A HAUNTING HOLIDAY
Last week, my good friend and I treated ourselves to a 2 night break in the Castleton, a large B&B cum hotel in Swanage, Dorset. The house is situated in a good position near the sea, in an area predominantly consisting of large and imposing Victorian properties, with names like ‘The Rookery’, many of them similarly used as B&Bs, or homes for the Elderly, and more modern fill-ins and holiday flats. Very handy for the beach, although the hotel’s position high on the hill sloping down to the sea makes it rather hard on the legs going up after a hard day’s sunbathing outside one of the many eateries, or by a beach hut which can be rented by the day in the season.
Having been there before, we had booked a Family Room, which was very comfortable, more like a mini-suite, consisting of a large double bed, bedside tables, chest of drawers etc in the main part, and a smaller bed and associated furniture in the smaller section, reached via an archway into the main room where the bathroom was situated. Breakfast was served in a delightful sunny conservatory overlooking a garden which had evidently been much larger before the various additions to the building, garage and extensions, were made in the 20th century. However there are still many plants popular in the Victorian age in evidence; a Monkey Puzzle tree, and magnificent Yucca plants, with incredible twisted trunks, giving a clue to their age – they must be over a century old.
We had left home at 5.30 a.m. for the long drive, knowing that the Sandbanks ferry which crosses to Poole harbour and cuts quite a large chunk of the journey out, was still out of action, and we wanted to beat the traffic and arrive early enough to make the most of our first day away. Thus it was scarcely 9.30 a.m. when we parked on the seafront and collected our shorts, crocs, cozzies and so forth to store away in our rented beach hut whilst we decided how to spend the day.
It was such glorious weather; we actually changed out of our day wear right away, and positioned the beach chairs provided, giving us a fabulous view of the bay and the wide sandy beach, which was already filling up with families making the most of the last couple of days of the school holidays. Thus we spent most of our arrival day beachside. This however was somewhat marred by my friend being stung on her bosom by a pesky wasp whilst we were purchasing and consuming delicious ice-creams from the kiosk conveniently situated near our hut.
Eventually we decided we had better find some dinner, so having packed our stuff and changed in the hut, we made for the best fish and chip shop in Swanage, where each day they chalk up the name of the vessel that caught and landed the fish they are cooking. No wonder it’s so fresh and delicious, especially eaten outside! Stuffed full, we took a long walk up into the clifftop park and back via the Lifeboat station, where we were thrilled to watch the whole process of the lifeboat being launched – though I suspect it was not quite so thrilling for the crew of the vessel they were going to the aid of – a successful rescue as we later found out. Taking the path right to the top, we were able to climb up into the coastguard watchtower overlooking the bay, where the volunteers on duty were pleased to explain their work routines and rescue procedure. By that time the wind was up and the lifeboat we had seen launched was still out on missions.
We had strayed a very long way from our hotel by now, and climbed a lot of hills; being a pair of ladies of a certain age we broke our long walk home upon finding a comfy looking bar just over halfway, which served a delightful selection of gins and tonics – and had a very welcome Ladies Room. Hence my first taste of ‘Red’ Gin – Blood orange flavour – though I still prefer Gordons and Schweppes (ice & lemon natch).
An hour or so later we staggered back (the effort, not the gin) to the hotel, where we fell into our respective beds completely cream-crackered and had a good night’s sleep separated only by previously mentioned wall with connecting archway, so we could still have a good chat and/or text whilst waiting for the arrival of the Sandman.
Next day dawned bright and sunny; so, having showered and partaken of the many and varied delights of the generous breakfast, we set off for a trip on the Swanage steam railway, preceded by a lovely period British Rail style mug of tea, served in a vintage buffet car parked along a platform displaying equally vintage carts of luggage and a very vintage lavatory, minus only the penny in the slot lock. (Every one a winner!). The trip itself was lovely, passing by the ragged ruins of the ancient Corfe Castle atop a hill looming over the picturesque village of Corfe. The castle itself reminded me of Tutankhamun’s teeth as seen on the previous nights TV programme.
On the walk back to the beach from the station, we took in the amazing variety of little shops, mostly still almost as they must have been in Victorian times, then enjoyed a Dorset cream tea and interesting chat with some Australian visitors at a seafront café, before resuming our previous day’s occupation of sunbathing outside our hut. We finished our beach adventures with a traditional paddle in the briny. In spite of the bright sunshine and the glorious blue of the sea, it was definitely too cold for a more in-depth exploration of the water!
Time then to pack our things tidily in the hut, change back into more suitable attire and go off in search of dinner, which we found in a nice previously noted restaurant specialising in home-cooked meals. Pinot Grigio and Korma consumed and enjoyed, we walked off our meal on another trek around the edge of the bay, finishing off with tea by the waters edge, and numerous goes in the arcade, when we each won items which would have cost one tenth of what we spent to get them. But… that’s the thrill of the chase and I shall treasure my little ersatz solid silver dog for ever.
Having once again staggered up the ever-lengthening and steepening (is that even a word?) hill to the hotel, we packed our stuff, flopped on the bed and watched a bit of telly before applying after-sun cream and settling down to read before sleep. Rain had been forecast for the next day, and indeed some time after midnight, I was woken by the sound of strong winds and rain hitting the window, as was my friend in the neighbouring room, as I heard her coming into my room to use the bathroom.
We both settled again, but an hour or so later I woke up. I was just thinking that the plasticy smell (which we had both noticed previously and put down to new furniture and plumbing – and maybe the electricians who were working on the building) had gone away, when I smelt a different, more pleasant flowery-cum-spicy aroma. Assuming the proprietors had installed some of those automatic air fresheners, I took no notice; even when I sensed my friend near my bed, I just assumed she was using the bathroom again, and off I went to sleep.
Next morning we greeted each other as usual; I didn’t know whether to bring up the matter of the smells, which had now quite disappeared; but I did casually remark : ‘did you notice the plastic smell had gone and there was a flowery smell in its place?’. She had indeed noticed it and agreed it must be new air fresheners. I asked if she had slept ok, and added I was so weary I had not even got up in the night to use the bathroom. At that, my friend said: ‘I wasn’t going to mention it, but at the time I smelt the smell, I opened my eyes and saw a shape in the archway between our beds and assumed it was you – though come to think of it she was taller than you….most people are…’. We agreed it was spooky but neither of us felt any malevolent forces at work. We still had this strange phenomenon on our collective minds as we went down to breakfast – and as we were the only people in the room at that time, my friend couldn’t resist asking the staff member serving the meal whether they had installed automatic air-fresheners during the previous evening? The answer being a definite ‘No’, my friend went on to ask whether there had ever been any talk of the old house being haunted? This startled the waitress quite a bit; good job she wasn’t holding a hot teapot at the time. She said she had never heard of a ghost or any strangeness, but now she was spooked as she was going to be on her own in the house for most of that day. We assured her we didn’t think there was anything to be scared of, but we were not sure she was convinced.
Not our problem though, as we carried our cases to the car, having left a bigger than customary tip to cheer her up.
We planned to spend a few more hours by the sea, as the overnight rain had passed and once again the sun was sparkling on the sea in the bay. We parked the car on the seafront, and went off to take a walk along the pier. It had changed considerably since our last visit a couple of years ago; gone distinctly up-market with a posh visitors centre and restaurant in place of the old café which had incorporated a higgledy-piggledy but stuffed full and quite interesting museum and a basic café (with lovely local ice-cream).
The walk along the pier was extremely windy; most of the time it was just us, the rest of the punters having taken refuge in the said restaurant. But we Londoners are made of hardy stuff; we braved the elements as we wanted to pay our respects to a memorial plaque to my friends’ late parents. This is situated near the end of the pier amongst many other such tributes, within sight of the sad remains of the original very old pier. Photos taken whilst bracing ourselves on the ornate metalwork of the pier railings, we joined other brave souls in a very good cup of coffee, after purchasing model crabs and lobsters and suchlike, to take back to our respective grandchildren. I should say the coffee walnut cake we also tried was very nice and very generously sliced.
We made our way back along the bay past the life size roaring and moving Dinosaur and via the Ladies, got in the car and set off for London. Which the satnav refused to find (don’t blame it) and took us on a very long and frustrating journey through places we had never seen before, and pubs we had no intention of patronising, but needed their conveniences.
At least we had loads to talk about – largely our previous night’s supernatural experiences, which we both found hard to stop thinking about. I knew exactly what I would be doing for the next few days.
Thank goodness for Ancestry.com!