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A Thousand Miles of History: A Haunt of Ghosts and Smugglers

Image: ‘Self’ at Wikipedia GNU 1.2

It was dusk when we arrived at our hotel. Between rush hour, such as it is in Cornwall, and my refusal to believe that a sign reading ‘museum’ was really a sign for the inn we were seeking, it had taken a while to get there. I had mixed feelings about staying at the place, given both its fame and its notoriety, but as it was in exactly the right location and a reasonable price too, we were to spend the night at a place reputed to be one of the most haunted inns in the country.

It wasn’t the prospect of ghostly roommates that bothered me so much as the fear that as the place has succumbed to the tourist trade, it would focus more on its profitable history than on the comfort of the guests. I need not have worried. The guest rooms and facilities were exceptionally good, and my only complaint is that, with the veritable plethora of well-documented ghosts, I slept undisturbed and saw nothing… at least, as far as I know. Because, let’s face it, unless a ghost sticks to the accepted rules by being amorphous, giving you inexplicable chills, walking through walls or making unsettling noises, how are you supposed to know if you’ve seen one?

To be fair, we were in the more modern wing of the inn. There had been an inn on the spot since 1537, and prior to that there is an abundance of archaeological evidence that the area was occupied right back to prehistory. Most of the ghostly activity is reported in the building that replaced the older inn and which dates back to 1750, when the coaching inn on Bodmin Moor was a haunt of smugglers.

The wreckers and free-traders from the Cornish coast used the isolated inn as a halfway house, and one tale says that Jamaica Inn got its name from the barrels of rum that illicitly made their way there. In fact, the inn took its name from the Trelawney family, local landowners, two of whom had been governors of Jamaica… but that rum, tobacco and many other illegal imports passed through the inn is beyond question. The smugglers had over a hundred routes over which they carried their contraband goods and, when the present inn was built, there was nothing else for miles around, making Jamaica Inn a perfect stopping place.

The isolation, nefarious history and bleak situation became the inspiration for Daphne Du Maurier to write her most famous novel, Jamaica Inn. The author had stayed there in 1930 and become lost on the moors when the mist came down, having to rely on her horse to guide her back to the inn. She stayed several more days and the dark thriller was the result.

As to the ghosts, they are many and varied. A woman and her child walk through the walls into one bedroom and have been seen standing by the beds. It is thought the young woman spent her last night alive there before boarding a ship that was lost at sea. In another room, there is a man who wears a cloak and tricorne hat. In one of the cellars, another cloaked gentleman presides. Voices are often heard speaking a language which might be Old Cornish, doors bang, glasses smash of their own accord and, in the courtyard, horses still whinny and metal-shod wheels crunch upon gravel that was long since replaced by cobblestones. Perhaps the most chilling tale, though, is that of the gentleman who stands by the fire… a young man who was called outside and murdered, so the story goes. Or the old man who is often seen sitting on the inn wall, speaking to no-one… waiting…

Chasing the sunset with the camera, I can say there were corners of the old inn building that sent a chill up the spine, but then… it is an old inn. But that was the only hint of anything untoward; I slept like a baby and was so tired after our explorations that I would probably have needed a fully accoutred spectre with rattling chains and bloodcurdling moans to wake me. Which meant that next morning, we were well rested and got an early start. And we had a rendezvous with the Lady of the Lake…

For anyone interested, the ‘Most Haunted’ team visited Jamaica Inn some years ago and the video shows you around the old building…

8 thoughts on “A Thousand Miles of History: A Haunt of Ghosts and Smugglers”

  1. Wonderful! Visited years ago when I was barely aware and would love to go back. I have it in my head that Jamaica Inn was also briefly home to Walter Potter’s bizare collection of stuffed animals – originally in Sussex and one of the oddest collections I’ve ever seen.


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