From punishment to paranormal, Kirstie Newton explores the unlikely history of one of Cornwall’s most luxurious hotels

Who would have thought one of the country’s most notorious jails would wind up as a high-faluting hotel?

Once the epitome of Victorian punishment, today Bodmin Jail is an £8.5 immersive visitor experience, and one of Cornwall’s most comfortable – if grimly fascinating – accommodation providers.

It’s not the clink’s first brush with tourism. Believe it or not, back in the Victorian era, visitors would come down on special trips to witness hangings here – a macabre spectator sport.

There’s nothing quite so gruesome here today, but the jail still has the capacity to attract those with darker tastes: a predilection for jump-scares, say, or a curiosity for the paranormal.

The attraction doesn’t shy away from its origins, and has made a name for itself on the alternative circuit. The Dark Walk (as its main tour is known) is an eye-opening window into how 19th-century prisoners were treated. Crimes and their punishments are examined, inmates profiled – some evoking compassion as much as anger.

School parties are welcome to follow the journey of justice reform throughout the ages, but families should be prepared to soothe small children (the physical shudder of the gallery when the noose dropped certainly spooked my young daughter).

Unsurprisingly, some events are not for the faint-hearted, and come with an age limit and “at your own risk” warnings.  Top of the list are the activities that indulge the appetite for supernatural experiences.

New for 2024, scare attraction Lights Out! is a half-hour evening experience with shades of The Shining. A recent refurb has disturbed spirits including a little girl who appears inexplicably at different locations around the jail. Expect chaos, and be prepared to “face your fears”. Age 12+, under 18s must be accompanied.

Regular ghost walks throughout the week emphasise story-telling and entertainment as you discover what goes bump in the night, and naturally, Halloween comes into its own with the Go Darker tour, taking brave souls from the gallows to the grave via the gibbet cage.

Serious ghost hunters are in the right place here. Bodmin Jail has its own official Paranormal Research Department, headed up by Joseph S Carter MA (Hauntology).

On Friday and Saturday, you can stay until the wee small hours and experiment with investigative equipment to detect ghosts and ghouls, all in the name of research (strictly 18+).

September will see the launch of Haunted at Bodmin Jail, with visitors free to venture off the tourist track and spend time alone in the dark, using methods including Ouija, Pendulum and Transfiguration to commune with past residents.

And on November 9, Bodmin Jail will host its first Paranormal Convention, with an array of guest speakers and trade stands.

You’ll need to recharge your own personal energies after such eerie escapades. The Jolly Hangman is a historic yet laid-back restaurant dedicated to showcasing the best of Cornish food and drink; alternatively, step things up a notch at the jail’s former chapel, now home to a memorable high-end dining experience within stunning architecture.

For the full experience, check into the five-star boutique hotel. While previous inhabitants were confined for the duration, Bodmin Jail’s central location makes this a perfect base for exploring Cornwall.

Contemporary design sits alongside the original features of this Grade II listed building; bedrooms are described as “luxury cells”, and you will surely sleep better here than the thieves, murderers and pitiful poor ever did.

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