A stay at Bodmin Jail Hotel and thrills in the new 'experience'.
Bodmin Jail is a place we've been visiting since 2004, drawn
by the stories of ghosts and ghastly stories of incarceration. Every paranormal
group and ghost show has been at least once, or hoped to do so in the future.
It was legendary, with dark stairways and tiny granite cells, smelling of damp
and despair. An old ancestor, by the name of Trewartha, was once incarcerated at
Bodmin, after being tried at Bodmin's County Court for stealing potatoes!Tut tut.
Itinerary : Lunch - Check In - Attraction - Dinner
Lunch was very nice, dining outside in the Courtyard. Any hints of the old pub had gone years ago, probably for the best. Twenty years ago, the prison attraction was accessed through the old pub, the only 'operational' part of the buildings. I remember passing a pub packed with boozers and people having Sunday Dinner, and then being bundled through an insignificant doorway, surrounded by sacks of potatoes and onions. It was a busy pub on a Sunday!
Beyond the door was a very dimly lit stone staircase, a spiral, which led down to the most horrid set of dark cell floors you can imagine. A kind of 'no expense actually spent' kind of attraction that Cornwall had lots of back then. Naff, but cheap, and thrillingly rough and unsafe. Now, the pub is a nice eatery and bar, The Jolly Hangman Tavern, something International tourists would expect to find at a million dollar revamp.
As I've said, lunch at the Jolly Hangman was very nice, sticking to daytime fare like burgers, pizza and hotdogs. There was a lot of quiet but frantic staff beavering about, unpacking teapots, chairs, spoons. Even with the best laid plans, there's never enough time, and complications from Covid certainly don't help. It was actually very exciting to watch things come to together, like an inaugural voyage... all hands on deck and don't let the passengers count the lifeboats!
The land around the prison wings has been landscaped, with paths of granite chippings allowing free access around the towering structures. Looking up, I was reminded of stories of how Bodmin was built to be very visible in the landscape, a constant visual reminder to potential criminals since 1779. The cells windows are small, the walls are very thick local granite and slate, it a huge set of buildings, but what would it be like as a hotel?
Entering the new reception certainly has wow factor, it's big! It's light! It looks like a prison! Yay. The staff are smart, polite, and very enthusiastic. This is their big day, and the first guests are arriving. There was quite a wait at check-in, with WiFi being blamed, but we very much got the impression that the POS system was down. Poor things. If you rely 100% on digital systems, it's a good idea to have an analogue back up. Or, deploy some bottles of Champagne to keep us merry! That always works, except... we're not supposed to take our masks off! A few quick sips, metres away from everyone else can't hurt. So we all did.
Escorted to our room, via the lifts, it was really fun stepping out onto the walkways. There is stone everywhere. It's gorgeous in it's rough, rustic realness. You can see bits of slate, white quartz, granite, stacked haphazardly together, 200 years ago. The glass roof, which is stunning, allows plenty of natural light and direct sunlight on to the stone work. It's not grey and miserable as people would imagine, it's honey coloured, and red in places, as iron rich slate has stained the stone around it.
Rooms - Each room is three of the original cells, 'knocked through'. So, bed in one cell, room in the middle and a bathroom in the third cell. Outside the room, each yellow door is the actual door, with the two grey one being original cell doors, now invisible from the inside. Very clever. No-one can say that this is not a sympathetic renovation.
Very well equipped throughout, the room is remarkably soundproof, with a cosy 'monastic' vibe. All the mod cons are present, USB ports, digital heating and AC, posh pod coffees etc etc. There really is nothing to complain about, and that's how it should be. This is not a budget hotel, so a bit of luxury goes a long way.
Dinner - Looking forward to dinner, even though at this point no-one (I mean, no-one!!) had actually seen a menu. We'd been asking for a couple of weeks, but we were told the Chef was still 'putting his menu' together. Well... we're pretty much sitting in the restaurant now, so it might be a good idea to let us know what we might be eating. So, first, a strong encouragement from staff to have cocktails. The 'inaugural voyage' vibe was getting stronger, but it was exciting to watch the stresses and efforts being made. My Margarita was delicious, and strong, and none the worse for taking 45 minutes to make.
Eventually, we made our way to the new Chapel Restaurant. It's very grand! It's a huge space, very nicely laid out, with booths along the rear wall, and tables spread out across the wooden floor. The dining space is lit by subdued lighting, even during the day, as the restaurant has a 'feature'. There's a digital light show while you are dining. Yup. So, depending on your taste levels you'll either find it enchanting or...well, very 'cruise ship'. It's a tourist attraction, so local tastes don't really matter. But, the Chapel restaurant is also the Breakfast room, so it's also dimly lit, and yes, the light show continues.
Lastly, the main event, the 'Bodmin Jail' experience is a brand new show, a timed event in fact, that explores the myths, legends and horrors of Bodmin. I was expecting more of a jail themed fright fest, but instead it's an edutainment spectacle.
It's good too. Digital projections, atmospheric effects and (my favourite) sound are used to bring many local stories to life, from Wreckers, ghosts, murder, the Beast of Bodmin (love) and executions. Very effective. We were alone during our experience, but each themed room looked to hold about 15 people in high season. It wouldn't feel cramped, and it's designed to be able to see something from all angles, left right, high or low. So no need to push to the front.
The 'timed events' come to an end, as the final set of doors open (automatically) to allow access to some of the original cells, now with cool light effects and amazing sound (freaked me out a few times). Older Bodmin fans are going to be very disappointed that you get so little of the original prison to explore. To put it bluntly, it's a tiny amount of the original building. The biggest loss is the tower and the old staircase. They are both incorporated into the hotel now, so don't go looking.
Eventually, you exit to daylight and discover one last thrill. There's a final act, you see, we get to see another digital show, where three guilty parties are tried for their crimes (these stories were seeded throughout the event) and, of course, EXECUTED in front of us. There's a jump scare, but I won't spoil it. ;-) Good fun.
Overall, our stay at Bodmin and the thrills in the new attraction made Monday May 17th probably one of the best Mondays we've had in a long time. If you're looking to come to Cornwall this year, I recommend lunch and the attraction at the prison, and then get out onto the moors, and soak up some of that famous atmosphere.
Bodmin Jail Hotel - https://www.bodminjailhotel.com/dine/
Bodmin Jail Attraction - https://www.bodminjail.org/