|I ran into an advertisement online about a spending
a night at Preston Castle in Ione, a boys reformatory / prison of days past.
Saturday night, August 16th was not only open, it was a full moon. Oh yeah.
And my David, the original skeptic, wants to go??? Add a booking into
the haunted Ione Hotel on Friday night and I am wondering if I can wait almost
August 15th finally rolls around, and I am packed, ready to go. Actually, I have been packed since Wednesday. Julie D is headed out with us, a British nurse, mother of good friend, Jay. After stuffing the car to the brim, we head out on the back roads at 5:30 pm in 107 degree heat, headed to a weekend almost as hot. After the fourth or fifth horse filled pasture, my mantra became, "I want a horsie!!" We pass the most incredible purple agapantha, not blue, striking purple, and laugh about stealing a cutting or two on the way back. A little turn around in Bellota (we sorta got lost for a minute there) we got gas in Linden too close to empty (whew!) and Barbie rides the antenna again. (Long story regarding my Barbie doll daughter, but the bottom line is that a long haired Barbie lives on my antenna, they are continually stolen and at the gas station I placed yet another one up for the trip.)
Dinner finally brings us to the Feed & Fuel in Clements. Don't let the name fool you. This is an elegant, quiet but comfy restaurant with a taste of the past. In fact, their menu says, "A Slip Into The Past." Crisp green tablecloths, comfortable rose and green flowered upholstered dining room chairs, low light tables, hushed tones, old fashioned manners and service. The menu is extensive, a wide variety from nachos to escargot, lamb to crab. Entrees are served with soup and salad, vegies, fruit and potato, rice or fries, all for a standard 'nice dinner' price. The garlic rolls are delicious, the salad is abundant, varied, crisp, with perfect bleu cheese crumbles. Clam chowder was equally scrumptious. David had veal scallopini, Julie had shrimp scampi and of course, I had salmon. I also ordered a Drambuie and was brought some strange, unidentifiable drink. When it was returned, the bartender came out herself to assure me it was truly Drambuie, proceeded to open a new bottle and supply me with a new drink, which had the same strange taste. All three of us are Drambuie connoisseurs, and all three of us concluded this simply was not Buie. Oh well. While David and Julie's dinners were perfect, the salmon was a disappointment, and the baked potato should have been cooked until tender. Resorting to the fruit for dinner, I spent the rest of the night trying to rid my taste buds of lemoned watermelon. When we were leaving, my curiosity got the best of me and we wandered to the bar. Sure enough, the bartender, Georgia, had a bottle of Drambuie on the counter. These people were so grand, so friendly, trying their utmost to correct the evening for us. We even had a taste test with my own bottle from home so she was able to taste the distinct difference between the two bottles. We are still at a complete loss as to why the two bottles were so different, but it does explain the identical episode at the Hacienda a while back. We left the restaurant with a zero score, but after reflection and their sincere attempt to make it up to us, we have to give the establishment one and a half points, divided between the food (excluding salmon and Drambuie) and the service. We will stop in again if ever in the neighborhood.
Finally, we pull into Ione. This is one tiny town. Julie has realized she has forgotten her creamer for morning coffee, but the two open gas stations /quick stops do not carry it. Thanks to Wanda at the Food Mart, who let Julie have some of the creamer for the customers, her morning will be perfect now.
At the Ione Hotel we park in the back, wander through the back patios and finally weave our way into the lobby past the first of two bar fights that night. Gee. Larry has waited up for us (it's past 9:30 by now) and cheerfully checked us into rooms 13 and 7. Perfect numbers, heh? We joke about the extra fees for entertainment, be it the drunks in the bar or the ghosts in the rooms. For the next few hours, we were highly entertained by the bartender who either ignored us or stingily handed us meager portions of ice in a bar glass. Two verandas offer different moods: the back was dark, soothing and yet spooky, above the inebriated locals (if these young men are eyeballing this grey haired grannie, we are talking desperate) and the front which overlooks the other bar in town, Tillie's. There you can watch the fights, tifts, bartenders, drama queens and drunks stagger back and forth across Main Street. The local police drive by and stop in the hotel to chat with the barkeep.
The hotel is truly rich in history and polished wood. The main staircase is right out of a Hitchcock movie, while ancient secrets float quietly out from transoms that line the long dark hallways. (It was a dark, dreary night.....listen my children and you shall hear...) Ok, ok. Back to the rooms. Our room, 13, is reportedly one of the most active. We are two doors away from the back, almost at the end of one of two long hallways, a tiny room filled to the brim with a king sized bed that almost required a step ladder to get into. I swear, that mattress was at least fourteen inches thick. I guess everyone asks about it, because the clerk said, "No, all the tags are missing, we don't know what brand it is." A sink in the room, a chair, table with a 4" screen tv, and a desk complete the room. A small bath contains a wonderful tile shower, thick towels and a toilet that makes you giggle. It is an old fashioned tank toilet with a pull chain. Yup. The plush carpet almost makes up for the constant deep irritating hum from the close by hotel air conditioner. We were warned that the hotel offered little to no amenities, so we brought our own coffee pot and accoutrements. The floor plan says each room has a phone but we couldn't find one.
Julie's room, number 7, is the front right room with windows opening to the front veranda, directly over the saloon downstairs . Equally small but quite bright and cheerful with lovely handmade pink and white bed quilt on the full sized bed. The bath arrangements are identical. Nothing remarkable, but comfy.
We crawled into our beds quite late and slept like we were in our own bed at home, qualified by the fact I slept in until eight.
Squirrels, birds and pheasants supplied the morning entertainment during my coffee on the back veranda to await the wakenings of my partners in crime. David slept as well as I did while Julie was awaken, more than once, by questionable hotel personnel. The shower was truly enjoyable (I LOVE the tile floor), packing was fast and furious. Jennifer was on duty and added to the stories about the hotel for my ghost stories section.
After checkout, we wander Main Street a bit and take pictures, including one of a Scottish biker, Hell's Angel style complete with a kilt.
Ione restaurants are a tad limited, and the Ione Cafe seemed to be the wisest choice. We were not disappointed. The cafe has a rather eclectic appearance, a no nonsense decor with fifties bus stop style benches attached to the tables and other sporadic seating arrangements. Bright and cheery, bustling and within a few minutes, full of customers. Standard breakfast fare, a wide selection of omelets, many sandwich and hamburger choices, chicken apple sausage, pork chops and spaghetti and meatballs. The waitresses are efficient and tireless. David had a Greek omelette, Julie had pancakes with an amazing blanket of strawberries and whip cream, I had eggs and sausage. The hash browns were, well, spectacular, home made and undoubtedly a favorite dish.
On to the castle for our tour!!
No matter the pictures you have seen, your first glimpse of Preston Castle will make you hold your breath. It really exists, and you are really there. Wow. And it really does resemble Rose Red. Cameras, hats, extra batteries, water, its already near 100 degrees as we climb the front porch steps, roaring to go. Today's tour guide, Doug, is pleasant with a light sense of humor, and pounds of patience. We have a tendency to lag behind a bit taking photographs, and finally manage to loose our group all together. Despite our best efforts, we could not hear the group or track their route, so we headed back to the front of the castle where Doug's wife smilingly ushered us down to the basement where we sheepishly joined the group again. Outside the castle, you can't help but stare at the current juvenile prison next to the castle with its formidable concertina wire perimeter and guard towers that extend up into the clouds. We tour the yard and a lovely garden, stand in the sprinklers to cool down and take a few more pictures. Cameras and imaginations full, tired and shuttered out, we wander through town, collect drinks, salads and snacks, window shop at the local hardware and stop in at Pets N Stuff. We buy hard to find rat treats, exchange wonderful pets stories with the owner, Pam, and play with Simon the cat who supervises all purchases inbetweenst naps on the counter, and happily accepts treats. Man, do we miss our animals on these trips. The store sports a sign that says, "Be Nice or Go Away." I have got to get me one of those.
The Ione public graveyard provides a spot of shade to eat our salads, and another past time, headstone reading and photography. I find an Ida Stevens, Julie finds the oldest stones, Charles and Mary Dorsey, born in 1798 and 1799, David finds a Coates, possibly relatives? The classic, wooden rounded slab markers reading "Unknown - RIP" are amazingly plentiful.
Finally, it's time to head back to the castle for the story of a lifetime and David's first ghost trip. That story is in the Ghost Section.
We hunted and haunted until after two in the morning, slept until after six, had coffee in the visitor center room, and packed up and they closed the gates behind us by seven thirty. We had counted on taking additional photos during the morning until the announced 'check out' of nine o'clock, and we shall have to return another weekend in order to complete our photos and castle map.
The ride home was quiet and lazy as we were all exhausted after two nights of irregular sleep. Real coffee in Clements at their coffee stop since Feed and Fuel wasn't open. We did find the purple agapanthas again, and stopped to find they were only the beginning of an incredibly exquisite, extensive garden much to our own wild, rambling tastes. David knocked on the door, and after three dogs' appearance to inspect us, Debbie came out from her garden. Debbie, like Julie, is a Master Gardener! Instant rapport all around, including meeting Debbie's husband, David. We were there for over an hour, exchanging garden gossip, laughs and mutual love of plant life. Leaving with her dark blue and purple agapantha, and some strange old sixties plant and plans to meet again, we finally headed home.
The final meal of the 'Ghost Gypsies' was to introduce Julie to our favorite breakfast haunt, the Cinema Cafe in Merced.
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