Saturday, 20 February 2016

Greenway

It sometimes takes a bit of effort to persuade the Scone Sidekick to join me on my scone missions. And then on other occasions, I only need four words - in the case of Greenway "it's Agatha Christie's house" - and he's got his coat on. 


Greenway House

And although I forced him to get up at 5.30am on a Saturday and travel for several hours to get there, he wasn't disappointed by Greenway. We loved it. Here are my five highlights:

1. The location
Greenway is situated near Dartmouth, on a promontory above the River Dart. The views are stunning - this is what Agatha Christie used to be able to see from her bedroom window:



Greenway view of River Dart

I assume it looks a bit nicer on a sunny day but you get the idea.

2. The history
Greenway actually had a long and fascinating history before Agatha came along:
  • There has been a house on the site for over 400 years
  • A Tudor mansion was built for Otto Gilbert, part of a Devon sea-faring family
  • In 1588, a Spanish flagship that had been part of the Armada was captured - 160 Spanish prisoners were put in Gilbert's care and he had them building walls and pathways at Greenway
  • In 1700 the Gilberts relocated to nearby Compton Castle
  • Greenway then passed through various families
  • A man called Roope Harris Roope started work on the Greenway House we see today, after he inherited in 1771
  • Roope went bankrupt and the estate passed to the Eltons, the Carlyons, the Harveys, the Bolithos and Williamses
  • In 1938, Agatha Christie (or Mallowan, as she was known - her married name) bought the place with her husband, Max
  • The house was requisitioned during WWII

2. The Agatha Christie connection
Greenway was given to the National Trust in 2000 by Agatha's daughter and grandson. They stipulated that they didn't want it to become an Agatha Christie theme park and the Trust has stuck to their wishes. It's not a museum or a shrine - it's her house.

It was actually her summer home - her main house was in Oxfordshire - but it doesn't feel like a summer home. I was expecting something small and ramshackle, but it's quite large and sturdy.

I did feel like a bit of a snoop looking inside her wardrobe, I have to say. However, I'm sure Miss Marple would have had a shufti if she'd had the chance so I'm not going to lose any sleep over it:


Greenway wardrobe Agatha Christie

Greenway features in two of Agatha's books; Dead Man's Folly and Five Little Pigs. The final episode of Poirot was also filmed at Greenway - one of the only areas of the house dedicated to her work features a script signed by David Suchet:


Books at Greenway

4. The gardens
I'm going to be completely honest with you: I saw very little of the gardens today. And I could give you many credible excuses: it's February, so there was very little to see. The boathouse was shut. However, it was only when I got home and saw that a full ten pages of the guidebook are dedicated to the gardens that I realised I probably should have made more effort. I'll go back. 

5. The lovely people
It's 187 miles from my house to Greenway and we were practically on its doorstep when I realised that you have to book your parking space in advance. I tried not to show my panic to the Scone Sidekick while I hastily looked for a number I could ring. 

To my eternal discredit, I fully expected the phone to be answered by a harassed house administrator - one that was answering the phone while also trying to open the house, fix the heating, and deal with three volunteers ringing in sick.

But it wasn't. The loveliest woman in the world answered and sorted us a space. And then when we got there we were greeted by a very friendly man at the car park entrance, followed by a lovely woman called Linda at reception. The man at the house entrance was really helpful and the staff in the tea-room were lovely too. Even the Sidekick agreed that the people at Greenway were the best NT volunteers he'd ever come across.

And so it pains me a bit to move on to more contentious matters. HOWEVER, I think that the Trust might be responsible for these things, and not Linda or the woman on the phone or the man on the door or the friendly young things in the cafe:

The tea-room
I was given a little bit of paper as we drove into Greenway. I glanced at it, saw the words 'cafe' and 'refurbishment' and stuffed it into my pocket quickly without reading any further - if I had dragged us 190 miles to a property with no tearoom, I needed to hear this at the exact same moment as the Sidekick. 

But, to my relief, the cafe was open. I bought two cream teas, put them down, collected some milk, and went back to the table. The Sidekick was looking absolutely murderous. I thought maybe his boss had rung him and sacked him, or he'd found out about the alternative route to Greenway by steam train. But no; "This has ruined it. This has absolutely ruined it," he thundered. "Do you know what this is like? MCDONALDS."

And then I read the piece of paper and realised that Greenway is conducting a two year experiment with disposable plates, knives, forks, spoons, and cups.

I really admire experiments, I really do. And although I don't see how throwing away thousands of little wooden knives and forks is better for the environment than washing up steel ones, if the Trust tells me that it's true then I believe them.

But it doesn't change the fact that sitting in a tea room eating off a paper plate with a chip fork is not a very enjoyable experience. It just isn't. The German woman next to us was eating a salad off a paper plate and it looked so unappetising - I wouldn't have touched it. 

There isn't much more I can say. We'll just have to wait and see what happens when the experiment is over. 

The scone
The scone itself was OK. It was a bit dry, and trying to cut it with a wooden knife was more difficult than I expected. But I ate it, and the tea was great, even if it did come in a paper cup.


Greenway scone

So in summary, I would highly recommend Greenway; it's a lovely place that doesn't overdo the Agatha Christie connection, with fantastic staff. 

Greenway: 5 out of 5
Scone: 3.5 out of 5 (please note that I originally gave a 4 but slept on it and changed it)
Friendliest staff ever: 5 out of 5

2 comments:

  1. I am going to pack emergency China cups, plates and metal cutlery in case this happens at a NT tearoom we visit, thanks for the warning ;-) x

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