Heathcliff House Discover Torquay in Devon
Heathcliff House Discover Torquay in Devon

Top Three National Trust Properties to visit when staying at      Heathcliff House

Compton Castle

Marldon, Paignton, Devon TQ3 1TA


Just two miles west from Heathcliff House, the Grade 1 listed, Compton Castle is a rare survivor.




Located in the village of Compton, this dramatic medieval fortified manor house has been in the care of the National Trust since 1951.  The castle has high curtain walls with slits through which stones and boiling oil could be dropped on any attackers trying to scale the walls and two portcullises which could be lowered when the castle came under attack.  Arrows could be shot through loopholes overlooking the gateway.




The original castellated house was the seat of Sir Maurice de la Pole in the Reign of King Henry II (1154–1189), the manor was known as Compton Pole when it came into the hands of Sir Peter Compton.  The marriage of Joan de Compton to Geoffrey Gilbert, in 1329 brought the two families together and the Gilberts have been adding, altering and renovating the castle ever since.


The undefended manor house was enlarged in the mid-14th century and consisted of a hall flanked by a solar (which served as a private retiring room away from the bustle of the great hall) and service rooms at each end.  These were rebuilt in the later Middle Ages. The fortress-like front was added in about 1520 by John Gilbert in response to French raids on Plymouth.   The central hall fell into ruin by the 18th century and Compton was sold in 1785 as the family had moved to Bodmin, Cornwall.


Once the home of Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1539-1583), part-founder of the New World, Commander Walter Raleigh Gilbert bought the castle and surrounding orchard back for the family in 1931, the Great Hall had no roof and renovation started.  Fragments of the original stonework were found amongst the ruins in 1955 and were used as the basis for the Great Hall’s windows.


A 15th Century staircase survives and the Great Kitchen has been restored, it is housed in a separate building because of the risk of fire it posed and is notable for the insight it gives into medieval domestic life. To the right of the hearth, a stone stair led up inside a tower to what was probably a guard room.


Compton Castle today is a faithful restoration of the original.  Sir Humphrey’s descendants, Geoffrey and Angela Gilbert and their family still live there today and administer the property for the National Trust.



The world would be a different place without the Gilbert men and their exploration of North America. In 1583, in the name of the Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Humphrey Gilbert colonised Newfoundland.


Two years later his half-brother, Sir Walter Raleigh started planning the Roanoke Colony in North Carolina. Sir Humphrey’s youngest son Raleigh Gilbert continued exploring, settling the Popham Colony in Maine, in 1607. It only survived one year, succumbing to a bitter winter.  Legend has it that Raleigh smoked the first pipe of tobacco in Britain while visiting Sir Humphrey at Compton.




Outside, you can discover the small formal garden enclosed by a stone curtain wall with roses climbing pergolas, knot and herb gardens and a picnic orchard.  When the weather is warm the smell of the roses is amazing.


On Screen


The castle was used as a location for the filming of the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility.  The screen play for the film was written by Emma Thompson and she starred with Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman.   The film earned seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress.  Emma Thompson received the award for Best Adapted Screenplay, becoming the only person to have won Academy Awards for both acting and screenwriting.




We often visit during the summer months just to have a picnic lunch in the lower orchard and were lucky enough to watch the progress of the large barn being re-thatched last year.  Spend sometime at Compton, order a Heathcliff House Packed Lunch and have a picnic.




There is a small table top shop selling National Trust souvenirs, guidebooks, gifts and postcards.  During the summer there is a pop-up shop outdoors.




Greenway House and Garden

Greenway Road, Galmpton, near Brixham, Devon  TQ5 0ES



Less than 6 miles from Heathcliff House is Greenway House and Garden.  Home of Agatha Christie which she described as 'the loveliest place in the world'.   Agatha Christie was known locally by her married name, Mrs Mallowan, and her time spent at her holiday home, was all about quality time with the family, away from the public eye.


Agatha and Max stayed until their deaths in 1976 and 1978 respectively and the house was then occupied by Agatha’s daughter Rosalind and her family.  It came to the National Trust in 2000 and opened to the public in 2008.


Nestled on the eastern bank of the tidal River Dart, facing the village of Dittisham (pronounced Ditsum) on the opposite bank, the estate is two miles from the nearest village, Galmpton (prounounced Gamton), within the South Hams district.




With a long history dating back to the 1490s, an early history book described Greenway as “very pleasantly and commodiously situated, with delightsome prospect to behold the barks and boats”.  Greenway was first mentioned in 1493 as "Greynway", the crossing point of the Dart to Dittisham.


A Tudor mansion called Greenway Court was built in the late 16th Century by Otto and Katherine Gilbert, members of a Devon Seafaring family (you may recall the Gilbert family were also associated with Compton Castle).  According to the history of the estate, it is probable that they kept their ships moored in the river, indeed one of the family's ships was named The Hope of Greenway.


The couple had three sons, all born at Greenway. In 1583, one of their sons, Sir Humphrey Gilbert took possession of Newfoundland for Elizabeth I while his brother Sir John Gilbert lived at Greenway.  Sir Walter Raleigh (pronounced Rawley) half-brother of Sir John and Sir Humphrey also lived at the house.  In 1588, John was given the responsibility of 160 prisoners of war captured during the Spanish Armada.  He made them work levelling the grounds of the estate.  In around 1700 the Gilberts made nearby Compton their family seat and sold Greenway to Thomas Martyn, a resident of Totnes, also in Devon.


Over the next 90 years the house passed down through the Roopes—the family of Martyn's wife—until it was bequeathed to a distant relation of the family, Roope Harris, on the proviso that he changed his surname to Roope. Roope Harris Roope, as he became, built what is now the existing house in Georgian style.  Roope sold Greenway in 1791 to the Bristol Member of Parliament Edward Elton for over £9,000.  Roope went bankrupt in 1800; this could have been because of the amount of money spent on rebuilding Greenway.


With some remodelling by the landscape gardener, Humphry Repton, the Elton family developed the gardens.  Sometime in the late 18th Century the Tudor house was completely demolished.  This may have been Roope or it may have been the Eltons.  Elton’s son James took possession of the house upon the death of his father in 1811 adding two wings to the house to incorporate a dining room and a drawing room and paying for a new road from Galmpton to Greenway ferry altering the access to the Estate.  Much had changed by 1832 when he sold the estate including the addition of the large kitchen garden, swimming pool, boat house and developed gardens.


Briefly owned by Sir Thomas Dinsdale, Greenway was soon sold for £18,000 to Colonel Edward Carlyon, whose family owned Tregrehan House near St Austell in Cornwall (the gardens are open to visitors).  The Carlyons did not make any major alterations to the interior of the house.  Carlyon inherited Tregrehan House in 1842, and moved there the following year.


Greenway saw a series of tenants in succession and then sold to Cornish copper and tin magnate, Richard Harvey and Susannah his wife.  The Harveys developed the estate extensively, building two greenhouses, redecorating the interior, restoring the stables and lodge house.  Richard acquired the Lordship of the manor of Galmpton and spent money restoring the village, building the Manor Inn (where you can still get a drink today) and the village school.    Harvey died in 1870 and Susannah in 1882; as there were no offspring to inherit the estate it was sold for £44,000 to Thomas Bedford Bolitho.


Bolitho was an industrialist and MP for St Ives.  Fortunately, Bolitho planted Camellias, magnolias, rhododendrons and laurels. Bolitho built a new east wing to the house in 1892, which included a billiard room, study and bedrooms; this was demolished in 1938. Bolitho died in 1919 and the house passed to his daughter Mary, and her husband, Charles Williams – another Cornish family.  The estate was sold to Alfred Goodson and he sold off the estate in 1938.




Greenway is now renowned for its spring garden. The garden team has put effort into cataloguing, caring and cultivating the collection of camellias and the garden has now been accredited the International Camellia Society’s ‘Camellia Garden of Excellence.’  The National Trust advise that “Greenway is the first National Trust garden with this accreditation, and one of just seven gardens in the UK to be recognised”.


The Queen of Crime at Greenway


The house, with 36 acres of land, was available for sale for £6,000.  Agatha said “One day we saw that a house was up for sale that I had known when I was young ... So we went over to Greenway, and very beautiful the house and grounds were. A white Georgian house of about 1780 or 90, with woods sweeping down to the Dart below, and a lot of fine shrubs and trees – the ideal house, a dream house.”


Today Greenway is still a magical place to explore, with its rich historical interior which retains features added by all generations of occupying families coupled with the wildness and mystery of its garden.  The informal woodland garden drifts down the hillside towards the river, and is renowned particularly for its spring flowers. In spring and summer, a member of the garden team leads a daily garden walk at 2.00 pm, which is a great way to find out about the history of the garden and see the seasonal highlights.


While Agatha Christie did not write at Greenway: she would visit with friends and family once her latest novel was complete to relax, play games and spend quality time together in a beautiful setting.  She often used familiar places as settings for her plots and you can follow the Agatha Christie Literary Trail to find out more.  Get in touch if you’d like a copy of the Literary Trail Leaflet.  She also used the Greenway Estate and its surroundings in their entirety or in parts in the following novels:


The ABC Murders (1936)


The character Sir Carmichael Clarke, a wealthy man from Churston, is one of three victims to have a copy of the A.B.C. Railway Guide left by his body. Churston is two miles from Greenway Estate and the station before Greenway Halt on the steam railway line. Within the plot, the 'C' of 'A.B.C.' refers to Churston as well as the character's name.


Five Little Pigs (1942)


The main house, the footpath leading from the main house to the battery overlooking the river Dart and the battery itself (where the murder occurs) are described in detail since the movements of the novel's protagonist at these locations are integral to the plot and the revelation of the murderer.


Dead Man’s Folly (1956)


Greenway appears as Nasse House.  The boat house of Greenway Estate is described as the spot where the first victim is discovered, and the nearby ferry landing serves as the place where the second real murder victim is dragged into the water for death by drowning. Other places described are the greenhouse and the tennis court, where Mrs Oliver placed real clues and red herrings for the "murder hunt". The lodge of Greenway Estate serves as the home of Amy Folliat, the former owner of Nasse House.  ITV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot episode Dead Man’s Folly was filmed on location at Greenway.


Towards Zero (1944)


The location of the estate opposite the village of Dittisham, divided from each other by the river Dart, plays an important part for the alibi and a nightly swim of one of the suspects.


Greenway Library Frieze


In the Library you can’t miss Greenway’s unexpected treasure; a frieze painted during World War Two by Lt Marshall Lee, a member of the US.. Coast Guard stationed at the house in the run up to the D Day landings.


Here you are given a glimpse into the lives of the famous author Agatha Christie and her family.  Their holiday home is set in the 1950s when Greenway overflowed with friends and family gathered together for holidays and Christmas.  The family were great collectors:  The house is brimming with their books, archaeology, Tunbridgeware, silver and porcelain.  The informal woodland garden drifts down the hillside towards the Dart Estuary and the Boathouse.




The Barn Café serves lunches and sweet treats.  The Tack Room is open at peak times offering drinks, ice cream and snacks.




The shop sells souvenirs and guides as well as Agatha Christie books and plants.  There is also a second hand bookshop. 


Travelling to Greenway


There are many different ways to travel to Greenway, which make up an exciting part of your day out.  We’d encourage you to go green and use public transport links.




If you would like to arrive by car, your parking space needs to be booked in advance. This is easy to do online (www.nter.org.uk) or by calling 01803 842382. It’s best to book your space a day or two ahead of your visit, but limited spaces may be available on the day by telephone. Parking is free for National Trust members but there is a parking charge for non-members. The car parking charges help look after Greenway for the future and support the work of the National Trust.  For visitors with walking difficulties there is a shuttle service to the entrance.


Steam Train


Take the number 12 bus from outside Heathcliff House and alight at Paignton Bus Station.  Cross the road and step back in time travelling from Paignton station, you can board the steam train to Greenway Halt.  Alight at the Halt and take the 30-minute woodland walk to Greenway; it is advisable to wear walking footwear as the wood is sloped and can be muddy in places.  Unfortunately, this route isn’t recommended for buggies or wheelchairs.  On some days there is a bus that provides a shuttle run between the Halt and the entrance of Greenway.  We recommend you check before you travel.



Alternatively, you can travel by boat from Dartmouth to Greenway Quay. This service along the River Dart operates hourly, when operating, and allows you to find out more about the area while travelling to Greenway.  You can also cross the Dart from Dittisham by open wooden passenger Greenway Ferry that takes up to 12 people. Just ring the bell on the quay to let the ferry know you're there waiting (just like in Ordeal by Innocence).


Once you arrive at Greenway Quay there is an uphill walk through the woodland garden to reach Greenway, but there are plenty of benches to pause at and admire the views. There is also a shuttle service available, which provides lifts from the quay to visitor reception; if you require a lift and the quay car isn't waiting, ask at the kiosk on the quay.


We visit Greenway regularly, sometimes to listen to the piano being played, sometimes to walk in the garden or bird watch by the river but most often just to walk in Agatha’s footsteps!



A La Ronde

Summer Lane, Exmouth, Devon EX8 5BD


Just thirteen miles north from Heathcliff House is the quirky 18th-century, 16-sided house with fascinating interior decoration and collections known as A La Ronde.  Full of creativity and treasures from around the world, this amazing 16-sided house was the work of cousins Jane and Mary Parminter in the 1790s.  Step inside the small and delicate rooms and enter another world, one where their imaginations ran wild in design and ornamentation.


They decorated walls with feathers, shells and pictures made of seaweed and sand, and every space contains mementoes from their travels.  The shell gallery, made with 25,000 shells, is now so fragile it can only be viewed by mirror or a 360° touchscreen virtual tour.


Outside there’s a sense of harmony around the orchard, hay meadow and colourful borders, and views over the Exe Estuary.




The house is a Grade 1 listed building as are the adjacent Point-in-View chapel, school and almshouses as well as a manse which were also built by the Parminter cousins.  The gardens are Grade II listed.


The Parminter family acquired considerable wealth as merchants.  Jane was the daughter of wine merchant John Parminter from Barnstaple who had a business in Lisbon, where she was born in 1750.  Jane grew up in London and became guardian to her orphan cousin Mary. When Jane’s father died in 1784, she decided to take a Grand Tour accompanied by Elizabeth (her invalid sister), Mary (her younger orphaned cousin), and a female friend from London.


By 1795 the two cousins were greatly attached to each other and in decided to set up home together in Devon. They purchased of 15 acres of land near Exmouth. Once their house had been built they lived secluded and somewhat eccentric lives for many years until 1811 when Jane died.


The house was completed in about 1796, and its design is supposedly based on the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy.  It originally consisted of 20 rooms, the ground floor ones centred around a high hallway 35 feet tall.  Named The Octagon and originally connected by sliding doors.


The lower ground floor contained a wine cellar, strong room and kitchen and an upper octagonal gallery was decorated with an intricate hand-crafted frieze.  Between each of the main rooms were triangular-shaped closets with diamond shaped windows.


Much of the internal decoration was produced by the two cousins, whose handicraft skills were excellent. The house also contained many of the souvenirs the cousins brought back from their European Tour.

Family tradition maintains that the house was designed by Miss Jane but it is more likely that the plans were drawn up by Mr Lowder. Mr Lowder was a banker and turned property developer, and related to Jane by marriage through her Aunt Mary.


Mr Lowder’s son John was also an architect and although he was only 17 when A La Ronde was built, he did go on to design a 32 sided building with wedge shaped classrooms.  Perhaps A La Ronde was a model for this larger project.


Mary’s Will stated that A La Ronde could only be inherited by “unmarried kinswormen”.  This condition was honoured until 1886 when the house was taken by the Reverend Oswald Reichel, a brother of one of the former occupants.


Reichel is the sole male owner of A La Ronde in over two hundred years and was responsible for making significant structural changes to the house including the building of a water tower and laundry room as well as the installation of a bathroom and central heating.  He also constructed the upstairs bedrooms with dormer windows and the fitting of first-floor windows, replacing the original thatch with roof tiles and adding an external walkway.  He even installed a dumb waiter and speaking tubes!


As part of conservation measures, the National Trust have removed all but one of the very large central heating radiators, restored the wall coverings from a deep red to the original pale green and installed a CCTV system to allow visitors to observe the delicate shell gallery without risking further damage. 




The original kitchen and strong room on the lower ground floor now function as a modern kitchen and tea-room.  The café is licensed and serves morning coffee, light lunches and afternoon tea.  Indoor and outdoor seating is available with great views of the Exe Estuary




A range of high-quality and local products in the stables shop.  There are also pre-loved book sales.




Parking is available

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