Daphne du Maurier wasn’t the only prolific Cornwall writer. Another was Winston Graham. If you’re like me, you’re now asking, “Winston who?” At least that was me a couple of months ago. Then I went to Cornwall. I can explain Graham’s popularity in one word–Poldark.
When Ruth knew she was going to Cornwall, she found the BBC series that played on Masterpiece Theater and binge-watched it. She watched Doc Martin too, but Poldark won her affection. At first she wasn’t sure she liked it, but by the end of series 2 she was in love with it and Ross. Her hope was to see where it was actually filmed. She especially fantasized about standing on the promontory where her romantic hero rode his horse across Cornwall cliffs above the ocean.
Ross is the central character in the Poldark novels. Winston Graham wrote 12 of them beginning in 1945. He moved to the part of Cornwall known as The Tin Coast when he was 17 and stayed for 34 years. Over time he wrote 32 novels, but nothing has resonated like Poldark. Early in the TV series and books, Ross returns home from involvement in the American Revolutionary War. No longer an escaped prisoner of war, he find his father has died, his mine is failing, and the love of his life is engaged to his cousin.
The first few Poldark novels were the subject of a BBC series beginning in 1977. It lasted for 2 seasons and attracted 15,000,000 viewers. Revived in 2015, 27 new episodes have been filmed. They begin with the 1st two novels. New episodes that will surely find their way to the United States begin on the BBC this month. Poldark location tours are becoming big business in Cornwall, and Ruth made it to that promontory thanks to a woman who lives in St. Just named Christine. One woman in tourism told me that Americans, who love this series like Ruth does, like to go to Exeter and take a tour of as many Poldark locations as they can in one day.
Thanks to Christine, Ruth visited 2 of the 3 locations near St. Just. North of Land’s End, Great Britain’s most southwesterly point, Poldark was filmed at West Wheat Owles, the Levant Mine, and, most importantly, the Botallack Mine. There are 9 other Cornwall sites shown in A Guide to Poldark Locations, a publication of “Cornish Mining World Heritage”. Poldark is so popular in Cornwall and has contributed so much to its economy that I was asked not to reveal some of the locations I learned about. Because shooting has been so difficult in a place of narrow roads and limited services, I was told that new episodes will likely be shot in Wales, which also has a rich mining heritage. Check out the overly romanticized, old Bette Davis movie The Corn Is Green.
The Romans came to Cornwall to trade for what they called stannum. We call it tin. We spent most of our time at Botallack, where there’s a small, interesting museum about local mining. Here I learned that Botallack had its own Poldark figure. Stephen Harvey James saved Botallack from abandonment in the mid 19th century with the discovery of copper. By 1865 it was thriving and providing 500 jobs At Botallack we watched some interviews. Being questioned were a Poldark producer and Winston Graham’s son.
Ruth got to see the place where Ross rode his horse while attempting to solve his problems. Unlike Ross, Ruth had a giant smile on her face.