September 27th, 2017
In a corner of my mind I keep the memories of an extraordinary place where a hotel’s history intersects with mine. This place is Folkestone. This hotel is the Clifton.
A noise awoke me. Again. I look at the clock on my iPad. 12.45 in the morning. Again. I’m in room 111 of The Clifton Hotel Best Western and almost every night at the same time a guest in the room above me moves their furniture about. I’ve stayed at the Clifton each September since 2003. Sixteen years. Not many. Especially when one considers the building the hotel occupies was built in 1864.
It wasn’t until 2010 I was fortunate enough to give room 111 a go. Lovely room. Quiet. Enormous. High ceilings. Fireplace. Sitting area. Big bathroom with separate shower and bath and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the green behind the hotel. But that first night I was awoken just after one in the morning. And almost every night the rest of my six night stay. I couldn’t say if it was because the hotel guest upstairs had stopped moving about his room or I just slept through it.
After a couple nights of this I made a point of lodging an inquiry at reception before breakfast. When I made mention of it to the clerk behind the reception counter his eyes went a bit wide before darting to his mate popping his head out of the reception office door. They said they’d sort it. Good enough for me. Off I went to breakfast.
On the way out a lad who helped me with my bags and often brought a plate of sandwiches and crisps to my room approached me. He had a cautious look round before telling me in a low voice: “We have no guests in the room above you.” Then who was making all the noise? He would not say, adding, “This room is not often occupied.”
“What? Are you suggesting it’s haunted?” I inquired. He would not say. In fact nobody at the hotel would. 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018 I stayed in the same room. 111. Same noises in the room above. A bit of research revealed the Clifton to be the most haunted hotel in England. An unidentified woman took her own life after a fight with her lover. She is said to haunt the room where she committed suicide, her ghost described wearing a nightgown and emitting great sadness, sorrow and misery.
There is another story. Of a guest who stayed in the very same room. They felt very unsettled all evening. He went to bed for the night. Some hours later he was awoken to a ‘form’ at the edge of his bed. It vanished before his eyes leaving him with the feeling of great sadness. The guest refused to return to the room.
In still another story, a night porter was making rounds in the middle of the night–possibly collecting up morning room service cards hung from doors. The story goes as he passed before the room previously mentioned he felt a hand grab him on the shoulder and pull him back, turning him around. There was nobody on the corridor. The night porter immediately left never to return.
Is the Clifton haunted? Perhaps. There is certainly a presence in the room upstairs that enjoys moving the furniture around in the middle of the night. But don’t let this keep you from becoming a guest at the Clifton.
February 5th 2018
In September ’18 my wife and I returned to The Clifton.
Our May stay in Folkestone was rather accidental. We were on our way from Barcelona to New York City connecting through Gatwick. We boarded our BA flight at Barcelona El Prat. Our departure time came and went. I fell asleep in my seat. An hour later I awoke.
We were still on the ground. The pilot came on the intercom informing us BA was undergoing a catastrophic computer failure. How did that effect us? Without the computers the pilot could not get confirmation from BA in England that the passenger manifests were approved and the flight could depart. The pilot was trying to do it over his mobile phone but so far could not get through to BA in England.
We waited. One hour became two. And then three. The captain invited passengers to visit the cockpit. I grabbed Daiana by the hand and we headed to the cockpit. We spent a nice ten minutes talking to the captain and co-pilot. Daiana sat in the co-pilots seat wearing his cap. It was good fun. We returned to our seats and shortly thereafter were informed by the captain he had been successful in communicating with BA in England. They had given us permission to take off. The last BA flight out of Barcelona as the plane was already loaded.
We landed in Gatwick three hours late only to discover the catastrophic failure at BA was creating havoc. We were the last plane out of Barcelona. All other BA flights were cancelled. And none we leaving Gatwick. Including our connection to New York JFK. So now what? Since we were not going anywhere for now we called Blacklane and headed down to Folkestone. The View Hotel had availability. We noticed whilst there the Clifton was undergoing massive renovations. Three days later BA was back up and flights departing and we flew off to NYC. But not before we went into the Clifton and were gobsmacked by the renovations going on.
In September 2017 we returned to Folkestone for Euro Miniatures Expo. We stayed at the View again but visited the Clifton for drinks. The renovations to the public rooms are splendid and we like spending time in them. We like it so much we decided in 2018 we would stay at the Clifton again.
September 2018 arrived and we returned to the Clifton. They have opened a Marco Pierre White Steakhouse. And it’s something quite wonderful to behold. More on that later. We had learnt some months before the new owners of the hotel were about to undertake a renovation of the bedrooms and we wanted to stay in room 111 for nostalgia sake before it was modernized. To be fair in needs a sympathetic renovation. The rooms are dated, the furniture tatty. The wardrobes don’t stay closed and the drawers fall out when you open them. But I do dearly love it. It reminds me so much of the comfort of being in nanas house near Brighton. I have so many memories of the Clifton and rooms 111 and 112.
And where did these memories begin? I first stepped into the Clifton hotel in September 2003. I had never been to Folkestone before but heard all about the Euro Militaire concorso that took place in the Leas Cliff Pavilion from fellow scale modelers. A friend of mine, Jon Tamkin, living in Los Angeles invited me to attend. He was the shop owner of Mission Models and would be trading there. He and his wife arrived into Folkestone a few days before me. He told of a good hotel a lot of the traders and modelers stayed. It was called the Clifton. This was pre-Google days and I hadn’t been able to research the hotel. I had their email address and booked a room.
I took the train down from London. Leaving it at Folkestone Central. I flagged down a taxi and on the short drive to the hotel I found Folkestone to be strikingly familiar. It was like Brighton. A town I spent many a summer as a child. The taxi left me outside the Clifton. I stood staring at the Channel. It was marvelous, Folkestone the quintessential seaside town I knew so well growing up. The long grass verge on the cliffs above the beach known as the Leas stretched off in both directions. I wanted to explore.
From the moment I entered the lobby of the hotel I knew I was somewhere special. Somewhere I had never before been. Yet was so familiar. At reception I first met Philippe. She still works reception all these years later. She handed me a great lumping plastic key chain and my key. I went to the lift, typically tiny and rode it up to my room. Leaving the lift, the old carpeted floors creaked as my suitcase trailed behind me. Opening the door to my room I was greeted by a spectacular view of the Leas and a blue sky over the English Channel. I was home.
And so on a certain Thursday in September for the next five years I returned to the Clifton. Hundreds of friends descended on little Folkestone for a massive concorso called Euro Militaire in the Leas Cliff Hall. You couldn’t hop the lift, descend the stairs or stride through reception without bumping into loads of friends.
Into breakfast in the old Clifton dinning room. Feeling lucky to get a table in the window overlooking the garden. Lively banter with old friends. Conversations picking up where they left off the year prior. Coming in after lunch for a mid-day siesta, my room was always prepared and waiting. A coffee and a bath before going downstairs to the bar for drinks with my mates before going off to dinner. Returning to the Clifton in the wee hours the morning, old William Harvey’s statue lit up like Christmas shown the way to the front door of the hotel. Stumbling into bed to sleep off a bender.
I mentioned the next five years, because things went a bit sideways after September 2008.
Economic crisis. The world had a stroke. I divorced. My company went into contraction. I lived a life out-of-step with how it had been previously. September 2009 I was unable to visit Folkestone and my beloved Clifton Hotel. In September 2010 I returned. Room 211 awaited. The lives of many of my old friends had remained unchanged. For others—as myself—life had taken quite a large u-turn. The Clifton comforted in a world gone sideways. A nice plate of sandwiches and chips the lounge or a coffee service on the terrace of a morning watching the sun rise over the Channel as friends passed along the Leas on their way to the Leas Cliff Hall.
September 2012: I had sold off my company in Los Angeles and was now living in the Costa Brava, Spain. Folkestone and the Clifton Hotel are just a short flight away.
September 2013: “Thursday, 19 September 2013. 11.45am. Leaving London via Charring Cross Station. One adventure has ended at The Ritz. Another begins. There is nothing quite like my yearly journey here. Nostalgic. But also there exists a subtle burbling excitement. Sitting in an empty off-peak First-Class carriage watching the grotti East End pass by I pull on my headphones, “Sussudio” by Phil the Shill plays on the iPhone 6. Life at its most simple is often at its best.”
September 2015: All change. I met the woman who would become my wife the previous April. She travelled to Folkestone with me for the first time. The Clifton welcomed us. Many nights out in town. Folkestone thrives. Suppers at Rocksalt and Blooms. My tradition of hiking from Dover to Folkestone continues, the Clifton always dependable with a welcoming cup of tea and a sandwich.
September 2018: The Clifton has evolved. And in the best of ways. The exterior is renovated. The public rooms reorganized. The old bar is done away with and moved to the lounge where its became Ocean Bleu. A Costa Coffee was added and much to our delight a Marco Pierre Steak house replaced the old dinning room serving spectacular steaks as well as some old favorites from Wheelers such as their calamari and Governors Steak and Ale Pie.
Rooms 111 and 112 remain unchanged. For now. The hotel is gradually updating the rooms floor by floor. I simply adore these two rooms. Of course they exhibit a “patina” of age. The rugs are thinning. The bathrooms dated. The wardrobe doors swing open of their own accord. The creaking floors all too familiar. Here in these rooms are so many memories. In 112 I brought a diorama that won me my first gold medal at Euro in 2007. In this room I had drinks and laughs with Mike Rinaldi and Pat Stansell. I stayed in 111 during the post-crisis days of 2010 and 2012 when the world was different.
The Clifton has evolved. And again so have I. Euro has moved after 32 years from its traditional September date to May. We’ll gladly visit. Springtime is marvelous in Folkestone. The sun shines bright. The air warms. The fresh breezes over the Channel carry the quarking of seagulls to the terraces and window sills of the Clifton. Best of all I only need to wait about 13 more weeks.
Ever more when I climb from a car that first day I’ll look out to the blue waters of the Channel, take in a lung full of fresh sea air and turn to the facade of the Clifton Hotel and smile. Clifton feels a lot like coming home.
Thursday, February 14th 2019: Was mucking about on Google Maps and came across a really clever feature. Some locations, including the Clifton, had full 3-D landscape options of the interiors. I’ll include some screen grabs below, but you can try out this groovy feature clicking on the following link: Clifton Hotel, Folkestone Interiors Google Maps.