On this Cornwall Sunday, I’m going to share a fabulous hotel with you. It’s not going to be a hotel review as such. Not that there’s anything wrong with the facilities, they are more than adequate, but that’s not the main issue here.
What makes Jamaica Inn stand out is its interesting location and its history. Situated on Cornwall’s deliciously eerie Bodmin Moor (more on this spooky windswept moor in a later post), this is a coaching inn from 1750.
The kids and I had this wonderful place as our base for nearly a week while we explored Cornwall. We enjoyed every minute here and looked forward to ‘going home’ every night.
Have you read Jamaica Inn?
When I was a wee bit younger, I devoured mysteries and thrillers. If they were set in another era, so much the better. Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn was a fave of my 12-year-old self.
The book is set in the early 1800s and revolves around a young girl, Mary Yellan, who is sent to live with her aunt after her parents die. Auntie turns out to be married to a cruel and murderous innkeeper, Joss Merlyn. Together with his blood-thirsty band of smugglers, Merlyn lures ships to shore with a fake beacon light, runs them aground, kills everyone on board and takes off with the loot. Of course, the evil man gets his comeuppance. One day Mary finds him, stabbed to death.
Odd then, that I had no idea the inn really existed. First when researching interesting and curious things we could do in Cornwall, did I come upon the real Jamaica Inn.
You might think the inn was named after the book (and later film and TV series), but it’s quite the contrary! The story goes that one day in the 1930s, Daphne du Maurier and friends got lost in bad weather riding on Bodmin Moor. The group let their horses lead them and ended up at Jamaica Inn where they stayed and heard all the stories – fertile grounds for anyone’s imagination.
Today, a turnpike road bisects the moor. Not so long ago, however, this was but a packhorse track and travellers arrived at Jamaica Inn on foot or on horse. In fact, the stables were converted to a bar as late as 1953. It is said travellers in the old days made out their wills before setting off across the treacherous moor. While we just pulled off the A30 in our little hire car. (It’s with a touch of melancholy I note that.)
The A30 seen from room 10 at Jamaica Inn
Cornwall was always one of the poorer parts of Britain (still is) with an economy based on mining. The miners and their families led hard lives with meager earnings. Smuggling was rife. The isolated Jamaica Inn was used as a stopover for smugglers as they brought their contraband from the ocean – both from Tintagel in the north and Polperro in the south – into Devon and onwards.
Of course, Bodmin Moor and Jamaica Inn are both overflowing with ghost stories: conversations in a foreign language (Ancient Cornish?) by people unseen, horses and carts heard but not seen, footsteps in the corridors in the middle of the night. A man in old-fashioned clothes has been seen walking through walls, an old woman has been spotted in room 5…
Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to request room 5 (note to self: improve pre-trip research). Others had, however. We read an enticing description in the guest book from a family who had stayed in that infamous room. The gist of the entry was that while two teenage daughters were out and about after hours, looking for ghosts, their younger brother was left alone in room 5. In the bathroom, getting ready for bed, the boy looked in the mirror – and saw an old woman standing behind him staring right at him.
The popular British TV programme Most Haunted featured Jamaica Inn in an episode and said it was one of the spookiest programmes they had ever recorded.
Like most of my fellow Norwegians, I tend to treat beliefs and superstitions with a good dose of cynicism. However, I’m the first to admit history would probably be much less interesting without them.
Norwegian history at the inn: an old 100 kroner note pinned to the wall. Practically vintage; hasn’t been in use in 20 years.
The Smuggler’s Museum at Jamaica Inn
Jamaica Inn offers various ghostly events (have a look at ghost hunt events for 2012) and has an on-site Smuggler’s Museum and shop. It is a business, after all.
One haunting exhibit is of a skull found 50 years ago in a cave under the foundations of an old house known to have been frequented by smugglers. Stores of spirits were found, as was the skeleton of a man in chains. Who was this man who had been left to die? A smuggler? Customs agent? Informant?
Why Jamaica Inn?
Rumour has it, the inn was named for Jamaican rum, smuggled into England and stored there. However, it appears reality is slightly less romantic, if no less Jamaican. A large landowning family in the area, the Trelawneys, had two family members serving as Governors of Jamaica in the 18th century.
You’d think a haunted hotel would have a resident cat. Not here. This friendly stray was from the tiny village Bolventor nearby and just stopped by whenever she felt like it.
We’ll pretend this is a smuggler’s cat
The bar was a stable until 1953
After hours, when the ghosts come out
What an awesome place to stay! I would have thought, too, that the inn was named after the book. I didn’t know the novel was based on a true story.
I’m loving your Cornwall Sundays!
Thanks, Ana 🙂
That looks like an interesting place! I love that it has a lot of history as well as great scenery (based on the picture of the A30 from the window).
Photos of Bodmin Moor coming up in a later post. It’s rugged and beautiful with all kinds of surprises.
There’s something fascinating about places that are not quite what they appear to be.
Isn’t it, though? A relatively simple exterior hiding all kinds of wonderful and interesting surprises.
I’ve heard of the book, had no idea it was based off a true story. I would love to stay at there one day!
Makes it even more interesting, doesn’t it…
Good thing the stories did not fully affect your mood while staying in the Inn. Looking at the photos, I can imagine the stories happening. The place is really interesting. I am glad you enjoyed your adventure.
We stayed at a haunted hostel in Dunedin, NZ but didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. Very interesting that people would seek something like this out – would add another layer to your travels… Great post!
Ooh, I’d love to stay at that haunted hostel in New Zealand. Yet another fun thing to add to the itinerary for the South Island. Was it a kid-friendly hostel (for a 10 -11 year-old)?
Like! Jamaica Inn would be right up my alley. Nothing like an eerie inn on a “spooky windswept moor”.
Wow, what a story, I love mysteries, excellent place to stay, very inspiring 😉
This is so cool! I love staying in historic places like this. It’s great that you had a week there.
How did I miss that book — I was such a voracious reader at that age!
I LOVE stuff like this! I am such a sucker for historic places and tales like this!
Great! this inn seems to be so cool! i love staying in historic places like that or discovering spots I heard or read about in a book! I did the same when I was In St Petersburg: I had a road trip in the city visiting all the spots mentioned in the book Crime and Punishment by Dostevskij! So nice! I’m going to read Jamaica Inn…it should be an amazing book! Thanks!
Following Dostoyevskij through St Petersburg sounds absolutely wonderful. Thanks for that idea, Francy 🙂
How wonderful, I love places with literary and real history attached. (I also love Cornwall).
Nancy, Cathy, Angela, Randy, Abby, Diana, Natasha – thanks for reading 🙂
I’m a Brit but agree with as a Scandinavian and take stories like this with a handful of salt. However, I loved reading this and it does all sound VERY spooky. But Cornwall has always been the sort of place that’s full of mystery. It’s a long time since we’ve seen the inside of A British inn. Ahhh, looks so lovely. Thanks for the pics. 🙂
Yeah, I’ve always thought of in as unusual, exotic, exciting part of Britain, full of independent-minded people… could be from reading too many historic mystery novels set in Cornwall when I was young and impressionable.
That story of the young boy looking at the mirror and seeing a woman behind him gave me goosebumps. This is a great post and I’m sure Jamaica Inn was equally accommodating and interesting.
I thought that was a bit creepy, too – whether real or imagined…
This is such a fascinating place rich with history and eeriness. While I may not be comfortable to sleep here, it’d be a great place to visit. You’ve inspired me to read Jamaica Inn now. We’ve stayed at Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park in the US and there have been stories of a headless bride.
A headless bride! Yikes, even creepier! But exciting, too – at a distance. Like the headless horseman.
What a wonderful post. I have read Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ more than once, but have never got around to reading Jamaica Inn. Now of course, I want to read it while STAYING at the Inn so I can be completely immersed in it. I have pinned it to my ‘Literary England’ board at Pinterest…Thank you. http://pinterest.com/packabook/literary-england/
Thanks! And Literary England – great pin board! You’d probably really enjoy the book town Hay-on-Wye, too – technically in Wales, but just across the border.
I just wouldn’t sleep well in a haunted hotel, but I would LOVE to visit. This place looks fantastic and is so historical!
I’ve been wondering whether I would sleep well in the very haunted room 5 here…
What a fascinating place! I’m not so sure about the ghosts though. Eeek!
Scary. And thrilling…
When I saw the first photo of the inn in your post, I was like “this place looks like a jail house…..kinda dark there…”
I guess first instinct was right….it has a dark history XD haha.
But I think history and stories are what makes this place attractive.
Your instinct was spot on 🙂
Interesting place and such a cool story. You definitely value it more because of your infancy books. I myself would feel like a part of something great just by being there.
Nice photos. Where is this place located?
It’s in Cornwall – between Launceston and Bodmin.
Yikes, smugglers, murder and ghosts. you’re braver than I. It sounds like you had an adventure.
Yeah, it was an exciting place to stay. We enjoyed it a lot.
Awesome! Don’t you just love it when literature comes to life on your travels?
You’re exactly right. Such fun when books come alive, especially books from the past…
I love hotels with a bit of character, this one seems like so much fun.
Definitely loads of character at Jamaica Inn 🙂
I absolutely LOVE this book. Actually anything by Daphne de Maurier. ‘Rebecca’ is also a great book. I had no idea about the story of de Maurier ending up at the inn! How wonderful that you were able to visit the old hotel. I actually really love the old Hitchcock film of Jamaica Inn also.
Cherina – I would love to see the old film, too. No one does spooky quite like Hitchcock.
Jamaica Inn certainly looks like the place for ghosts, especially with its history. Would love to stay here at some point. I love “supposed” haunted hotels.
Loved Jamaica Inn. Incidentally, there’s a hotel here called Jamaica Inn. Not sure they have ghosts though.
There’s also a parish named Trelawny.
Very interesting to see what has inspired place names in the new world. Although in the case of Jamaica Inn, I suppose it goes both ways.