The road to Manderley... A "Rebecca Walk"
"…After that came a walk along the coastal path that climbs up over the cliffs towards Gribbin Head. I followed the trail through tall beech hedges tangled with rain-soaked briar roses and honeysuckle, before the path dipped down into tiny Polridmouth Bay (pronounced Pridmouth). This is where Rebecca country begins. A notorious blackspot for shipwrecks, the bay had a strangely brooding atmosphere - perhaps because the weather was so bleak. The beach of slate-blue pebbles backed onto a waterfront lake, fed by a stream emerging from high above, from within the dark woods of the Menabilly estate. The only signs of habitation were a small cottage and boat house. This was the cottage where Rebecca held her romantic trysts, the boathouse from which she launched her sailing boat, and the bay where the scuttled craft was washed up.
The climb from Polridmouth Bay to the gates of Menabilly was to be my Road to Manderley….The ascent towards Menabilly was lovely. First I walked through another leafy tunnel of hedgerow and trees, with the wind whistling through the foliage all around me….To the right were the mysterious woods of Menabilly; to the left was the cheerful normality of Menabilly Barton farm…Menabilly itself remains out of sight, its ribbon drive winding tantalisingly into the woods. Privately occupied once again by the descendants of its original owners, du Maurier’s “house of secrets” has - perhaps fittingly - retreated back into itself. But, truly, it’s enough just to take the walk.” [A Cornish Romance, The Independent, Linda Cookson, 2007]
Menabilly is the name of the house which was the inspiration behind du Maurier’s Manderley. It was in 1943 that du Maurier aquired the lease for what she referred to as her house of secrets, though the novel was written before she and her family moved in.
I think in some ways it’s a shame that you can’t visit Menabilly; du Maurier is a national treasure, and internationally famous for her novels - especially Rebecca - and I think there would be a lot of interest in visiting to the house. That said, at the same time, I find it fitting that not only are you not able to visit it, you’re also unable to see it. Manderley is part of a ghost story, and by it not being accessable to the public, I think it maintains that gothic mystery; you can imagine it being shut off to the world, inhabited by no one but the ghosts of Rebecca and Mrs Danvers. You can imagine them roaming the gardens, the woods down to the beachhouse, can imagine them stood together at the window of the West Wing looking out at the sea. Perhaps, if you could visit, it would lose that magic and that power…like when a novel is turned into a film and the characters don’t match up to what you have in your head.
Maybe one day Menabilly will open its doors to the public, but until then I’m content with the annual du Maurier festivals, the “Rebecca Walk”, my copy of the novel and the various film and musical interpretations. Oh, and my imagination, of course!