Jamaica Inn is one of the most iconic landmarks in Cornwall. Daphne du Maurier put it in the spotlight with her novel, making it the emblematic place it is today, but its legends go far back, way beyond the time du Maurier went out riding with a friend and got lost on the moor. She sheltered in a derelict cottage as they were lost at night in a typical Bodmin storm of rain and impenetrable mist; they only found their way back to the Inn by letting their horses have their heads. Horse sense prevailed where frail human sense of direction failed. Their mounts found their home, and the frightened women were met by the landlord and staff bearing lanterns to launch a search party. The whole adventure impressed Daphne’s fertile imagination so much that she wrote her famous book, forever associating the old eighteenth-century inn with tales of ghosts, smugglers and wreckers.
But actually the place’s ghostly reputation preceeds Daphne’s imaginings. The spirit of Charlotte Dymond had haunted the place since the Easter Sunday of 1844, when the unfortunate eighteen-year-old serving girl was murdered, her throat slit, at the foot of Roughtor nearby. A young man who worked with her, lame and illiterate, was accused of her murder, and was subsequently hanged on August the twelfth at the notoriously grim Bodmin Gaol. Twenty thousand ghoulish souls flocked to Bodmin to watch him hang. Jamaica Inn did good business that week.
The story goes that the hanged man, Matthew Weekes, was in fact innocent. Whatever happened to Charlotte Dymond remained unclear, but there was a strong rumour she’d committed suicide and her ghost is said to haunt the moor – as reported by seemingly credible walkers in many decades since, right up to the present day.
And then there are the spectres said to walk the Inn itself: a man in a green cloak who scared a cook by walking through a locked restaurant door; the malevolent presence felt strongly by workers tending the boilers in the ancient East wing of the house; the inexplicable scent of cigarette smoke in the bar long after everyone had gone to bed; the sound of footsteps on the back stairs; and the pretty little field behind the inn known as Scaddick Hill Meadow which locals, especially women, refused to cross unaccompanied.
So lore and legend surrounds Jamaica Inn, enveloping it in a miasmic cloak of mystery, all of which meant the place does a roaring trade. Is there any truth to the legends, or is it a good tale to scare children with, and rope the punters in? Either way, it’s the kind of stuff tourists love to tell each other sitting next to a roaring fire in an ancient pub, holding a pint or a large glass of Merlot.