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literary landscapes

The peaceful seclusion of our Gara Valley attracts writers and artists who are inspired and urged into playfulness and creativity by its beauty and tranquillity.

Jack Butler Yeats (writer, artist, brother of W. B. Yeats) and his family;  Poet Laureate and author John Masefield; on the fringes of Bloomsbury, Beryl de Zoete, an extraordinary woman.  A writer, dance critic, orientalist, traveller and translator who worked with Walter Spies in Indonesia and reputedly belly-danced for the King of Morocco.

Jack Butler Yeats, Irish Impressionist artist, writer & playwright, and his wife Cottie, a Devon-born artist, lived in the valley for thirteen years and were visited by poets, writers, and artists.

Jack and Cottie named their house Snails Castle due to the abundance of snails in the thatched roof, often using its Gaelic name Cashlauna Shelmiddy.

Jack built a studio below the house above the Gara where he spent hours painting.  The landscape and local coastline intrigued and inspired him.  He walked far, sketching scenes of rural life, of circuses and livestock, rural trades and pastimes.  He built miniature theatres and wrote plays which he performed for the local children in Strete and Slapton.

With his close friend, John Masefield, future Poet Laureate, he shared a passion for tales of piracy and the sea, and a love of sailing toy boats that they built, sailed and exploded on the Gara.  They created pirate maps of the valley, wrote pirate tales and shanties, histories of the model ships and their sailors.  Many of Masefield’s poems are dedicated to Yeats, some are dedicated to the Gara Brook itself.  Masefield’s children’s novel, Jim Davis, a tale of highwaymen, wreckers and derring-do, is set in and around the Gara Valley.

Other notable visitors included playwright and poet JM Synge (Playboy of The Western World), a key figure along with WB Yeats and Lady Gregory in the Irish literary renaissance.

 In the 1950s, our Rose Cottage was owned by Beryl de Zoete.  On the fringes of the Bloomsbury Set, she lived with her partner, Arthur Waley, translator of Chinese and Japanese poetry, at 50 Gordon Square near the Woolfs.  Like many of her Bloomsbury peers, they 'lived in Squares and loved in triangles'. 

Beryl was an intriguing woman; Oxford educated, independent minded, multilingual and a trained ballerina.  A writer, traveller, dance critic for national newspapers and a dance ethnographer, Beryl was close to the Elmhirsts and their experimental School of Dance at Dartington Hall near Totnes.  She travelled alone when it was not usual, working with Walter Spies in documenting Balinese dancing. In the Thirties, Beryl helped bring Jewish dancers to Dartington Hall.

She was the first translator of Italo Svevo’s novels from the Italian.  Beryl's book, Dance and Magic Drama in Ceylon, is till the key text on Sri Lankan dance. 

Other Local Writers

Michael Morpurgo has written extensively about local events and landscapes in his novels.  Adolphus Tips is set around Slapton during Operation Tiger when the area was given six weeks to evacuate in 1943 before being used by British and American troops, using live ammunition, to rehearse for the D-Day landings.  Troops were based in the valley at our Mill.  They used its hills for assault practice.

Nearby, AA Milne had a holiday cottage and poet Alice Oswald lives and writes in the Dart Valley.  And above the Dart at Greenway Agatha Christie wrote many of her detective novels. 



copyright © 2021 Christine Cooke
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