There must be a way out, I told myself.
I was lost in the bowels of The Grand Hotel, Scarborough, with little hope of escape.
When we had taken the lift down to basement level two, I wondered if I had just imagined the smirk on the luggage porter’s face.
Now you may think this tale seems like an exaggeration, but to see this dank labyrinth is to know my confusion and fear.
The Ghost of Grandeur
Opened in 1867 and for years a beacon of opulence, the hotel was, at the time, the largest brick structure in Europe. The Grand Hotel, over the years, has housed luminaries such as Anne Bronte and Winston Churchill and on approach is a striking sight.
This grandeur melts away as you enter the main lobby.
We were unable to check in for around forty minutes due to the queue of tutting hotel customers that had assembled to complain.
Finally we were dealt with by the apologetic staff and ushered towards the lifts.
“I paid for a room with a window.” Chris said. He glanced around the lamplit tomb and shook his head.
We had finally located the room after traversing M. C. Escher-like staircases and ducking under strange half-floored sections of the tunnel system. We were deep in the cliffside, the seventh circle.
I thought I could make out a faint hum beyond the walls.
“Do you hear that?” I said.
Chris paused for a second and listened, but said nothing.
We walked along the corridor to check out what kind of room John, Chris’s brother and my uncle, had ended up with.
“This a is a palace, compared to ours” I said. I examined the room, which was also a tiny, windowless cave, but slightly more palatable, as a single occupancy room.
“I’m gonna go for a piss, before we head off.” I said and grabbed the keys from Chris.
“Okay.” He said. “We’ll see you in the lobby in a minute.”
It was when I had visited the facilities and headed back into the corridor that things began to unravel.
How difficult can it be, I thought. Perhaps the design is a bit haphazard, but there must be some overall logic here. There is, after all, a beauty to the design and architecture of yore, created before the pedants of ‘health and safety’ and ‘structural integrity’ prised their regulations into the trade.
I marched down the corridor and immediately noticed an entrance to a staircase.
‘That was easy,’ I thought. I noticed the door next to the staircase was ‘Room 301’, as I bounded past.
The staircase was delapidated. I trekked upwards and noticed there was a section with no carpet covered in what appeared to be sand, probably some kind of construction plaster.
To my surprise, the staircase did not continue once I had rounded the corner and I was forced to re-enter the basement floors.
I traced my way back along the corridor and discovered a dead end. There was however a staircase to a kind of mezzanine platform with only one room ahead.
I scanned the room number. ‘Room 315’.
What kind of fuckery is this? I thought. Don’t room numbers usually correspond to the floor they are on? How can ‘315’ and ‘301’ be on different floors?
It is also worth mentioning that, besides Chris and John, I had not seen a soul since descending into these catacombs of peeling magnolia. The possibility that I had slipped into some strange purgatory had become increasingly feasible.
Time as some sort of measurable construct seemed a distant dream, as I stalked the corridors in search of an exit. What foul and otherworldly consciousness has designed this trap? I thought.
There is a mansion in California, now a tourist attraction known as the ‘Winchester Mystery House’. The residence belonged to Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester firearm fortune.
As the story goes, the mansion was believed to be haunted by the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles. Mrs Winchester, therefore commisioned the construction of architectural quirks such as staircases leading nowhere, doors which opened into walls and windows overlooking other rooms in the house, presumably in order to confuse the spirits which floated down the corridors. At its peak the mansion had seven storeys and construction was continuous until Winchester’s death in 1922.
At this point, I wondered, if the basement levels of The Grand had been designed with similar motives and whether, despite all rational analysis, I was being led towards some unspeakable end by malicious entities.
I turned back and after a few corners discovered a lift entrance with a brass grille. I pressed the button. Nothing. It must be an old porter’s lift or something, I thought.
My journey continued. I had discovered another staircase with a wet towel on the floor, presumably to soak up some kind of leak, but it had yet again led to featureless a corridor. Above that was another staircase with a damaged ceiling, debris littered the floor where plaster had cracked off above. I rubbed my face and exhaled. One day they will find me down here, I thought, laughing maniacally, with a castaway’s beard.
Then came a breakthrough. I realized I had missed something. The path became clear like the planets aligning. I bounded up the staircase with the soaked towel laid on the floor, then darted through the door into the next staircase with the ceiling of cracked plaster, which had now become a familiar landmark in the maze.
I grinned as I approached the top of the stairs and saw the small, whitewashed door. Inconspicuous and unmarked, the door had appeared like the brass-grilled lift, a remnant of the hotel’s burrow-like worker’s passageways.
Light flooded in as I breeched the membrane of whatever strange world I had been incarcerated in.
Are You Going to Scarborough Fair?
I spent many happy summer days by Scarborough’s windy cliffsides as a child and the ancient tales of a bustling port filled with traders and smugglers are ingrained into my experience of the town.
That day however, I experienced something different in the basement corridors of The Grand Hotel. There are legends of a ghostly woman in a red dress, amongst others, that walk the hotel, presumably in search of resolution to their unfinished business. Who knows what realities lurk down there, despite our skeptical knowledge that these things are just fanciful gibberish.
The terrace in front of the hotel overlooks Scarborough South Bay. I watched the seagulls squawk against the deepening blue of dusk. I hoped The Grand Hotel would reclaim the grandeur of its past one day, but was glad to be staying there for only one night.