She dreamt of going to Manderley again - and 8,000 Rebecca fans had the same idea

Cream teas and coastal walks help celebrate the life of a Cornish literary legend
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The Independent Online
They had come along hoping for a glimpse of Menabilly, the rambling country house that Daphne du Maurier immortalised as Manderley in her novel Rebecca.

"See those cows in the fields behind me," said Lynn Gould, the guide. "Now look to your right, to the gap in the trees, and you can just make out two red chimneys." The groups of hikers strained their necks and squinted at the horizon. But Menabilly, shrouded by woodland, refused to yield up its secrets.

This was the Rebecca Walk, a ramble around the stretch of Cornish coastland that provided the settings for du Maurier's brooding tale. For fans of the novelist, it was one of the highlights of a 10-day festival celebrating her life and works, centred on Fowey, the ancient port town near St Austell where she spent most of her adult life.

Tourism officials, mindful of the huge appeal of her books, have decided that a decent enough interval has passed since her death eight years ago. The festival, which ended yesterday, was their first stab at exploiting Fowey's literary heritage and attracted 8,000 visitors, four times the population of the town.

They came from far and wide to retrace du Maurier's steps and immerse themselves in the rugged scenery that inspired her best known works. They watched stage productions of her novels in the town hall, hastily renamed the du Maurier Theatre, and attended an illustrated lecture on the history and cultivation of the camellia, said to be her favourite flower.

Readers with a romantic streak ate cream teas in Wyllow Church in nearby Lanteglos, where she married Major Tommy Browning in 1932, and took boat trips recreating the couple's wedding journey on Browning's yacht, Ygdrasil, along the coast to Frencman's Creek, where the couple spent their honeymoon. "A dream come true," wrote one tourist in the town's visitors' book.

Those who descended the tortuously narrow streets to the harbour could gaze across the River Fowey at Ferryside, the old boathouse where du Maurier first lived in Cornwall, now the home of her son, Kits Browning, and his curiously-named wife, Hacker. Menabilly, which she leased for many years, is occupied by the Rashleigh family, who have owned it for generations.

At the Information Centre, there were du Maurier bone china mugs on sale, as well as leather bookmarks, pens, sweatshirts and even bottles of du Maurier claret. Her most ardent fans appear to be middle aged women. "The novels are so racey," said Joan Moore, a South African tourist, buying an armful of them as her husband, Donald, shuffled awkwardly at her side.

On the Rebecca Walk, which included declamations from the novel at strategic points along the windswept Gribbin Headland, two American hikers went into raptures. They had already taken two other themed walks, based around scenes from The Loving Spirit and The House on the Strand.

"We came to England two weeks early to catch the festival," said Helen Bray, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, who plans to stop off in Hardy Country on her way to the annual meeting of the Bronte Society in Howarth.

The organisers lured a gaggle of celebrities to Fowey, including the actor Sir John Mills, the crime writers Ruth Rendell and P D James, the poet Pam Ayres and George Melly, the jazz musician. The festival also coincided with an exchange visit by people from Dithmarschen, Fowey's twin town in Germany, who contributed a choir to the entertainment.

Kits Browning, who has a reputation as a recluse, put the family's stamp of approval on events by opening the festival. Mr Browning, whose production company administers the film, stage and television rights to his mother's works, makes no exaggerated claims about the appeal of her books. "She didn't write fantastic dialogue or have incredibly literary merit," he said. "What she was, in a nutshell, was a great storyteller."