feel my oldest, most middle-aged and highly mature self. Debilitated by agonising back pain and unable to walk further than several hundred yards without needing to rest my sorry booty, plus buggy-manoeuvrability restrictions, it suddenly felt right to purchase this life-milestone marker of a membership. National trust flowersEntrance to one place in particular helped inspire such a decision. The stunning ‘Greenway’ – Agatha Christie’s beloved holiday estate – tucked away amidst woodland and blooming neon flowers in prime position on the Dart Estuary. Inspiration also for several of her books and for this particular Devonshire day-out.
When in full-walking health, my transport of choice to this historical literary destination is a tree-dappled footpath that meanders its way along the side of the estuary from Kingswear and churns you out at the bottom of a steep hill, a short walk from the house – now property of the National Trust. If you don’t fancy the hike, there are several other jolly ways to get here.
Experience quintessential 1950's England when Steam was the way to travel and hop on the Steam Train that leaves regularly from Kingswear and choos its scenic way to Paignton. Classic booths, conductors and good old engineering delights tiny babies (ours was mesmerised by the billowing steam) and Grandpas alike. My dad – an engineer – was like an excited schoolchild and practically ran, grinning from ear to ear, from carriage to carriage with his video camera. It's worth shelling out the extra £1.50 to sit in the 'Devon Belle' – an observation carriage with wall to wall glass and a champagne bar (though this may be just for show). You can also ‘jiggle jerk’ your way there on Barnaby the vintage bus or nip across by ferry.
En all routes, views peek through the trees across the estuary to pleasant green pastures, a little harbour village and classy houses, their vast glass frontages mingling with oldy-worldy thatched cottages along the hillsides. But Christie’s former holiday residence is the crème de la Devonshire cream tea. From the outside at least.
Well-tended gardens with beautiful lean-to greenhouses cultivate everything from peaches to vegetables to exotic plants and the biggest fig tree I have ever seen. Lurking behind the wall, under tunnelling trees, a bird pond, fountain and pet graveyard commemorating memories of passed pooches. Narrow pathways lead down to the boathouse at the water's edge and deck chairs laid out on the lawn in front of the huge columned façade are a perfect way to suck up the scenery. Inspect the inside of the house, where hoards of collectables amassed by the family, props mentioned in the books and archaeological treasures compiled from Christie and her husband's worldwide digs are scattered amongst the rooms.
And if you're a little peckish after all that culture, you can quell your famished-ness onsite or hop across to dainty Dittisham by boat (a short walk) and the über-delicious Anchorstone Cafe. But that's another story… As with any extra-curricular activity it gets one to thinking… as Christie writes in Poirot, 'Peril at End House', "an admirable exercise my friend. Continue it" .