Thursday, January 31, 2008

Haunted Hotels

What is it like to spend the night in a haunted hotel?
I can't say my experience was typical, but it might be.

It wasn't something I planned. It was an accident. We were tired. We had already had a full day sightseeing in Cornwall. It was dinner time. We only meant to stop long enough to visit the little museum honoring Daphne du Maurier and take a photo or two of Jamaica Inn as we drove through Bodmin Moor and then look for a hotel in the next major town.

I had read some of du Maurier's novels and seen the two movies inspired by the inn: Alfred Hitchcock's 1936 version of Jamaica Inn, starring Maureen O'Hara and the 1982 version starring Jane Seymour. The museum had already closed for the day, but to our great surprise, we discovered that Jamaica Inn is a working hotel. Rather than drive on, we inquired as to whether there were rooms available.

At the reception desk an earnest young man seemed apologetic that the cost was so high, perhaps sympathetic to the dollar's low value against the pound. He said the price was less if we didn't want the breakfast. Jamaica Inn is in the middle of a moor, a pretty isolated location. We assured him we would want the breakfast and the price was no more than we had paid at other hotels on our trip through Cornwall.

I was fatigued from all the walking we had done that day and had been hanging back letting my husband and our traveling companion, Mary, take the lead on the negotiations. I knew the hotel was quite old and I entered the conversation by asking, "What are the rooms like?"

"Oh, very nice," he assured me.

"Nice new? or Nice old?" I asked.

That's when he got this funny glint in his eyes. He turned to a coworker who had just come down the hall and said, "I'm going to put them in rooms 3 and 4." *cue spooky music*

After the paperwork was done, he lead us through the restaurant, behind the bar, through another door and up some stairs into the original part of the inn. As we walked down the hall, he asked me, "Are you in the single?

"No, I said," I'm in the double," and pointed back to my friend, "She's in the single." Did I sense disappointment on his part, a joke gone astray? Perhaps just my overactive imagination. We turned the corner and came to two doors facing each other across a short hall. He put a key in the lock of Room 4 on the right, knocked on the door, and then turned the key and opened it.

"Warning the ghosts," I asked? He smiled without answering and repeated the ritual for Room 3 across the hall. As he showed us around the rooms, he told us that the original parrot from the Jamaica Inn sign grew too old to stay in the hotel and now resides with him and his wife across the road in the village where apparently it adores his wife and despises him.

The bedrooms were small as one would expect in an ancient building, but adequate, with slanting floors, antique side tables or trunks, beautiful beds (ours was a 4-poster), and surprisingly large modern baths. At the time we stayed there (April 2006), they had recently completed major renovations which included modern, beautifully-tiled bathrooms, and a new wing, built to match, at least in look, the original inn. The reception area, copies an older structure which was torn down, even to copying the slant in the roof. You can see the dip in the roof  in the photo above, as well as the new wing beyond.

We went downstairs and had a marvelous dinner in the Smugglers Bar restaurant, which was busy with customers, and must enjoy a good reputation in the area. It occupies the ground floor of the original inn with the bedrooms up above and has all the low beams, wooden benches, antiques and cozy fireplaces one would want.

After dinner, as we sat on the bed and read, my husband informed me that according to the brochures, Room 3, the one across the hall, the single where our friend Mary was to sleep was reportedly the most haunted room in the inn. This left us with a slight problem: tell her or not tell her? I finally reasoned that there was a good chance nothing at all might happen, and if she knew the room was haunted, she might find it difficult sleeping, so we decided to keep it to ourselves and assume that all would turn out for the best.

As we snuggled into the bed, the rain storm that had been approaching began in earnest, and there was much banging (from what I never figured out), and doors rattling from gusts of wind and changes in air pressure, but no ghost walked through our walls and we heard no ghostly horses or wagons from ancient smuggler ghosts in the inn's yard outside the window.

I woke several times that night, but was so tired from our day's labors that each time I fell quickly back  to sleep; in fact I would have been hard pressed to stay awake, ghosts or no. I woke once and thought about getting up and going to the bathroom, which was just a few short steps away, but decided that I would rather wait until daylight than leave the perceived safety of the four-poster bed and my husband's side. The truth: I was much too chicken to put a foot out of the bed!

At breakfast, we were anxious to ask Mary about her night in Room 3, but all she would say was she heard some strange noises and pulled the covers up over her head. Whether or not the man in the tri-cornered hat that has been seen walking through the wall of Room 3 made an appearance, we shall never know. After breakfast, Mary and I wandered around the inn taking photos, enjoying the ambience of the place. We visited the smuggler's museum, which is quite interesting, with a section dedicated to Daphne du Maurier and to the novel Jamaica Inn. My husband thought we would never leave the gift shop, but we did. From there we drove out to Bodmin Moor and climbed Rough Tor, but that's another story.

So, my final assessment?  What do I think of staying in a haunted hotels? My experience was invigorating. I would do it again in a heartbeat. We didn't capture any spirits on film. The most we can claim are some odd banging noises and the sensation for me that someone sat down next to me on the bed while I was filing my nails. What I am sure of is that at Jamaica Inn, the food is excellent, the beds are comfy, the bathrooms modern (always a plus), and the atmosphere compelling.

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