On this very spot: Devon in novels

Lots of novels have been set in Devon, from classic works to modern horrors. Fancy standing on the spot where your favourite scene took place?

Given Devon’s stunning and diverse coast and landscapes, it’s no wonder authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Jane Austen and Michael Morpurgo were inspired to use it as the backdrop for some of their best-known works of fiction. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best-known novels set in Devon – and can even direct you to the scene with a literary map.

If you’re a real Devon-loving bookworm, you’ll also love our literary festivals, events and activities:
Agatha Christie Festival in Torbay, September
Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival September
Appledore Book Festival September-October
Ted Hughes Poetry Trail at Stover Country Park near Teigngrace, open all year
Love films too? The Chagford Film Festival is in September

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
The original War Horse novel – which has been made into a hugely successful play and film – was written by Devon-based author Michael Morpurgo [read our interview with Michael here], who was inspired to write the story after meeting war veterans at his local pub in Iddesleigh on Dartmoor. The story centres around Devon farm boy Albert, who seemingly loses his beloved horse to the horrors of war. Steven Speilberg’s film of the novel was filmed on Dartmoor at Sheepstor and Meavy, and the Iddesleigh pub is mentioned too, when Albert on his horse shouts across to another rider: ‘Race you to the Duke of York!’
More about War Horse on Dartmoor

The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert
Billed as a classic ghost story, this 2006 novel (which was dramatised by the BBC and broadcast in 2012) is set in the fictional village of Hollow Bay, based on Lynmouth on Exmoor, and Devil’s Cleave, based on Exmoor’s East Lyn Valley and Watersmeet. The book brings together two real-life stories under a spooky ghostly tale: child evacuees during WW2 and the famous 1952 Lynmouth flood disaster that devastated the town and killed 34 in total.

Many novels by Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890, and used locations nearby for scenes in many of her novels. Amongst many, a clifftop in St Marychurch is believed to have been the setting for Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? The Imperial Hotel (as the Majestic Hotel) features in Peril at End House and The Body in the Library. In Sleeping Murder the Imperial Hotel appears as itself.
Burgh Island features (under different names) in And Then There Were None and Evil Under The SunThe Sittaford Mystery is set on Dartmoor, and a Miss Marple short story The Idol House of Astarte is set in a Dartmoor country house.
Official Devon tip: fans can immerse themselves in an Agatha Christie trip to Torquay.

Devon literary festivals Conan Doyle Dartmoor

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Dartmoor was the inspiration and backdrop for Conan Doyle’s most famous tale. The novel is believed to be based on the story of local ‘monstrously evil man’ Richard Cabell of Buckfastleigh (his tomb still stands in Buchfastleigh churchyard) : legend has it that when he died in the 1670s fire-breathing dogs raced howling across the moor. Baskerville Hall itself is argued to be either Hayford Hall or Brook Manor, both near Buckfastleigh, and many believe that Fox Tor Mire was the setting for the fictional Great Grimpen Mire.
More about The Hound of the Baskervilles on Dartmoor

Lorna Doone by Richard Dodderidge Blackmore
Exmoor is Lorna Doone country, and Doone Valley is around five miles from Lynton. Blackmore always refused to discuss the locations in the story and considered his work as impressionistic, giving the atmosphere of the place but not faithfully reproducing its geography. However, he did write the introductions to several illustrated editions of the story, including ones showing pictures of Lank Combe as the ‘Doone Valley’. A Lynton woman called Aggie Norman was also reputed to be a witch and, living seasonally in the Valley of Rocks, was undoubtedly the model for the witch Mother Meldrum in the novel.

Devon literary festivals Sense and sensibility

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Jane Austen set her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, in and around ‘Barton’ (described in the book as ‘four miles northward of Exeter’), based on the village of Upton Pyne. Many identifiable locations are mentioned in the book, including the village church where the characters Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars get married, and the grand property of Barton Park, believed to be inspired by real-life Pynes, an imposing period building near the village. Dawlish also gets a mention.

Many novels and novellas by Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy’s Wessex included the whole of Devon, and Exeter was mentioned in many of his works – though he called it Exonbury. The city crops up in The Trumpet Major, Jude the Obscure, A Pair of Blue Eyes, The Woodlanders, Life’s Little Ironies and The Romantic Adventures of a Milkmaid, amongst others.

Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson
The full name of this novel is Tarka the Otter: His Joyful Water-Life and Death in the Country of the Two Rivers and it’s set around the area of North Devon (Bideford and Barnstaple) where the Taw and Torridge rivers meet the sea. It tells a tale of the wonderful wildlife in and around the water, and Williamson used real place names throughout the book: Bideford Long Bridge; The Beam Aqueduct, the ‘Canal Bridge’ near Weare Giffard where Tarka is born; Braunton Burrows; the clay pits at Marland; Morte Point; and Hoar Oak Water. The book begins and ends near Torrington.
Official Devon tip: the area’s excellent Tarka Trail cycle and footpath takes you directly to many of the locations mentioned in the book.

Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley
Dartmoor born Charles Kingsley wrote his novel Westward Ho! before the North Devon resort of Westward Ho! existed – it was named after the book. Development began ten years after the 1855 novel was published, in order to to cash in on its success and to satisfy the Victorians’ passion for seaside holidays. Westward Ho! is set in and around Bideford and abroad, opening with the words: “All who have travelled through the delicious scenery of North Devon must needs know the little white town of Bideford,” and many buildings and locations mentioned still survive today.

Read more about literary Devon: South DevonAgatha Christie in TorbayExeter and surrounds, and Dartmoor