Part Three: Greenway
September 13, 2011: Greenway
The next morning, we have our first traditional English breakfast: fried egg, sliced tomato, grilled mushrooms, bacon (aka ham), sausage and black pudding. I quite like the black pudding. Later, I discover that it is made of curdled and boiled pig blood, mixed with chunks of pork fat and spices. Even knowing this, I’d order it again.
The silver BMW arrives promptly at nine. At the wheel is a new driver. Tony is a cheerful, outgoing fellow originally from Manchester. He takes us down narrow back roads hemmed by hedges, chatting the whole time. We pass a village where, he tells us, he played rugby for the local team. At a rise, he points out the idyllic Bath Spa University in the valley below. He tells us about the celebrities he has chauffeured, like Nicholas Cage and band members from U2.
“I have a surprise for you,” he says. The pastures drop away and woods crowd against the road as it snakes steeply downward in tight curves. The woods thin and suddenly there are limestone cliffs rising hundreds of feet on either side. “Cheddar Gorge,” he says triumphantly. “It’s nothing like Grand Canyon, but it’s Britain’s largest gorge.” We stop at a “lay by” and scan the cliffs vainly for goats that Tony says can sometimes be seen from the road.
We get on the M5 and head toward Devonshire. An hour and a half later, we arrive at Greenway, Agatha Christie’s home overlooking the River Dart.
We are greeted by Belinda who explains that we have the house and grounds entirely to ourselves for the afternoon. She takes us behind the former stables and introduces us to Jeff. A thin balding man with a toothy grin and weather beaten face, Jeff has been the gardener at Greenway for nearly 50 years. He remembers Agatha and is full of interesting stories about her, which he shares as he escorts us through the grounds, pausing to call out plants by their Latin names.
“She liked her privacy,” he says, “so she didn’t want me clearing the trees down to the river. She only wanted me to trim some branches so she could look down through without being seen.”
Agatha and her husband, Max, operated a small nursery, but they would never let Jeff advertize the business. “I think they thought advertizing was vulgar. People just found out about us by word of month. They weren’t interested in making money. ‘Jeff,’ they told me, ‘we’ll pay you no matter what, so don’t worry about whether we sell our plants.’”
I could have wandered through the garden listening to Jeff all afternoon, but Gill intercepts us as we are heading down to the boathouse and cuts the tour short. Lunch is about to be served.
Coming up next: Inside Christie's Greenway for a private lunch