“We’ve come on holiday by mistake.”


For over thirty years I’ve worked in the centre of my hometown of King’s Lynn – and yes you’re right, I am a man who constantly craves high-octane adventures of an increasingly dangerous kind.

This has meant that I’ve visited almost every possible place in the town where respite from the world of work can be taken, including the Duke’s Head – a hotel built in 1683 for Sir John Turner, and designed by architect Henry Bell.

The current owners describe it as “the quintessential market town hotel – a handsome hostelry with history at every turn, restored and restyled for the discerning twenty-first century traveller”. Whether this is an accurate description or not is difficult to say given it’s been a while since I could describe myself as a twenty-first century traveller, discerning or otherwise. What I do know though, is that Philip Larkin wasn’t much of a fan, so if you base your recommendations on those made by English poets then I’d give it a miss.

The following extract comes from a letter to Barbara Pym, who he maintained a correspondence with for many years, is addressed from the Duke’s Head Hotel in King’s Lynn, and shows that had Trip Advisor been a thing in the summer of 1971 he would probably have been heading towards a one-star rating.

I have a theory that “holidays” evolved from the medieval pilgrimage, and are essentially a kin of penance for being so happy and comfortable in one’s daily life. You’re about to point out the essential fallacy in this, viz., that we aren’t h. & c. in our daily lives, but it’s too late now, the evolution has taken place, and we do the world’s will, not our own, as Jack Tanner says in Man & Superman. Anyway, every year I take my mother away for a week, & this is it. God knows why I chose this place—well, there are certain basic requirements—must be fairly near where she lives, must have single rooms with private bathrooms & lift, must for preference be near the sea … even so, one can make grave errors, & I rather think this is one of them. One forgets that nobody stays in hotels these days except businessmen & American tourists: the food is geared to the business lunch or the steak-platter trade: portion-control is rampant, and the materials cheap anyway (or so I guess: three lamb chops I had were three uncuttable unchewable unanswerable arguments for entry into EEC if—as I suspect—they had made the frozen journey from New Zealand). The presence of the hotel in the Good Food Guide is nothing short of farce. Of course it’s a Trust House, which guarantees a kind of depersonalized dullness. Never stay at a Trust House.

If you’re still considering a visit regardless I should confirm that the hotel hasn’t been a Trust House for some time and it no longer appears in the Good Food Guide either. 

2 Responses to ““We’ve come on holiday by mistake.””

  1. Ah fascinating! I own a lot of Larkin but not that collection. May have to do a little bookshopping…

    • It’s a great collection – well worth dipping into. Someone else alerted me to that particular letter which I hadn’t actually spotted, suggesting that I should persevere further with it 🙂

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