Jamaica Inn Cornwall – The Famous Smugglers Inn

Jamaica Inn cornwall

Probably Cornwall’s most famous smugglers Inn on Bodmin Moor. Set in the middle of the moors it is located just off of the A30, close to the hamlet of Bolventor.

The current building was built in 1750 and extended in 1778 with a coach house, stables and a tack room. Stage coaches would use the Inn to change horses over and passengers rested.

The remoteness of the building as it would have been in the days of smugglers made it a perfect spot to hide their stash of rum that had been smuggled into the country from Jamaica.

Jamaica Inn Welcome Sign

There’s a museum here where you can discover more of the history and tales of the exploits of the wreckers, the smugglers and their deeds.

The Inn is the setting for Daphne du Maurier’s 1936 novel Jamaica Inn, which was made into the film Jamaica Inn in 1939 by Alfred Hitchcock. Daphne du Maurier stayed there while she recovered from becoming lost on the moors on her horse, which I will mention later.

So, it is only fitting that there is a Daphne du Maurier Museum here too. 

Smugglers, wreckers and legends 

Smugglers were not a usually a violent breed, but said to be very cunning. Smuggling became accepted and many took part in the proceedings.

When the customs dues were brought in back in the 13th century, some people rebelled and started to bring goods into the country illegally to avoid the high levy from the customs and thus smuggling activities began.

Jamaican export

Luxury goods such as, silks, tea, tobacco and brandy were more often smuggled into Cornwall than anywhere else in England.

What is a wrecker?

This unscrupulous deed involved misleading ships to come closer to shore with beacon lights to deceive the navigation of a ship. Beacon lights would usually indicate a safe passage for vessels entering a shallow or dangerous channel; the lights are a form of leading line that can be used for safe navigation at night. 

The wreckers’ false beacon lights would often lead to a ship being grounded on rocks or sandbanks, even worse in a storm as you can imagine many lives lost in this way.

They would board the ship and steal the goods, which could be anything from tea, alcohol or any goods they could take. They would always have a choice place to stash the goods until they could move it on.

It’s believed there would have been around 100 different routes across the moors to reach the remote Inn where the smugglers stashed the contraband. The Cornish coastal region was ripe for smuggling activities because of its ruggedness and rocky coves it was often described as ‘a haven of smugglers’. 

The Name

The name of the Inn has been debated some say it is derived from the Jamaican rum that would have been stashed there, but could easily be due to the important local Trelawney family who were landowners locally and two of the family members served as Governors of Jamaica in the 18th century.

Dozmary Pool

Dozmary Pool, Bodmin moor

Not far from the Jamaica Inn is Dozmary Pool. It is one site that is claimed to be the home of the Lady of the Lake. According to legend, it is here that King Arthur rowed out to the Lady of the Lake and received the sword Excalibur.

The pool is also claimed to be the place where Sir Bedivere returned Excalibur as Arthur lay dying after the Battle of Camlann. 

Daphne du Maurier 

The Daphne du Maurier Museum has many interesting exhibits including the original letters to Daphne and her husband from the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Lord Mountbatten and others.

It is due to Daphne du Maurier’s book that the Inn found Its fame worldwide when she wrote the best-selling novel, ‘Jamaica Inn’ after she needed to stay there while recovering in November 1930.

Signage Outside the Jamaica Inn

If she had not gotten lost on the moors on her horse that night, she may never have been inspired to write her novel. She stayed in room 3 according to records. While staying at the Inn she became aware of the notoriety as a pirates’ den and she described the nocturnal activities of a smuggling ring based at the Inn as, “portraying a hidden world as a place of tense excitement and claustrophobia of real peril and thrill.”

Daphne du Maurier had previously lived in Fowey, a house in Bodinnick and later in Menabilly, and I’m sure having had such a combination of experiences must have all had an influence on her writing.

Jamaica Inn Museum

Smuggling Museum 

The Inn’s Smuggling Museum is the largest in Cornwall and houses the UK’s finest collection of Cornish smuggling artefacts in the country.

A visit to the museum will bring the tales to life through experiencing these original artefacts for yourself and watching the short film about smuggling activities and the roll the Inn would have played in all of it.

Turtle Shell, used to hide contraband

I found just discovering more about the history through the items and old documents on display in the museum were quite surprising and often I’d have to go back to one or more of the artefacts that fascinated me to get more insight into life back in time and a whole different world of activity. 

Customs Officer with a cash of Hashish

If these tales aren’t enough, the Inn is also believed to be haunted and many strange sightings happen there even to this day.

The Inn, Accommodation and Refreshments 

The hotel has 36- bedrooms with suites, and original bedrooms with four-poster beds and also offers more modern, recently built bedrooms with stunning views over the moor. Some of the bedrooms are also dog friendly.

If you book into one of the original 200 year old bedrooms you can really get a feel for the history and imagine the Inn’s Smuggling activities and possibly get a visitation from a resident ghost.

The Jamaica Inn and Cobbled Courtyard

The bars have a wide variety of local Cornish ales and even have their own Jamaica Inn brand of rum, no smuggling required. The atmosphere in the restaurant is very friendly and welcoming and the menu has plenty of home cooked foods including lots of locally sourced produce used as much as possible.

There is plenty of local produce available to buy at the farm shop too, including fresh baked bread daily and eggs, fresh fruit and veg, local eggs and meats etc. 

Gift shop

We enjoyed visiting the gift shop on our visit where we bought a couple of pirate tankards a book mark because I’m a book addict and of course some postcards.

There’s so much to choose from, they even have a special Poldark section for all the fans of this romantic Cornish drama. Some of the filming locations are stunning and made more popular since being used in filming this popular drama series, a few of the film locations in Cornwall are; Charlestown, Bodmin moor, the St Just section of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site, and in particular Botallack. Levant mine which is owned by the National Trust. The sandy cove of Porthcothan Beach was used for swimming scenes too.

Armada Chest

Location 

Jamaica Inn is located at Bolventor, PL15 7TS halfway between Bodmin and Launceston just off the A30 at Bolventor.

We found it very easy to drive to because of the brown tourist signs on the a30 and the countryside all around is a beautiful sight while driving over Bodmin Moor too.

Boy in the Stocks at Jamaica Inn

Such a breath-taking place to visit for a day or for a break. My youngest son even tried out the headstocks in the courtyard.

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2 Comments

  1. Janine Moore says:

    Hi Michael,
    Thank you so much for your lovely comments. A very good insight into staying at Jamaica Inn, and great experiences too. I’m rather tempted to book a stay myself at some point. On our family visit we only had a matter of hours before driving home but loved it there and the museums were fascinating. If you visited a larger lake, it could possibly have been Colliford Lake to the south, such a beautiful area. Smaller lake it would have been Dozmary Pool.
    Thanks again, nice to read about your experience there, much appreciated.
    Janine

  2. Michael Matthews says:

    Excellent review.

    We stayed in one of the older bedrooms – lower door openings etc. But still well equipped. Floors felt uneven – may have been the old cobble stones (?). We had this lovely 4 poster bed. Went on some wonderful walks – once to a lake out miles along a track. Seemed to be in the middle of no-where. Very quiet – not eerie but it did seem to get into your mind. We saw no-one on the track or at the lake. Beer quite nice. Good parking alongside Inn. Seemed to be a lot of children one day – so I’d advise missing school holidays and weekends. The museums are well worth a looksee. I still wear my Jamaica Inn Sloppy Joe.

    I would recommend asking for a room in the Inn – ie not the newer rooms. Especially if you are a fan of the book.

    We had some memorable happenings – not the least of which included a breakfast where my toast was “stolen”. This lovely older lady who “ran” the breakfast area told me about all her toasters (2, 4, 6 or 10 slots) and how they often disappeared. She had her theories about how/why and I guess I stoked the fires a little. I think she saw me as a kindred spirit and welcomed me every morning. Her help to me included a quite LOUD announcement to the entire area that “no-one is to steal this gentleman’s toast anymore !”. Everyone staying in the Inn knew – from then on – that I was quite a serious person regarding toast. My family has never let me live it down. Her theory on how and why her beautiful 10 slot toaster was ‘”purloined” (say that in a strong accent – “it was “purloined” sir …” ) still brings a smile to my face.

    If you are travelling around Wales/Cornwall and want to include a fun stop – this might be the place – has a good ‘net site.

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