Childhood imaginings

by Rowena Mitchell

This story is part of our 'Travelling with Kids' series, featuring tales from luxury hotel guests which were sent in for our recent travel writing competition.

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As a child, I would go walking with my family in the rugged wilds of North Yorkshire. Tired, muddy and red-faced, our trip would often end in a hotel that, through youthful eyes, had a grandeur only otherwise experienced during fanciful daydreams. Even the entrance hall held a sense of enchantment, the golden glow from the log fire bathing the flag stones, the thick air, carrying a nutty smell of pinecones, holding me prisoner.

Our visits would stretch only to tea and biscuits but even such everyday fare was wondrous, served on china plates and from a silver teapot, the biscuits so unlike those found in the cupboard at home. Many happy hours were spent in the lounges. In the first, magnificent windows shed an autumnal light over dried flowers and, the crowning glory, a tiger skin rug spread menacingly at the hearth. Nothing was more exciting than lying on that beast, prodding its glass eyes, poking an intrepid finger between its giant canines and forever speculating, but never knowing, its authenticity. The second lounge, a dark, sombre room, perfect in winter, had walls lined with oily paintings of muscular horses and hunters in red coats, horns held to their lips, allowing a glimpse of a gruesome world.

As is often the case with children, my sister and I even found delights in the most unlikely place — the bathroom. Perfumed, immaculate, with individual towels, lavender cotton wool and hand cream next to the soap, these toilets set the gold standard against which every other establishment was judged, a standard to which we found no equal. A trip in this direction also allowed a surreptitious peak into the dining room, a grand affair with flowers, napkins and crystal glasses, awaiting the evening’s patrons with a sparkling splendour.

Inevitably, the time to go home would always arise. An hour began to seem like mere minutes as my feet dragged down the corridor, my mouth longed for a last crumb of biscuit and my eyes strained, trying to catch a glimpse into one of the illusive guest rooms. Bundled into the car, shivering, I would cast a longing glance backwards, only to see the lights from the windows twinkling, winking at me, and I would then be satisfied that the magic was still there, just waiting for my next visit.

On returning as an adult, this place still has a magic touch. The familiar sights and smells resurrect memories of an innocent time, when childish naivety allowed a biscuit to feel like a feast, an hour as long as a lifetime. To me, this is the essence of travelling as a child; each experience, old or new, can feel extraordinary, the imagination forever elaborating and the mind questioning all it encounters. One can only hope that we are able to retain this wonder as we grow and travel further, and that we can let our own children remind us of the uninhibited freedom of mind that once brought so much pleasure.

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