I suspect most people fall in love with Port Eliot at first glimpse. Even Napoleon it would seem.
'Napoloen, gazing at Port Eliot land from the sea as he sailed into exile, said it was the most beautiful place in England. Enfin cec beau pays',
so reports Captain Maitland of HMS Bellerophon ( and I cribbed that from the guidebook)
As Catherine St Germans explained, it is a house full of secrets and
hidden places and, in the knowledge that Daphne du Maurier and her
sister Angela were frequent visitors in the 1930's, it doesn't take too
much of a leap in joined-up thinking to speculate on how Daphne's
imagination would have been inspired by such a magical place as she delved deep to create the setting of Manderley for Rebecca.
If imagination be partly a composite of images and impressions, then Port Eliot spins a deep and strangely intricate gossamer web of them across your mind.
As we sat in the library on Friday evening and I listened to Justine read the opening pages of Daphne, though I'm now very familiar with the words, in every setting they say something new and different and I think more and more people are realizing that Justine has actually written a very important book. Not only contributing hugely to a Daphne du Maurier renaissance but also adding renewed impetus to the work of Bronte scholars searching for the missing book of Emily Bronte's poems. The loss of the Honresfeld manuscript, its whereabouts shrouded in mystery and intrigue, is now emerging as another important thread from Daphne and there are some literary super-sleuths back on the trail.
Justine's tenacious and diligent research has caused many a professor to sit up and pay attention because by returning to primary sources she has opened up new lines of enquiry. Indeed the powers that be at The Bronte Parsonage Museum may now be lying in a darkened room with cold compresses sprinkled with lavender water on their foreheads, so persistent were Justine's entreaties. Accessing the Symington letters file, forbidden to all who went before and therefore unopened for fifty years, must have been quite a moment.
Then you sit in a house like Port Eliot, where nothing has ever been thrown away, and suddenly you wonder what unknown treasures this house must hold? Now I've seen the basement, heaven alone knows what's in the attics, even King Tut would be impressed.
Daphne had her way with the
weather yet again and the afternoon event moved from the garden to The
Orangery (what a useful addition an Orangery is) as that very particular brand of West Country rain fell; it doesn't seems like it's raining at all but you will be soaked within minutes. Justine and Catherine engaged in a
warm and fascinating conversation about all things Daphne and the audience was entranced yet again. The sun shone briefly for the
slap-up Rebecca tea and so we were able to sit in the garden and cope admirably with the generous profusion of cucumber sandwiches, cream scones and chocolate cake.
With an eye for gates these days I espied this one leading into the Orangery and suddenly Catherine's words about a house and garden full of secrets never felt more real.
Everyone chatted to everyone else even if they didn't know each other, which is what you do at Port Eliot, or was that just me? It was a pleasure to meet Oxford Reader and it is also hoped the Port Eliot Daphne du Maurier day will become an annual event so must add this to my list of Essential Pilgrimages.
Justine chatted and signed books with her perfect blend of humour and enthusiasm and just take a look at the Devon designer footwear, note plain NOT flowery.
Meanwhile I dashed home before the evening event to get into passable cocktail and canapes gear (not moving in these circles this was a guess, but read here to discover the Unimagined and serious trouble a canape can get you into, poor Imran) , to find the Gamekeeper had caught a whopping great big sea bass down at Halton Quay and was busy filleting it in the kitchen.
Mess, ugh, fish, ugh, scales and guts everywhere, ugh, out again.
Much as I love the National Trust, of necessity the essence can be diluted whereas there is something quintessential about a house like Port Eliot, a much-loved home left completely alone and untouched. It's a house replete with a soul, unassuming eccentricities and a setting with a voice of its own; sometimes declaring loud, sometimes the merest whisper but a voice that you can almost hear, a voice that laughs too as you wander through, and one that echoes back in time across that sumptuous Repton parkland.
Then I think Port Eliot could also be unique in other ways.
Surely the only stately home in the land that has a dovegrey dog with a blog, don't miss Roo's thoughts on the general public and 'the bloody parrot'. This could catch on, imagine what the Royal corgis would have to say? If anyone gets a whiff of a Royal Corgi Blog please do let us all know.
The hundred opening days for 2008 will be up by June 10th but plan ahead for 2009. The litfest will be on again next July, check with the Estate about opening times for the house, make sure you come via the A38 and the Tamar Bridge and then divert off left to St Germans a few miles later. I can promise you a beautiful and magical introduction to any visit to this most enchanting and mysterious county.
Coming Soon : Episode Four - The Basement
PS If you haven't read Unimagined by Imran Ahmad please don't miss it, it was Ann Widdecombe and dovegreyreader's Best Non-Fiction Read of 2007 and it says so inside the book.