Films and Literature
The Creative Influence of Dartmoor & Beyond
Devon and Dartmoor has inspired a number of artists and writers. Such famous authors who have been inspired by Dartmoor and the surrounding region include Agatha Christie, Rosamunde Pilcher and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. With famous novels being turned into television shows and films, Dartmoor has more recently become a sought after location for filming, particularly recently with the filming of War Horse which brought top Hollywood producer, Steven Spielburg to the area.
Born in Lelant in Cornwall, Rosamunde Pilcher was an internationally renowned author which came from the success of her novel, The Shell Seekers, an autobiographical story set in London and Cornwall.
Aside from Cornwall, the rugged terrain of Dartmoor also became the setting for many of the Rosamunde Pilcher films of recent years. Such stunning sites include the nearby Widecombe in the Moor, also known as the ‘Cathedral of the Moors’ which is situated just 4 miles from the Ilsington Hotel.
Other sites include Buckland Abbey near Yelverton and Burrator Reservoir located on the edge of Dartmoor and approximately 35 miles from the hotel. Such stunning landmarks were the settings for filming novels like Return to Rose Abbey and Magic of Love.
Agatha Christie was born in Torquay and lived for many years in the area. She was an extremely popular British author and playwright, best known for her work in the murder mystery genre and a number of her novels have also been created into television programmes and films. She has sold over two billion books worldwide which have been translated into over 45 languages.
A number of Christie’s novels have been inspired by various locations throughout Devon, particularly Dartmoor and Torquay, including The Imperial Hotel where Miss Marple unravels the mystery on the terrace in the concluding novel to her Marple series, Sleeping Murder. Agatha was a frequent visitor to Hay Tor, a famous landmark situated just 1.5 miles from the Ilsington Hotel, and Dartmoor was the inspiration for a handful of her novels such as The Idol House of Astarte and The Sittaford Mystery.
Christie’s work is celebrated every year at the annual Agatha Christie Festival which takes place throughout the English Rivera, usually every September. You can also visit Christie’s holiday home, Greenway, a National Trust property situated on the River Dart near Brixham, 40 miles from the Ilsington Hotel.
Daphne Du Maurier
Whilst Agatha Christie was busy writing in Devon, another famous female author, Daphne Du Maurier was living down in Cornwall and writing thrillers such as the famous Jamaica Inn and Rebecca, which were both set near her home in Fowey and surrounding Cornwall.
Like Agatha Christie, there is an annual festival held in Fowey to celebrate the life and works of Daphne Du Maurier. Find out more>
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes used Dartmoor as the inspiration and backdrop for his most famous tale, The Hound of the Baskervilles. He began writing the novel at the Duchy Hotel at Princetown (now the High Moorland Visitor Centre, approximately 40 miles from the hotel) looking out over the moor and the grim grey hulk of Dartmoor Prison.
Sir Doyle was taken on a tour by a local man called Henry Baskerville, and it was from this tour that he began to weave moorland landmarks and names into the novel’s fabric – the Foxtor mires and the Grimspound hut circles became the treacherous Grimpen Mire and the prehistoric huts which feature in the adventure. The tors of Bellever and Vixen are named in the book, and you can retrace the footsteps of Holmes and Watson on the summit of Black Tor.
More recently, in summer 2010, Steven Spielberg and his crew were pictured on Dartmoor filming his new blockbuster War Horse. Filming began with the cavalry scenes being filmed at Stratfield House in North Hampshire. Filming in Dartmoor began in August 2010 with various locations including Widecombe in the Moor (4 miles from the Ilsington) and the small village of Meavy near Sheepstor. Excited staff at the Ilsington Hotel often saw Speilberg’s helicopter overhead and scenes of hoards of riders being filmed in the distance.
Spielberg praised the beauty of the natural landscapes of Dartmoor: “I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor... And, with two-and-a-half weeks of extensive coverage of landscapes and skies, I hardly scratched the surface of the visual opportunities that were offered to me."
War Horse, which is based on the children’s book written by Devon author Michael Morpurgo, follows a young man named Albert and his horse, Joey, and how their bond is broken when Joey is sold to the cavalry and send to the trenches of World War One. The film was released in January 2012. At the hotel we have information on where the filming took place and key landmarks featured in the film.
The Best of the Rest
Other famous authors which were attracted to the area included Oscar Wilde and Henry James who were frequent visitors to Torquay. Additionally poet Lord Alfred Tennyson described Torquay as “the loveliest sea village in England”.
One of the country’s leading romantic poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born at the vicarage of Ottery St Mary in 1772 and his early years were spent in East Devon.
Charles Dickens parents lived in Mile End Cottage in Alphington near Exeter and it is here where the opening chapters in Nicholas Nickleby were written. Dickens described Exeter as “the most beautiful in this most beautiful of English counties”. Thomas Hardy used Exeter in four of his novels, only he gave it the name Exonbury, and Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was set in the village of Upton Pyne, just 4 miles from Exeter.
The first three series of the popular BBC programme, Springwatch, was filmed at Fishleigh Estate near Okehampton, approximately 35 miles from the Ilsington. Fishleigh Estate is an organic farm nestled in the gently rolling countryside of North West Devon.
The Edwardian Farm
The Edwardian Farm is a weekly programme currently showing on BBC 2. The series of twelve episodes is being filmed at the award-winning World Heritage site, Morwellham Quay, which is situated just outside of Tavistock on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. This historic site is open to the public and features a historic port, copper mine, a working Victorian farm and museums of costume and mining.