California screaming: 'The Birds', 50 years on

The rampaging ravens are only an echo in peaceful Bodega Bay

Alfred Hitchcock leant towards mystery, towards the deliciousness of darkness. It seems paradoxical, then, to be driving into Hitchcock terrain just north of San Francisco beneath blue skies, along a coast road famed for its beauty, with the window rolled down to savour the tumble-dry slipstream, the high noon heat.

"The strangest thing," says my wife, "is the emptiness. No animals in the fields. And nothing flying." She's looking up as we round a headland, and there it is: Bodega Bay.

It was here in 1962 that Hitchcock arrived to film The Birds, "perhaps the most terrifying motion picture I have ever made", as he later said. The bay, and the tiny secluded village of Bodega, five miles inland, became the heart of the horror-struck world he was soon to create.

I park the car at Bodega Bay's waterfront, near Tides Wharf, the original of which appeared in the movie. Things have changed. On the southern headland, above a rack of dunes, sits a string of million-dollar homes beside a new golf course. To the north – and rather more, I fancy, to Hitchcock's taste – is Ocean View, a slice of real estate littered with caravans.

Between the headlands, behind the harbour with its fishing boats and pleasure craft and yachts, sits a straggle of mostly clapboard buildings, portrayed in the movie engulfed in a fireball during a histrionic bird attack. Today, a handful of gulls perch near a fishmonger's shop looking bored, already fed.

The film was released in the US 50 years ago, on 28 March 1963. Hitchcock unleashed his invasion of seagulls, crows and ravens – most were wild, others trained – to attack the psyches of the movie-going public as it watched Bodega Bay's children forced to flee, and actress Tippi Hedren buckle under a scissor attack of crows' beaks. She wasn't acting.

There, in a knick-knack shop on the jetty my wife is browsing, picking out postcard scenes from the movie. "Go to Bodega," says the check-out guy. "The school is there, where the teacher dies. And the church."

The road burrows inland, leaving behind Pacific Coast Highway's open skies. Eucalyptus trees crowd the verges, the sunlit backdrop creating a strobe. "No birds," says my wife as we round the last bend and the gum trees divide to reveal Bodega's gothic presence.

I see at once why Hitchcock fell for it: the silhouettes of the brooding doom-laden school and the chill, white perfection of the chapel of St Theresa of Avila, with its spire to impale fallen angels. Tourists stare up, faces puckered, as if remembering, taking pictures.

Later, one of them, Marty from Canada, calls the church and school "a shiver on the landscape". We're eating burgers in the café, fake plastic crows perch on the clock. Suddenly, light floods in, and standing in the doorway looms a deputy from the highway patrol, like a dude from a different movie. "Hi Deputy Friendly," says the owner. "Fancy a beer?"

"Dr Peppers," growls Deputy Friendly, giving the bar stool reasons to wince. "Where you from?" he asks, and tells us how the roads are a regular traffic jam come summer.

Visitors queue outside the school which, saved from dilapidation, has been converted to a museum, displaying its "movie look": old wall maps, a blackboard and desks with, in the entrance foyer, a shop selling souvenirs of The Birds. "If it weren't for the movie, the place would be rotting," says the woman behind the counter. "Maybe that's true of the whole of Bodega."

The whole of Bodega amounts to a straggle of hillside homes served by a bijou general store. A platoon of geese patrols the lane between a gallery of art and Seagull Antiques. Passing tourists are taking pictures. "First birds I seen," says one. Rick, the owner of Seagull Antiques, tells us the geese protect the properties. What about seagulls? I ask. "Don't much see 'em," he says. "Except there." He jerks his thumb at an old TV, the screen of which is showing images from the movie. "I run it daily. Customers love it," he says, and asks if we've been to Lorenzo's.

Lorenzo's gallery is a shrine. "A true emporium of The Birds," he says. For Hitchcock devotees, an array of shopping pleasures lies in wait. If the great director exploited Bodega's gothic credentials, Lorenzo's – along with the school and café – proves that exploitation can be reciprocal.

Landscape paintings depicting Bodega's bay locations are augmented by thousands of postcards showing the actors, or "Hitch" directing, or menacing armies of roosting crows on Bodega's roofscapes. Among them are florid cartoons of Hitchcock in portly flight. And best of all – a genuine fake – Lorenzo is holding aloft a crow. "It was in the movie!" he says and flies it above his head. My wife takes his picture, then looks at her watch and resists the urge to say: "We must fly."

But the open skies of Bodega Bay are irresistible. We dine at the Bay View Restaurant on Tides Wharf, watching seagulls scavenge pickings from a fisherman on the jetty. "Some folks hereabouts call 'em sky rats," says the waiter. "You get the picture."

The following morning the picture is shrouded, the coast cloaked in gloomy Hitchcockian sea fog. We drive a mile north to Jim's Roadside Café hungry for breakfast. Jim looks like Methuselah. His beard rolls over the bib of his dungarees. "Here for a caffeine hit?" he smiles. We buy muffins. My wife buys a mug of Jim's "Best English Tetley's Tea".

"Darned exotic," grins Jim as we take our drinks to the car park on the headland to watch the ocean.

Out there a fishing boat like an X-ray of itself moves indeterminately, and above it, faintly, a ticker tape of black specks is tracking its progress. Grabbing binoculars from the rear seat, my wife screws her eyes up, homing in. "Hard to tell," she says at last. "Except they're definitely birds."

Travel Essentials

Getting there

The nearest airport is San Francisco, served from Heathrow by British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7777; virgin-atlantic.com) and United Airlines (0845 607 6760; unitedairlines.co.uk).

Staying there

Bodega Bay Lodge (001 707 875 3525; bodegabaylodge.com) has double rooms from $219 (£146), excluding breakfast.

Eating there

Bay View Restaurant (innatthetides.com).

 

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?