Earlier in the week, we shared with you the spine-chilling tale of Dartmoor’s Lady Mary Howard and her carriage of bones. Today, we travel to deepest, darkest Cornwall to retell one of the county’s scariest ghost stories…
The setting for our next tale is one of Kernow’s most iconic taverns, The Jamaica Inn, high up on the rugged wilds of Bodmin Moor, a tavern made famous by novelist Daphne du Maurier.
Picture the scene if you will: it was closing time at the inn and the landlord was wiping down the old wooden tables and emptying out the slop. The last of the locals had stumbled out of the door full of songs and ale, headed for their beds. The moon was at its fullest and a lonely mist was gathering.
The landlord could see his breath on the midnight air as he brushed the strayed autumn leaves from the entrance and closed the solid oak door behind him, drawing the bolt across. He poured himself a mug of his home-brewed Bodmin moonshine and was wiping the froth from his moustache when he saw a lone figure sitting by the window.
He was startled as he’d earlier watched the room empty of its patrons and he didn’t recognise the man at all, nor much like the look of him. “Sorry my handsome, tis closing time so I must ask you to drink up,” said the landlord nervously, but there was no reply. He stepped slowly forward and felt an uncomfortable chill run up his forearms. “Did you hear me, sir? I did say that it be locking up time and I must bid ye farewell.” The man’s face was hidden by the shadows and he sat hunched forward over an empty glass. “Excuse me, sir,” the landlord persisted. “I must ask you to-“ and then his voice shrank in terror as the man turned to face him.
In the undulating glow of the fire the landlord saw a deathly sight; a gaunt face with sunken eyes and a complexion wretched by decay. He rose from his stool to a height well over six feet tall, the glass now in his hand. And then he spoke: “Rrrrum,” he growled, offering forward the glass to the terrified landlord who slowly retreated to the bar to return with a bottle of old sailor’s rum. He poured with a shaky hand into the glass and stepped back. The monstrous figure threw the contents of the glass down his gullet and placed it back on the table. As he took giant strides towards the door, the landlord noticed his sopping wet boot prints across the slate floor and the foul stench that followed him. The man unbolted the door and began walking into the night, his tall silhouette seen against the moon as he headed towards the loneliest path on the moorland.
The landlord rushed to the door and quickly bolted it shut, then picked up the bottle of rum and took a rushed gulp to steady his nerves. It was then that he saw the open silver locket left on the table where the man had sat. He moved closer to study it and saw the haunting faces of two small children.
The next evening, he shared his ghostly tale with his patrons, describing the terrifying beast of a man, riddled by decay, who demanded sailor’s rum before displaying to them the silver locket left behind on the table. “I’d take good care of that locket if I were you,” said one of the oldest locals who knew the history of Bodmin Moor better than anyone. “That be the locket of Branok Penberthy, a giant of a man he was, could haul a cod dory up the shore with his own bare hands. Tis while he was at sea that his babes strayed from the moor path and were lost to the claggy grimpen.”
“The tragedy had him turn to the bottle, saw him wander the moors crazed with loss, unable to accept their fate, until one night he strayed too far and was dragged under by the clogging deep – some would say by choice. When the moon is at its fullest, just make sure you have that locket open at the table and a glass of sailor’s rum waiting, and never dare cross him, for he’ll pick ye up like a rag doll and drag ye back to the grimpen from whence he came. Just pour him his glass of rum and help old Branok on his way.”
And so, every time the Autumn moon was at its fullest, the landlord of The Jamaica Inn would return the locket to the table by the window, next to a glass of sailor’s rum. And only when he heard the door slam shut, he would muster courage enough to look, and all he’d see was the open locket in the light of the cold moon, an empty glass, and a trail of giant boot prints across the old slate floor.
I hope you enjoyed today’s ghost story in anticipation of All Hallows’ Eve.