A conspiracy of crime writers
A Books & Bicycles Tour
Explore the lingering, literary dangers of life in sleepy Devonshire villages: follow in the tracks of Holmes and Poirot and their artful creators, Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.
Total distance covered: 132 miles
Agatha Christie’s beautiful summer retreat
Secluded Burgh Island, where Christie loved to write
Sherlock Holmes’ stomping ground
The legends and places that inspired Arthur Conan Doyle
The International Agatha Christie Festival
Cycle from Exeter Central Train Station to the Belmont B&B in Moretonhampstead, heading out from the cathedral city of Exeter and up onto the wilds of Dartmoor – “the setting is a worthy one. If the devil did desire to have a hand in the affairs of men” (Sherlock Holmes).
A circular route from Moretonhampstead leads to Hound Tor and Hay Tor. The former has rocks that legend says were a pack of hounds turned to stone by a witch, said to have been inspirational in Doyle’s creation of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’; both were used in the recent BBC crime drama series ‘Sherlock’ with iconic shots of Benedict Cumberbatch clambering to the peak to survey the vast emptiness of the moors.
Cycle to Princetown and the atmospheric Tor Royal B&B. In 1901, Doyle stayed at what is now the National Park Visitor’s Centre, which has a section dedicated to Sherlock Holmes. The Fox Tor Mires overlooked by Princetown inspired the creation of ‘Hound’s’ Grimpen Mires; a more detailed exploration of Dartmoor locations used by Doyle can be found in, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles – Hunting the Dartmoor Legend‘.
Today’s ride takes you to Buckfastleigh and the Cider House at Buckland Abbey, one of the few opportunities to stay in a National Trust property; the route gives a real impression of the desolation and loneliness of Dartmoor. More significantly, the likely inspiration for Doyle’s Baskerville Hall lies in Buckfastleigh and in the legend of Brook Manor. Legend has it that in the mid 17th century the owner, Richard Cabell, was so wicked he was hunted to death by ghostly black dogs on Dartmoor. His body lies in a tomb in the Holy Trinity Church, sealed by a massive stone to prevent his spirit walking across the moors at night.
A lengthy downhill glide takes the route away from the moors and into the sleepy Devonshire parishes beloved by Agatha Christie. The Plantation House hotel in Ermington is a luxurious retreat offering sublime massages, the ideal treat after more than eighty miles on a bike.
From Ermington it’s a 25 mile day trip – lengthy, but the panniers can be left behind at the hotel! – to Burgh Island. The route passes through sleepy villages such as Modbury, all overflowing with a bounty of adorable tearooms. The iconic Art Deco Hotel on Burgh Island is where Christie stayed and based two of her classics: ‘And Then There Were None’ is the world’s best-selling mystery, and ‘Evil Under the Sun’ is a Poirot masterpiece.
A leisurely ride leads to The Dartmouth B&B, a beautiful property that overlooks the town. They provide luxurious lunch hampers that are the ideal addition to a visit to Greenway, Christie’s summer home and garden. An extra day gives time for a trip to quirky Totnes and a thorough investigation of Dartmouth and Kingswear, exploring the area Christie loved so much.
Heading along the coast you’ll arrive at Orestone Manor just outside Torquay, home of Wilkie Collins of ‘Woman in White’ infamy and the annual International Agatha Christie Festival. This is typically held in September to coincide with her birthday on the 15th of the month and a well-timed tour would make this a superb endpoint. Christie was born here and the Agatha Christie Mile is a clue-bedecked walk along the seafront taking in ten landmarks.
Does a Books & Bicycles tour sound like your cup of tea?
Slowly cycling around the countryside in pursuit of all things literary is the perfect holiday for book lovers.
If you love the idea of spending some time on two wheels seeing the most beautiful parts of Britain and getting up close and personal with your favourite authors and books, please send me a message and I can help you organise a bespoke tour. One day, I plan to guide some tours myself: I have a lifelong love of books, a 1st class honours degree in English Literature where I specialised in the Romantics, crime literature and the Modernists, and a Master of Studies from the University of Oxford with a niche emphasis on eighteenth century women's poetry. I bring unique ideas, thoughts and enthusiasm to all literary topics and am looking forward to spending time with a group of likeminded bookworms in pursuit of the ghosts between and behind the pages. If you are interested in joining a tour just fill in the contact form, let me know which route interests you the most, and I will send you dates and costs as soon as they are confirmed.