Cornwall has long been an inspiration to artists, directors and writers alike. Atmospheric coastline, myths and legends galore and history down every lane and beyond every Cornish hedge. It’s little wonder that the county finds its way into the imagination. In 1910 Arthur Conan Doyle published his 43rd Sherlock Holmes mystery, his first and only story set in Cornwall.
The short story was called ‘The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot’ and was based in and around Poldhu on the Lizard peninsula.
It is set in the Spring of 1897 and Sherlock is in Cornwall on his doctor’s advice. He spends his days taking walks on the Penwith moors and studying the Cornish language.
The Game is Afoot
Dr. Watson has accompanied his friend to the seaside cottage while Holmes convaleses. As usual it is Watson who is narrating the story.
From the windows of our little white washed house, which stood high up on a grassy headland, we looked down upon the whole sinister semi-circle of Mounts Bay, that old deathtrap of sailing vessels, with its fringe of black cliffs and surge-swept reefs on which innumerable seamen have met their end.
One morning a knock on the door disturbs their breakfast. And strange and frightful circumstances summon them to Tredannick Wartha about a mile inland from Poldhu. (Tredannick has been identified as Predannack Farm).
No spoilers here but let’s just say a strange and disturbing mystery unfolds. One which tests Holmes powers of deduction to the maximum.
“Remarkable – most remarkable” said Holmes, rising and taking his hat, “I think, perhaps, we had better go down to Tredannick Wartha without further delay. I confess I have seldom known a case which at first sight presented a more singular problem.”
And Doyle actually picked this particular short story out as one of his personal favourites.
In 1988 ‘The Devil’s Foot‘ story was made into a film starring Jeremy Brett. Cornwall was used throughout the filming.
Sherlock’s Cornish Locations
You can spot Lanyon Quoit, Kynance Cove, Loe Bar and Porthleven, Cadgewith, the Nine Maidens – Boskednan, Helston, Mounts Bay and the Penrose Estate.
Some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s descriptions of Cornwall are a little romantised, such as Holmes searching the cliff tops for flint arrowheads. But overall I feel that he captures the isolation and atmosphere of the region very well, and uses it to his advantage in this classic mystery.