That’s the spirit

girija duggal | Updated on June 06, 2014 Published on June 06, 2014

Great expectations. At Jamaica Inn in the middle of the bleak Bodmin Moor

Out of the box. Paraphernalia to detect paranormal activity   -  Girija Duggal

On a ghost hunt at Cornwall’s legendary Jamaica Inn

It’s just before midnight and the Smugglers Museum is shrouded in darkness, making it impossible to see the other people in the room. “Will the spirit that lives here please make its presence known?” Paul Dutton, the group leader, calls out into the dark, addressing the spectre of a man who was lynched here some 200 years ago. There’s silence except for a couple of coughs. Then, a flashlight comes to life, blinking once, twice, a third time. A woman next to me feels something cold brush past her ear, and a young man grows faint and has to be rushed outside.

What have I got myself into, I wonder, shifting a tad nervously in place. After all, I am given to getting spooked easily. Yet here I am, of my own accord, participating in a hunt for the ghostly inhabitants of one of Britain’s most haunted locations. From 10pm up to the wee hours of the morning, our group of 20-odd adventure seekers will be channelling the paranormal at various spots across Jamaica Inn — from the bar and the converted stables that now house the Daphne du Maurier room and the Smugglers Museum to the old rooms on the first floor — trying to attune our sixth senses to hear, feel or see the slightest hint of an otherworldly presence.

It shouldn’t be too difficult, for the Inn’s history is riddled with tales of smugglers and cut-throats, and stories of ghostly sightings by staff and visitors abound. The stark grey slate-and-stone building, built in 1750 as a public house, stands in the middle of the bleak Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, UK’s southernmost county. Back in the day, its isolated setting made it a favourable halfway house for smugglers moving contraband upcountry from the Cornish coast. And it was here that the English author Maurier sought refuge after getting lost in the mist while out horse riding on the moor. The intriguing tales she heard inspired the eponymous 1936 novel (and later, Alfred Hitchcock’s film based on it), in which she refers to Jamaica Inn as “a place of tense excitement and claustrophobia of real peril and thrill.”

Haunted Happenings, one of Britain’s leading paranormal investigation companies, has been conducting tours at the inn since 2011. Tonight’s group comprises several experienced ghost hunters as well as enthusiastic first-timers. A couple, like me, are sceptics. “It’s not our job to change your beliefs; we just facilitate the experience,” Dutton assures us before the start of the hunt. “We guarantee that we haven’t set up anything.”

The sixth sense is important in experiencing the paranormal, he explains, but its strength, like the sense of smell, varies from person to person. So the first step is a brief meditation to help open up our sixth sense, after which Dutton’s colleague Mark Sommer takes over to showcase the various tools that we will be using on our hunt. These range from ouija boards and dowsing rods that can point to a paranormal presence in a room to more modern paraphernalia like electromagnetic field (EMF) detectors, trigger balls that light up with the slightest movement, laser temperature testers and small Maglite flashlights that “child spirits especially love to play with”. Thus armed, we break up into two groups and commence our search.

The first stop is the museum, once a stable for coach horses, where the spirits of the lynched man as well as two young children are supposed to lurk. It is here that the torch begins flashing inexplicably and the young man goes pale. The EMF detector comes to life too. We then head upstairs to Room 4, where Sommer has tuned a radio to the static between two frequencies. Spirits sometimes communicate through radio waves, an event known as Electronic Voice Phenomenon, he explains. We strain our ears but only manage to make out some incomprehensible chatter. Down the corridor in Room 5, whose previous occupants have reported a woman’s figure emerge from the mirror, it’s time to try scrying. One by one, group members sit before a mirror holding a flashlight under their chins, waiting for their facial features to slowly morph into the spirit’s. Nothing happens.

But things change dramatically once we set up the ouija board in Room 6. The upturned glass on the board goes into overdrive as the spirit of a woman named Mary appears to answer our questions. Did you live at the inn, someone asks. The glass, held down lightly by our fingertips, moves to ‘No’. Did you work here? ‘Yes’. We gather that she was a lady of the night and was murdered in this room a couple of hundred years ago.

Six hours after we began, it’s time to call it a night. Several people have unusual experiences to report, though no actual spectral apparitions have been spotted. While I remain sceptical about paranormal occurrences, the hunt has been a unique adventure. Then, just before we retire to our rooms, Dutton narrates a story about a couple who moved into Room 7 in December but checked out in the middle of the night following a spooky encounter. Room 7 happens to be where I have to spend the remainder of the night alone.

That proves to be my nemesis, as rising panic replaces rational thought. I switch on all the lights as soon as I enter my room, turn on the television to loud football commentary, and call my husband, demanding that he either come over right away (he is an hour’s train ride away) or keep talking to me till daybreak. Eventually I fall asleep, but upon waking I find the TV inexplicably silent and the lights turned off. No amount of flicking the switches helps. “Spirits use any form of energy in the room to indicate their presence.” Dutton’s words flash across my mind and I leap out of bed, heart pounding, and rush outside to inform the group.

“Oh, that,” says a fellow ghost hunter, sheepishly, “I blew a fuse while switching on a light this morning.”

Clearly, ghosts visit those who go looking for them. Or perhaps I have developed a highly strung sixth sense overnight. Whatever the case, it’s plain to see what draws thrill seekers on paranormal hunts, especially at this legendary inn in the middle of a desolate moor. As for me, I need a little more time to calm my nerves before I venture out for another night-time adventure. And this time around, I’ll make sure my husband is with me.

Travel Log

Get there

Jamaica Inn (from £69; jamaicainn.co.uk) is located midway between Bodmin and Launceston in Cornwall, and is about 4 hours from London by train or road. The Smugglers Museum and the Daphne du Maurier room are open from 8am to 9pm (adults £3.95, children and hotel guests £2.95).

Get spooked

Haunted Happenings (hauntedhappenings.co.uk) conducts ghost hunts across the UK. The next available overnight hunt at Jamaica Inn is on November 15 (£69 per person, inclusive of dinner) and the 2-night Cut-throat Weekend on December 5 (from £235, dinner, breakfast and board included).

(Girija Duggal is a freelance writer based in Cornwall)

Published on June 06, 2014
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