- Wales is arguably the most haunted country in the world,
say Richard Holland, the author of a new book called Haunted Wales. We
asked him to pick his 10 favourite ghost stories from across the country,
which he relates here, in no particular order.
- 1. The Warrior Knight of the Blood Red Plume
- This gothic horror first appeared in a very rare little
book of Welsh legends published in 1803 - and never appeared again in print
until I summarised it in my first book, Supernatural Clwyd, 185 years later.
- This is one of the reasons it's a favourite of mine -
I feel like I discovered it. It's also wonderfully over-the-top.
- The eponymous knight - so named for his fancy headgear
- turns up at Rhuddlan Castle on the North Wales coast, where a marriage
is about to be solemnised by Erilda, Princess of North Wales, and a Prince
of South Wales - thereby uniting the nation and bringing peace to Wales
for the first time.
- But, alas, the Warrior Knight steals Erilda's heart,
causing her to elope, and he also sees to it that her father is killed.
Wales is once again plunged into discord and the Warrior Knight reveals
himself to be "an agent of the infernal" - a demon.
- His work done, he reveals that his true form is a huge,
- No wonder, then, that the castle's walls now echo at
night to despairing shrieks and wails and Erilda's heartbroken wraith can
occasionally be glimpsed among the ruins.
- 2. The Thing at Lisworney Crossways
- This story took some work to nail down. Tracing the story,
I found it was first noted in 1839 and learned that it had occurred somewhere
in the Vale of Glamorgan.
- But where? Lisworney Crossways does not exist today.
Lots of staring at modern maps, however, revealed a house called Llysworney
- and near it a crossroads.
- One of these lanes led to a farm mentioned in the tale.
When I visited the area to do some fieldwork, I was delighted to discover
that this track is now a green lane, entirely overgrown - quite delightful
on the summer's day when I visited, but almost unbearably spooky at night,
I should imagine.
- And the ghost? Something really horrible - a spectre
with the head and shoulders of a man and the body and limbs of a great,
spotted dog. And it had two luminous, "moon-like" eyes.
- Most of us would probably have fallen into a dead faint
had we encountered this monster in the lane, but Old Anthony, the farm
servant who features as the hero in the story, nonchalantly threw his hat
at it, and it disappeared.
- 3. The Demon Husband
- One of the oldest stories I record in Haunted Wales is
also one of the strangest.
- It was first written down in 1691, compiled from letters
written only a few years after the events were said to have taken place.
- The setting is a house, now ruined I believe, on the
- It features the apparition of a living person (not as
unusual as you might think) - one Lieutenant Colonel Bowen, who was away
in Ireland, leading a dissipated life.
- The haunting first manifested itself in the form of alarming
crashes and bangs sounding around the house. Then a weird facsimile of
Colonel Bowen appeared in his wife's bedchamber and it demanded to get
into bed with her.
- Realising it was something ungodly, she refused and it
became irate. But it did not approach her and, as she prayed fervently,
- >From then on, the household had no rest. Shrieks,
moans and "the noise of whirlwind" echoed round the rooms and
Mrs Bowen saw the shape of something invisible lying in her bed, accompanied
by the disgusting smell "of a carcase some-while dead".
- Her bedroom filled with "a thick smoak (sic) smelling
like sulphur" and she and her servants were slapped and pinched by
unseen hands. And throughout all this, the fake Lt Col Bowen kept reappearing
and goading them all. Eventually, they abandoned the house altogether.
- 4. The Ghost Ship
- Another classic Welsh ghost story is that concerning
the haunting of the HMS Asp in the 1850s.
- This humble surveying vessel became haunted by mysterious
noises emanating from an empty cabin and then, after a period of time,
by a female apparition.
- The ghost terrified the sailors - one poor fellow went
into convulsions at the sight of her - and Captain Alldridge, who kept
careful note of the phenomena, found himself with an almost mutinous crew.
- The story starts at Deeside in Flintshire but ends at
Pembroke Dock, where the Asp sailed to, in need of repairs. Once the ship
was in dock, the phantom disembarked.
- She walked past several hysterical sentries - who vainly
fired their muskets at her - and vanished for good in a graveyard. The
origin of the ghost remains a mystery.
- 5. The Trapped Spirit
- One incident I quote in full in Haunted Wales, because
I enjoyed it so much, is a ghost story which concerns the creation of the
Vyrnwy Reservoir in Mid Wales in the 1880s.
- It is a fascinating piece of social history as much as
anything else. The entire valley of Treweryn, near Bala, was drowned so
the people of Liverpool could have clean water, so it's no wonder the locals
resisted the scheme.
- But one of the things that alarmed them most was that
one of the first tasks was to blow up a big rock, under which they believed
an exorcist had trapped a troublesome spirit more than 100 years previously
- and they genuinely feared the ghost would be released in the process.
- The local vicar, Rev Evans, recorded what happened when
the Scouse navvies finally got their way, and it makes amusing reading,
for they became just as caught up in the atmosphere of dread as the locals.
- 6. The Spectral Crime Fighter
- Equally amusing, and unique, is another tale from Mid
Wales, this time from Blaenporth, just north of Cardigan.
- A man living near the church was woken one night by none
other than the village's very own ghost, Mair Wen (White Mary). She was
very upset. She told the amazed chap the communion cup had been pinched
from the church - and that she had chosen him to go and retrieve it.
- The psychic detective knew exactly where the culprit
was - in a pub in Cardigan - and she also knew the precious silverware
was stuffed inside his waistcoat. Unable to ignore such a plea, the gentleman
quickly dressed and rode through the night to Cardigan.
- There, snoring his head off in the pub named by Mair
Wen, he found the thief. Retrieving the cup proved simple - it fell out
of the befuddled lout's waistcoat when he woke up.
- So, without waiting to argue, our hero galloped back
to Blaenporth as fast as he could and returned the sacred vessel to the
- 7. Tom the Lord
- Tom the Lord is a ghost after my own heart. In life he
was the squire of Redwick, near Newport, a man very fond - rather too fond
- of the local cider.
- One morning, after an especially uproarious night before,
Tom the Lord was found dead in a ditch. Even as grave a matter as death
was insufficient to break the bibulous habits of such an ardent drinker,
- Tom returned from the other side - for more cider. Farmer
Thorn, who brewed the stuff, would find his taps open and a barrel drained
every night, while the villagers found their rest disturbed by the over-spirited
spirit's drunken antics.
- Soon the farmer learned that if he left just one pint
of his special scrumpy out at night, the ghost of Tom the Lord would leave
the rest alone. All very well for him - but the regular sight of the sozzled
phantom in Redwick was too much for the populace as a whole, and no less
than 12 ministers were called in to finally send Tom the Lord to his eternal
rest - and at last they were able to enjoy theirs again.
- 8. The Skeleton Bride
- By way of complete contrast, there is this grim tale
- another gothic horror story, first told (in gloriously overripe prose)
in an old journal, the Cambrian Quarterly, in 1831.
- The author is anonymous and the story is written in English,
but he is so specific in his details that there may be a genuine Welsh
tradition behind it all.
- It tells of an incident which took place in a remote
valley in Gwynedd in the early 18th century, when a young girl on her way
to be married foolishly hides in a hollow tree for a prank - and gets trapped.
Despite frantic searches, she is not found alive again. She starves to
death and her husband-to-be goes mad with grief and the mystery of it all.
- Years later, he does come face-to-face with his bride
again - when a lightning bolt rends the tree and her skeleton tumbles out.
He drops dead from the shock.
- After such a tragedy, it is no surprise to learn that
their ghosts later haunted the site - "hand in hand, the skeleton
bride and the wild-man bridegroom, as they were known".
- Whatever the truth behind the story, the romantic retelling
by the anonymous author is compelling and I couldn't resist quoting lengthy
- 9. The Thing in Calico
- One story which genuinely gave me the creeps was recorded
in a book of True Ghost Stories, published in 1936.
- One fine summer's night, the Rev H Elwyn Thomas was walking
along a lonely stretch of road beside a canal at Llangynidr, near Abergavenny,
when he noticed an odd-looking figure standing nearby.
- Taking him for a tramp, Mr Thomas decided to walk over
and speak to him. Which was a mistake.
- What he saw was, "an old man over whose face the
leaden-coloured skin was tightly stretched; the lips were thin and bloodless,
and the half-open mouth toothless.
- Two piercing and semi-luminous eyes, set far back, stared
at Mr Thomas..." The figure was also bizarrely dressed - hardly dressed,
in fact. Two filthy strips of calico were wound round and round its emaciated
body, and that was all.
- A nameless dread gripped Mr Thomas and, to his own amazement,
he ran blindly away. Minutes later, he stopped, ashamed of himself, and
turned round. But the Thing had followed him, floating down the road and
was almost on top of him.
- Only then did the appalled Mr Thomas realise it was a
ghost. There followed a nightmare chase down the road - ending in Mr Thomas's
collapse from nerves and exhaustion. The ghost turned out to be that of
a mad old miser who had died years before and who used to dress himself
in filthy strips of calico, just as Mr Thomas had seen.
- 10. Tales of the Old Prophet
- Finally, I'm going to cheat and lump together lots of
stories under one heading.
- I must pay tribute to one of Wales' earliest collectors
of ghost stories, the Rev Edmund Jones, known as The Old Prophet.
- Jones, who lived at the Tranch in Torfaen, published
an extraordinary little book in 1780 called Apparitions of Spirits. It's
stuffed full of weirdness.
- Not content with drab fare like white ladies or nuns
and monks, Jones's ghosts are the most bizarre on record - giant figures,
misshapen things "without regular members", apparitions which
rolled like a ball or over-and-over like a Catherine wheel, spectres with
grotesquely long tongues and spirits which took the form of hounds or pigs
or great sheets of fire.
- And yet in many cases these stories are the most carefully
- Jones is able to tell us who saw the ghost and precisely
when and where. Many were told to him first-hand and indeed, uniquely among
early collectors of ghost stories, he also saw ghosts himself.
- Most of the stories are from Jones's home area of old
Monmouthshire, but several are from further afield, including Pembrokeshire,
Carmarthenshire and Anglesey.
- Haunted Wales and Welsh folklore as a whole is greatly
the richer for Jones's eccentric jottings.
- - Haunted Wales, by Richard Holland, is published by
Landmark Publishing, ISBN 1-84306-177-5, priced £14.99 and out now.
- © owned by or licensed to Trinity Mirror Plc 2005