Elizabeth Bowen and The Shelbourne Hotel

Shelbourne book

Last September when I met up with my online book group friend sherry in Marion, Massachusetts she presented me with a copy of Elizabeth Bowen‘s ‘The Shelbourne Hotel : an enchanting account […] of the hotel that for more than a century has been at the heart of Irish life’. Tucked inside the book was this postcard (no date, but probably early 20th century) :

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Overstrand : Narrow shore with a steep edge

Beach at Overstrand


Pebbles are beneath, but we stand softly
On them, as on sand, and watch the lacy edge
of the swift sea.

Which patterns and with glorious music the
Sands and round stones — It talks ever
Of new patterns.

And by the cliff-edge, there, the oakwood throws
A shadow deeper to watch what new thing
Happens at the marge.

Ivor Gurney, Selected Poems (edited by George Walter) (J. M. Dent 1996).

I came across this poem last March whilst staying in Tewkesbury. Until then I had wondered about the name of the hotel in Overstrand, north Norfolk, where I had booked to stay a couple of nights last week.

Despite growing up in Norwich just 22 miles south of Overstrand I had never actually visited this neighbouring resort of Cromer.

Overstrand lies on the North Norfolk coast between Cromer and Sidestrand. It’s name derives from ‘narrow shore with a steep edge’. There is a nice walk along the cliff-top path from Cromer which passes the old lighthouse and the golf course. Like it’s larger neighbour, it was once a genteel Edwardian holiday destination – but today has an air of faded grandeur.

Lord and Lady Battersea had a holiday home called The Pleasaunce built here in 1897. It was designed for them by Sir Edwin Lutyens and hosted a number of literary visitors including Arthur Conan Doyle and George Meredith.

Winston Churchill used to stay at the Sea Marge Hotel in the village and this may have provided the inspiration for Jack Higgins’ novel The Eagle Has Landed – which is set in North Norfolk (see Blakeney) and concerns an attempt by German paratroopers to assassinate the English PM. While in residence Churchill had elaborate arrangements in place with Cromer Post Office in case the grand fleet needed mobilising.” Source

The Sea Marge

The Sea Marge Hotel, Overstrand

Sea Marge front

Sea Marge Front

Sea View

Sea View from The Sea Marge

Sea Marge Lounge

The Sea Marge Lounge

Sea Marge Gallery

Gallery overlooking the bar at The Sea Marge

Winston Room

Sir Winston Churchill above the Fireplace in the Winston Room

Pleasaunce front

Pleasuance (now a Christian Retreat and Holiday Centre) Front

Pleasuance entrance

Pleasuance Side Entrance

Side entrance Pleasuance

Pleasuance Entrance

Lutyens church

The Methodist Church at Overstrand designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens

Church door

The Church Door

Down The Magic Mountain via The Thomas-Mann-Way


On my bookshelves at home there’s a lovely pristine Everyman hardback edition of Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain”  had I not had a weight limit restriction on my bag I may well have brought it with me but alas it was just too heavy to contemplate bringing. [Note. Yes, yes I know all about Kindles and the like but having made the comparison with real books have decided that they are just not for me] Where else would be the perfect place to read The MM but here within a William Tell’s arrow flight of the town of Davos where the ‘action’ of the book is set? Davos is just 20 miles away from Schiers.

Searching online for “Davos Thomas Mann” I found this :

A path has been created in commemoration of and in the name of the significant writer Thomas Mann. This path connects the centre points of his novel “The Magic Mountain”. With the novel, Davos has secured its place in world literature. The work contributed to the high level of fame enjoyed by Davos as a spa and holiday destination.

Even today, the “Magic Mountain” draws numerous culture enthusiasts to Davos, on the hunt for the main centre points of the novel of the same name by Thomas Mann. They can now be inspired by the Thomas-Mann-Way, which runs from the Waldhotel Davos (former woodland sanatorium) at 1620 m above sea level to the Schatzalp, 1880 m above sea level. Along the 2.6 km path are ten signs, which act as “literary stations” and provide information on the connections between Davos and the works of Thomas Mann. High points of the path include the “favourite place of Hans Castorp”, the hero of the novel, whilst the way ends at Thomas-Mann-Platz on the Schatzalp, which has been established behind the botanical garden Alpinum Schatzalp.

Thomas Mann (1875–1955) came to Davos from the 12th May to the 15th June 1912, in order to visit his wife Katia, who was being treated at the woodland sanatorium. During this time he took many walks around the area above the woodland sanitorium, an area through which the Thomas-Mann-Way runs. Thomas Mann described his impressions of Davos in the novel “The Magic Mountain”, which was published in 1924.”  Source

Great! I thought the ideal excursion for the afternoon. And indeed vary many things about it were ideal but not, I may say, the Thomas-Mann-Way. The website for Davos/Klosters is excellent so I had expected to pick up printed information at the Railway Station Tourist Information Office. Instead I had blank looks and was issued with a crummy map.

crummy map

I had remembered some aspects of the walk from the website but obviously not everything. I didn’t commit the map to memory. I wish I had as I can now see where I went wrong and could kick myself. As you can see from the sign at the top there are no arrows to indicate the route so there’s a bit of guesswork involved. As the starting point was quite a walk away I decided to take the funicular up to the end of the walk and find my way down in reverse. So I guess that was my mistake – but an easy one to make!

Berghotel Scahtzalp

On arriving at Schatzalp there is the Berghotel in all its Art Nouveau [Jugendstil] glory. I wrote about the Alpinum here yesterday.

The Berghotel Schatzalp

It still has the look of a Sanatorium and air is fresh and clean and pure. Even at 8C it was fine as it was sheltered. The Hotel reception also did not have much information about TM but the kindly receptionist allowed me to wander around and take some snaps and sold me a couple of postcards and indicated the start of the TMWay.

Dining Room 1

Dining Salon 2

The Dining Room


The Reception/Lobby

Art Deco fireplace

Art Nouveau Fireplace in a Meeting Room

The hotel games room

The Original Hotel Games Room

I wished I had taken tea here on the verandah but I’d decided to do so at the end of the walk at the Waldhotel down in Davos. I thought they would maybe have more information on TM and the Magic Mountain/Davos connection. The only way to find out will be to go back again on another day!

The verandah

The Verandah where tea is served

The view

Along the Way – Forts

As you will have seen our first day’s walk was not too long and followed the Portuguese coastline from Cascais to Guincho. On the first day the walking distance is always a bit shorter than most others because it is your opportunity to meet with the Route Manager and discuss the route, any last minute changes and exchange mobile ‘phone numbers.

Santa Marta Lighthouse, Cascais

The Santa Marta Lighthouse near Cascais

We spent a sunny Sunday morning in a park with Ana, our manager, as there was a big 10k race going on right outside our hotel meaning that access was made rather difficult. Ana had to explain to us that very severe storms last January had caused much damage along the route and some of the paths were now impassable. She had done her homework though, and walked the whole length trying to re-jig the route in just a couple of places. Luckily she was also  on the end of the ‘phone when we needed a bit of clarification on a couple of days.

Boca do Inferno 1

Boca do Inferno

Boca do Inferno 2

Boca do Inferno

Boca do Inferno 3

Boca do Inferno and Guia Lighthouse

Our route that morning was busy and ran parallel with the coast road. Lots of walkers, families, joggers and cyclists shared the route with us. We passed lighthouses and dramatic coastal features and were able to take a brief break at The Forte de Sao Jorge de Oitavos. Not far from Cascais is the Boca do Inferno or Hell’s Mouth. “This is a natural chasm and the sea water has access to the very bottom of the chasm so when the sea is unsettled the effect is quite impressive!” [From our Route Booklet] Even when the sea is pretty calm the effect is still pretty impressive! There is a  viewing area just down from the path.

Forte St Jorge

Cabo Roso Lighthouse

The Cabo Roso Lighthouse

Probably about midway between Cascais and Guincho is the The Forte de Sao Jorge de Oitavos. It’s a handy visitor’s centre along the coast and has exhibitions and displays as well as a sheltered courtyard out of the wind. It was built as a defensive fortification against possible landings by pirates or invaders between 1642 and 1648.

Approaching the Fortaleza

Approaching the Fortaleza [yellow building]

The shortish walk meant that we arrived at our most luxurious hotel The Fortaleza do Guincho in the early afternoon giving us plenty of time to relax and read enjoy a late lunch and later an afternoon tea on the sunny terrace overlooking the dramatic waves and nearby beaches followed by a bar meal dinner in the sumptuous lounge area. We needed this rest and recuperation after the long day of travelling the day before and the next day’s walk – the longest of the trip.

Afternoon Tea at the Fortaleza

The much-appreciated Afternoon Tea at The Fortaleza