THOUSANDS of hotels around the world lie empty right now due to travel restrictions.
From Stephen King’s haunted hideaway in The Shining to Agatha Christie’s whodunnit hotel in Devon, James Draven investigates the weird world of lonely lodges – and the few brave souls looking after them.
THINGS actually do go bump in the night if you stay at the real-life Overlook Hotel from The Shining.
It was here, in the notorious Room 217 of The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, that author Stephen King stayed in 1974 and, woken by nightmares, wrote the outline to his horror classic.
King has said: “I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire hose. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.”
What undoubtedly inspired King was the fact that he and his wife were staying in this sprawling, brooding, remote mountainside hotel, all alone.
The staff were just getting ready to close for the winter, so the family ate in the eerily deserted dining hall with haunting, orchestral music echoing down the empty corridors, and King reportedly drank at the bar all by himself, served by a man named Grady.
King immortalised Room 217 (and an infamous character named Grady) in his novel, and it’s now the most popular room in The Stanley.
The Timberline Lodge, in Oregon — the hotel which Stanley Kubrick used for exterior shots of The Overlook in his film adaption of The Shining — requested the director change the room number to 237. They feared nobody would ever want to stay in the world’s scariest hotel room. How wrong they were.
If you are brave enough to stay at The Stanley you’ll definitely hear bumps in the night. I certainly did. Rather than the movement of some malevolent spirits, though, I was mostly kept awake by the sounds of tired ghost hunters knocking into hallway furniture and taking spooky selfies.
Of course, much like King and his scary protagonist Jack Torrance, staff at The Stanley now are also there alone. Today, just like the Overlook in winter, tens of thousands of hotels around the world lie empty due to Covid-19. The dining rooms, spas, corridors and receptions of some of the most extravagant resorts are desolate.
Empty, that is, except for the few caretakers who have these buildings to themselves. Sally Beck, general manager of the 411-room Royal Lancaster London, said: “We have ten people living on site for day-to-day security. Most volunteered because they would have otherwise been living in flats with no outdoor space.”
Instead they now wake up to stunning views over Hyde Park every day. Vincent Deprat, assistant reception manager, tells me: “Each staff member has their own luxury Park Suite with panoramic views of the London skyline. That would have cost them an arm and a leg just a few months ago.”
While the rest of us have been battling the bulge during lockdown, it’s easy to stay active when you’re living in a hotel. The staff have access to the on-site gym and they play badminton in the ballroom, table tennis in the lobby.
Chief engineer David Mawer said: “Although we wish never to have a repeat of the situation the world is in, we wouldn’t change this rather unusual, but positively emotional, bonding period.”
The Burgh Island Hotel — 250 metres from mainland Devon and only accessible on foot at low tide — is famous for being the setting of Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None. The story imagines the island hotel as the setting for a series of murders, with ten guests — stranded from the mainland — getting picked off one-by-one by an unseen killer.
Imagine the chills of being quarantined there for the past few months. Well, the caretakers of Burgh Island Hotel don’t have to imagine.
Penny Brown, managing director, said: “Some staff were kept on to deal with essential maintenance and were allowed to move into hotel rooms.” Residents spend their days working, playing tennis, swimming and walking or jogging around the isle.
Head barman Gary Maguire said: “There are lots of eerie goings on. There’s a ghostly girl who appears on the restaurant’s balcony during breakfast.” And he says there’s a “definite presence” upstairs in the hotel’s west wing too.
Gary explained: “People sometimes get the strange feeling of being tucked into bed up there and, before we closed, a lady felt someone stroking her back, even although her husband was fast asleep.”
Of course, some luxury lodgings are used to being empty. Grand Hills Hotel, in Lebanon, would have been an incredible destination to be locked down, boasting the world’s largest hotel suite, measuring 4,131 square metres.
The seven-storey super suite had its own gated entrance and was stuffed with ostentatious furniture and fine art.
At £63,000 a night though, it has been vacant since Paris Hilton stayed in 2014. I didn’t dare ask staff if there were any bumps on that night.