Fab National Trust spots for a South West staycation

Visitors at Greenway, Devon

Visitors at Greenway. - Credit: National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

KATE LORD BROWN stays at Agatha Christie's holiday home near Brixham 

We arrived at night, our headlights sweeping along the narrow lane past Greenway Halt where heritage steam trains deliver visitors in season. On the curving gravel driveway of Greenway House I stood in front of the high white porch, listening to the silence of the deep woods. It was hard to believe that I had the key to famed Devon author Agatha Christie's house. 

I first visited Greenway some years ago, and it is one of my favourite places in Devon still. It's easy to see why Christie called it “the loveliest place in the world”.  

View of the River Dart in Devon.

The journey by ferry from Dartmouth is a spectacular way to arrive at Greenway. - Credit: National Trust Images/John Dietz

We arrived that first summer by ferry from Dartmouth, and it is a spectacular way to arrive at Greenway quay. The gardens rise steeply from the river and you walk up through the avenues of rhododendrons and camellias. The house sits high on a promontory above the River Dart - there has been a dwelling here since Tudor times. Christie had loved the house since her childhood, and in 1938 she had the chance to buy it as a holiday home. 

The elegant white Georgian house feels as though Christie's family has just stepped out for a moment, the armchair in the library still warm from someone who had curled up there for the afternoon with a good book. In the dressing room, the clothes still hang in the wardrobe and suitcases stand ready for the next trip.  

Five generations collected over 12,000 objects, and Greenway is treasure trove of items dear to the family, from Sumerian panels, Tunbridge ware and prehistoric archaeology to fine Lucie Rie ceramics and 'honest pots' by Bernard Leach.  

Visitors in the garden at Greenway, Devon

Visitors in the garden at Greenway. - Credit: National Trust Images/John Mill

The drawing room is home to precious pieces from Christie's childhood home, Ashfield in Torquay, and her Steinway piano, (she trained as a concert pianist). The family would gather here for readings from Christie's new manuscripts - it's easy to imagine them tucked up on a cosy winter's night at Christmas, or with the high sash windows flung open on a summer's day and the sound of piano music drifting across the lawns. 

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Fittingly, the house also holds over 5,000 books, including the Greenway collection of first editions of Christie's novels. Dead Man's Folly was inspired by the location, and the novel was so closely based on the house that it was chosen as the location for the 2013 TV Poirot adaptation.  

Keen readers can visit the boathouse - scene of the murder but also a haven for nature lovers. At low tide you can still see the remains of the original brick Tudor slipway, and from the battery you can often spy seals, kingfishers and herons on the water. 

Agatha Christie novels at Greenway, Devon.

Greenway is treasure trove of items. - Credit: National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

For one who devoured all of Christie's books as a teenager, it felt like a dream come true to be staying in her house. Beyond the red baize door to the apartment, you are greeted by imposing portraits of Mr and Mrs James Watts, Christie's sister and brother-in-law. 

The rooms are comfortably furnished with items from the collections, and a wonderful selection of books and DVDs for cosy nights in after exploring the house and grounds. One lovely detail was the original wide baths - Christie apparently loved to eat apples in the bath and insisted on a wide ledge for her bowl.                                                              “In April, the garden is really starting to come into its own," head gardener Ashley Brent reveals. "The meadows will be full of colour with bluebells, primroses and ramsons. The main draw will be the rhododendron, camellias and magnolias that will be in full bloom around the garden. Bluebells will make Boathouse Woods a tranquil spot with fantastic scent." 

There are also plenty of sunny lawns to enjoy a picnic on, and a climb up to the top garden is rewarded with breathtaking views down the River Dart to Dartmouth. 

The boathouse on the Dart Estuary at Greenway, Devon.

The boathouse on the Dart Estuary at Greenway. - Credit: National Trust/Marianne Majerus

Staying at Greenway is an unforgettable experience. I'll always remember rising at first light and gazing out across the canopy of the magnolias to the silver river. It's not surprising that when Max Mallowan, (Christie's second husband), was travelling he would write home for news of the garden and his favourite trees. It is - as Christie said - the loveliest of places. 

Greenway House will be open daily until the end of October, then weekends only in November until the end of December, weather permitting: from 10.30am-5pm (last entry at 4.30pm). For more information about what's on at Greenway this Spring, visit here.  

Accommodation options  

The apartment at Greenway has four bedrooms, and can sleep up to eight people. Spread over the first and second floors, you can explore the rest of the house and the gardens free of charge during your stay.  

It's the perfect base to explore Brixham and the English Riviera. The minimum stay is three nights, and it can be booked here. You can also book the Greenway Lodges and Ferry Cottage on the site. 

The National Trust has over 50 holiday properties to enjoy in Devon. Near to Greenway, you can also enjoy the Chauffeur's Flat at Coleton Fishacre. From the art deco apartment you can explore the exotic gardens and hike down to Brixham, Paignton and Torquay.  

Fish to the fore 

Not surprisingly, a self-catering stay on the water at Greenway is a great excuse to explore all the local suppliers of fresh seafood. From the fresh fish market at Brixham to local restaurants Rockfish, there is something for everyone to enjoy.  

Our best meal came from Mark Lobb of Wild Food Devon in Dartmouth. Their fish is out of the sea no more than 24 hours when it gets to market, and local really is local with catches landed within 30 miles of Brixham and Plymouth.  

We enjoyed smoked salmon and gravadlax cut straight from the side of fish in the market, and took home the best crab we've ever had. See here for information and recipes.