CORNWALL STAYS IN BODMIN MOOR
Stay at Jamaica Inn and discover what's going on in the area from walking, shopping to Brown Willy and the Cheesewring
Most of us can remember the first time we heard the word 'ghost' and understood what it meant. I was eight and staying with friends of my parents in an old, creaky house in Bath. Each night, from the moment one of those adults had answered my question 'What's a ghost?' terror gripped my heart as I crept down the dark corridor to my cold bed. I wished I had never heard the word.
Today, all grown up, I quite enjoy the promise (or threat) of something spectral... the fading echo of heavy hooves clattering on old cobble; a faint and high pitched whine which could just be the dog next door or... maybe...something a little less of this world.
So when I had the chance to visit one of Cornwall's spookiest hotels - The Jamaica Inn - and talk to the new owner about his vision for all the residents, both those, like me, just passing through and those whose souls have been stuck there for hundreds of years, I jumped at the chance.
You can see on arrival that improvements have already been made. Nothing that would interfere with either the atmosphere or sense of history of the place but lots of sprucing up of forgotten corners, a bit of a re-jig to the old cobbled courtyard and a new menu, printed on pirate parchment-style paper with good pub grub that will keep visitors coming back.
People come here for lots of different reasons. For some, it's a watering hole on the way up or down the A30; a quick pit stop taking in refreshments, a comfort break and a mooch around what is an excellent shop crammed with souvenirs, pirate and smuggling memorabilia, tributes to Daphne du Maurier and Cornish-made food and drink. And for those who do stop here to refuel, there are plans to open a new farm shop to serve both visitors and local residents alike.
This is clearly a destination that appeals to dog owners - on the sunny day when I visited almost every courtyard table had a four-legged visitor attached to a lead and for these visitors... joy! Renovations of what was once the hotel manager's flat are already underway to create a number of dog-friendly rooms so that for the first time, once these rooms open, you will be able to visit and stay with your pet.
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Some of the visitors here are bookworms travelling from all over the world to the place that inspired Daphne du Maurier's dark and brooding novel that was set in 1820 and recently dramatised again by the BBC (I like the 1983 version which starred a very young Jayne Seymour as the heroine, Mary Yellan).
For the more bookish, a good half of the on-site Smuggler's Museum - which is brilliant - is devoted to Daphne and her literary works, her family and even her writing desk. And a big part of the revamp of the Jamaica Inn itself will be a clever remodelling of the space between what is now the beamed bar and the restaurant to create a new and more distinctive Daphne du Maurier restaurant.
But if books are not your bag, the museum is still worth the ticket price (adults £33.95; family pass from £37.95) because here you will learn more than you could ever have imagine about the art of... er... smuggling. My husband had to drag me away from this part of the museum where I discovered that if you could wear it, eat it, play it (as in musical instrument) read it (bible/book) bury or (forgive me) insert it then you could, without too much adaptation to your chosen receptacle, smuggle it! With 'it' being, mainly, drugs and/or booze; although tea, silk and tobacco were smuggled too.
As well as plans for a new restaurant area, a relocation of the tiny kitchen to a new state-of-the art one at the other side of the hotel and, if planning is approved, the building of a new and linked circular conference space that will double as a wedding venue, I can see there is a whole heap of new love being poured into and over the Jamaica Inn which, until it was sold in January, had been under the same ownership for some 40 years.
The new owner is multi-millionaire former business man, Allen Jackson, who made his fortune running a training organisation and who is stepping in to the hospitality business for the first time with the acquisition of Jamaica Inn. Having sold his business for £23 million, Allen was supposed to retire but, he says, lying on some far flung beach in the Caribbean turned out to be much more boring than throwing oneself into a new project and when he heard the Jamaica Inn was up for sale, he shot down the motorway and put an offer in the very next day.
Allen is full of plans and enthusiasm for his new business. And if all the plans are approved, he will be spend close £1.5 million on renovations and rebuilds. But it is clear he won't be doing anything that would detract from the incredible history of the Jamaica Inn and I wish him well with all his efforts to keep what is a fantastic piece of history alive and well for all of us to enjoy.
Things that go bump…
Halloween – as you might expect – does not go unmarked at the Jamaica Inn. And whether you fancy a murder mystery weekend (with dinner); a haunted happening or.. shiver me timbers.. an overnight paranormal investigation experience, then make sure you visit jamaicainn.co.uk for all the details. Unfortunately, the Halloween weekend sells out months and months in advance so get your name down for 2015. You may recall TV’s The Most Haunted team filmed at Jamaica Inn in 2004 when presenter Yvette Fielding said it was one of the spookiest episodes she had filmed. If you fancy yourself as a bona fide ghosthunter, then go and stay the night and when you do, listen out for hooves in the night, people speaking in strange tongues (which could be old Cornish) and footsteps pacing the upstairs corridors in the dead of night.
Bodmin Moor is one of my favourite places to take visitors. I love how it can feel all bleak and desolate one minute and then – when the sun breaks through – make you feel you’ve landed on a moonscape the next. I never know what to expect and whether it’s wild swimming in an old quarry or walking for miles without bumping into another soul, Jamaica Inn is a great base for exploring all that is this wonderful wildscape.
Walk to Brown Willy
Pack warm clothing and sturdy footwear and hike from the Jamaica Inn to the top of Cornwall’s highest point which is known as Brown Willy. Roughly six-and-a-half miles from the Inn, the tor stands at 1,378 feet (420 metres) above sea level and on a clear day you will feel you have conquered the world!
Climb The Cheesewring
If you want to blow the cobwebs away, enjoy panoramic sweeping views across to Devon and soak up a sense of prehistory, then head for the village of Minions which is just a short 20 minute drive from the Jamaica Inn and down the only road I have ever seen that had a road sign saying Take Care: Otters. Ditch the car in the car park for The Hurlers and head past those stone circles to the even more extraordinary arrangement of balancing stones known as The Cheesewring. And not least extraordinary because you can actually get up more than close and personal – we climbed to the very top stone!
Sail The Lake
Less than 15 minutes in the car from the Jamaica Inn and offering a range of outdoor activities including windsurfing, sailing, kayaking, wakeboarding, cycling and climbing, Siblyback Lake is the active family’s dream destination. Open Wednesday - Sunday10am-4pm (Last hire at 3pm) and with sessions from just £15, there’s a full and impressive programme of classes and events but do call ahead to check availability and save disappointment.