Halloween – my favourite time of the year! And there is no better place to celebrate the spooky season than here in Carmarthenshire, a county that is absolutely riddled with ghosts and phantoms.
Of course, I tell ghost stories every week as part on my regular Wednesday night Creepy Carmarthen Tour but this October you will also find me entertaining at Newton House (see below) the National Trust’s most haunted property. We are running “haunted house” tours on three nights this year – Friday 26th and Sunday 27th and on Wednesday 31st. There are three tours a night. The first is aimed at families with children but will be followed by two “adults-only” tours where I tell the ghost stories in all their gory details!!
Before that, on Friday 19th, I will be performing my celebrated blend of magic and storytelling called Strange Tales from the Darker Side in the atmospheric setting of the haunted dining room. For details of this and the house tours please follow these links to the Dinefwr Park website – Strange Tales and Family Ghost Tours and the After Dark ghost tours.
Against that background I thought you might like to discover . . .
Our Creepy County’s 10 Most Haunted Places
Is Carmarthenshire the most haunted county in Wales? It certainly looked that way to Edmund Jones. He was a non-conformist preacher who spent decades travelling around the country and collecting ghost stories as he went.
It was his belief that the men and women that he met, being God-fearing Christians and of a generally sober nature, would tell him the gospel truth about their own experiences.
In his account of those stories, The Appearance of Evil – Apparitions of Spirits in Wales published towards the end of the 18th century, he recorded more ghostly goings on here than anywhere else in the country.
Those phantoms have continued to feature in Carmarthenshire life to the present day. This is far from an exhaustive list but here are my top ten most haunted places in the county.
Newton House, Llandeilo
Set in the ancient grounds of Dinefwr Castle, Newton House has enough ghosts to keep a parapsychologist happy for years.
Named as one of the National Trust’s most haunted properties the building is riddled with spooks.
From its last aristocratic owner, Walter Rees, whose spirit is accompanied by the smell of pipe tobacco, to the phantom Butler who still watches over the area below stairs there are ghosts galore.
Little wonder then that TV’s Most Haunted has visited the house twice. It was here that one of their cameramen filmed a smoky white spirit floating down the corridor towards him, one of their psychic team was trapped between two doors that normally open with ease and they videoed a venerable wheelchair move on its own in an empty room.
Other reports talk of a grey lady seen in the drawing room being watched over by the spirit of a little boy dressed in blue; an old man smoking a pipe in the ancient kitchens; and a staff member hearing a voice whispering to her in an otherwise empty floor of the house.
For a time, in the nineteen seventies the building was occupied by a TV production company. The small team working in one of the rooms being used as an editing suite was disturbed by young woman dressed in white who suddenly burst into the room before walking into a cupboard in the corner.
They waited for a while for the girl to reappear but on investigation found the cupboard empty.
The lady in white is believed to by Lady Eleanor Rees who was chased through the building by her jilted fiancé before being strangled to death with her own hair ribbons in the top floor nursery.
Do contact the house and ask when I will next be running one of the ghost tours there.
The National Botanic Garden of Wales
If you visit the Botanic Garden of Wales you will find it a wonderfully warm and welcoming place. So it is hard to imagine that within its boundaries in contains a host of supernatural spirits.
First among them is the Grey Lady whose restless spirit can be seen in the area between Principality House, once the service wing of the magnificent Middleton Hall which once dominated the site, and the chain of lakes which run through the parkland.
Her story in unbearably sad. She was the daughter of the Hall’s wealthy owner, Edward Adams, who had business interests in India. She married a soldier and travelled with him to the sub-continent to take up a military post there.
She gave birth to a son but, as in so many cases in that hot and dangerous climate, the child died while just a few months old. In her desperate grief she arranged for the baby’s body to be embalmed and sent home to Wales to be buried in the graveyard at St David’s Church in nearby Llanarthne.
However, when the body arrived Edwards Adams opened the sealed casket to look upon the child – and discovered that the corpse was black. Whether he believed that his daughter had given birth to a child of mixed-race – or was horrified by some error in the embalming process that left the body blackened – we will never know. In his anguish he took the baby’s tiny corpse and threw it into the deepest and darkest part of the lake.
Today they say that the baby’s mother can still be seen roaming the estate searching for her baby so that he may be buried in consecrated ground as she intended.
There are many other ghosts that haunt the estate. Workers building the Great Glasshouse were disturbed by the phantom of a man dressed in Victorian style who watched them from a distance while a cleaner in one of the conference rooms at the gardens videoed a ghost on her mobile phone only to delete the file because she was terrified by what she had seen. For more of these and other tales do contact the gardens and ask them when I next plan a ghost walk.
The Emlyn Arms at Llanarthne
The ghostly goings on at this haunted hostelry made newspaper headlines early in the year 1910.
Landlady Harriet Meredith and her adopted daughter Mary were locking up after closing hours when they were disturbed by having strange objects flung with some force against the back door of the inn.
Thinking local lads were having a bit of fun Harriet locked and barred the door only to find that items inside the building were now seen flying through the air.
Still suspecting this was nothing more than a prank played by the village boys while her husband was away overnight the two women began searching their living quarters to find the culprits.
At this point the disturbances continued with renewed energy. Stones and items of clothing came flying down the stairs followed by what sounded like the screams of a pig being slaughtered in one of the bedrooms.
Thoroughly frightened they fled from the inn and took refuge with a neighbour. By now a small crowd of locals had gathered outside the pub and, while someone went to try and find the village policeman, others plucked up courage to enter the building where they too were bombarded by objects of every kind.
PC Jenkins arrived on the scene and took charge, throwing a cordon of local men around the pub. Drawing his baton he searched the place from cellar to attic while hot embers from the fire flew about followed by empty bottles and glasses, saucepan lids, spoons and old teapot.
The frenzied activity finally petered out at about three o’clock the following afternoon but not before dozens of local people had witnessed or actually been the target of the flying objects.
These days a determined ghost hunter would diagnose classic poltergeist activity. However, PC Jenkins took a no-nonsense approach to the whole affair. “There’s some trickster that was behind it all,” he told reporters, “though I’m damned if I know who it was or how he did it.”
Castle House in Carmarthen
Now the town’s Tourist Information Centre, Castle House was built as a police station for the county constabulary. Its grim cells housed many of the town’s most dangerous criminals as well as its share of petty thieves and drunks.
The darkest of the two cells is the epicentre of most of the strange events experienced by visitors. Ghost hunters who have hired the building for overnight vigils report the sound of girls crying as well as the unmistakable noise of a grown man sobbing in anguish.
Tourists taking the regular Creepy Carmarthen Tours, which run between Easter and mid-October, have experienced more than their fair share of strange experiences.
While some women have reported feeling hands stroking their face or hair one unfortunate lady claims to have felt icy hands close around her throat before trying to lift her off the ground leaving her choking and distressed.
Male visitors have a slightly different experience with descriptions of a heavy boot or shoe making firm contact with their shins.
While taking one tour I was standing in the corridor outside the cells talking to a party of visitors when I felt two sharp tugs on the back of my arm. Expecting to see someone standing behind me I turned around to find that there was no-one there.
The Spirit of the Drover
The pretty market town of Llandovery has a very ancient history. It was the site of a Roman marching camp two thousand years ago and the place where Welsh martyr Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan was tortured to death on the orders of the English king.
It is also linked to the Drovers – a hardy breed of men who drove herds of cattle from the rich pastures of west Wales to the livestock markets in London.
They travelled together for their own safety and security. Rustlers were a hazard on the long road to the capital while they were prey to other bandits on their return because of the money they carried.
One of their number saw a business opportunity and founded the Bank of the Black Ox, based in the town, enabling the men to be given promissory notes which they could exchange for cash on their return to Llandovery.
A local told me that, returning from the pub one night on a light summer’s evening, he followed the unmistakable figure of a drover taking the back road down Garden Lane. This ancient service road backs on to the buildings and businesses in the Market Place and Broad Street.
Thinking it might be someone is fancy dress he watched as the man suddenly turned into one of the yards lining the road. However, when he reached the yard a few seconds later he found the man had disappeared.
Not wanting to risk the ridicule of his friends my informant kept the strange sighting to himself. That was until, some months later, he had exactly the same experience when he once again saw the drover in the same location only for him to disappear once more.
St Peter’s Church
Carmarthen’s parish church has a fascinating history dating back to the earliest Christina era when the town was known by its Roman name of “Moridunum”, the fortress by the sea.
It is famous for being the last resting place of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, the local landowner and warrior who legend has it was the man who killed King Richard III on the battlefield at Bosworth.
His reward for helping Edward Tudor capture the English throne was to be granted South Wales as his own fiefdom and by all accounts he was a wise and noble gentlemen who enjoyed widespread popularity.
On his death he was buried in the Priory in Carmarthen. Shortly afterwards this was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII but Rhys’s tomb was spared the destruction and moved to St Peter’s where it remains to this day.
In the late 18th century during general restoration work to the church his impressive stone grave was repaired and during the process the bones of the great soldier were examined.
It was then that they discovered that the bones that made up Rhys’s right arm were missing. When they were taken from the grave no-one knows but it is possible that they may have been a bizarre souvenir or even a holy relic taken when the tomb was moved.
It is Rhys’s ghost that is believed to haunt St Peter’s church today. But if you explore the building after dark and find yourself face-to-face with the phantom there is no need to be frightened. I am told his ghost is completely ‘armless.
Every tale of haunting should include a headless ghost and Carmarthenshire’s must be one of the most glamorous.
Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd was the wife of Gruffydd ap Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth. Said to be strikingly beautiful she was also undoubtedly brave, joining her husband in the continuing struggle between the local nobility and the Norman conquerors who were seeking to extend their territory into Wales.
Not content to stay at home away from the action she shared the hardships of the army, hiding out in the countryside, mountains and forests and making lightening raids on the invaders.
While her husband was away from home seeking to make alliances with other Welsh leaders the Normans seized the opportunity to strike and attack Kidwelly Castle. Perhaps they thought that the beautiful princess would be a pushover but Gwenllian and her small army put up a frantic defence despite being heavily outnumbered.
In a final desperate bid for victory she led her soldiers from the front confronting her enemy on the meadows outside the castle walls. Fighting alongside her sons she fought long and hard but to no avail. Her son Morgan was killed fighting beside her and she and her other son Maelgwyn were captured.
It had been a hard campaign and the Normans were in no mood to be merciful. First her surviving son was executed and then she too faced the executioner’s axe, losing her head in the castle courtyard.
It is Gwenllian’s restless spirit that is said to haunt the castle to this day, endlessly searching the grounds for her missing skull.
This popular museum and café in the centre of modern Llanelli is a triumphant example of the skills of the heritage and conservation movement. The Georgian mansion was created by Sir Thomas Stepney but by the end of the twentieth century it was a shadow of its former self and faced demolition.
After being featured on the 2003 TV Restoration series it won funding to restore it to its former grandeur and now visitors can explore the building with the help of its expert guides.
One of the areas you can now visit are the attic rooms once occupied by the servants. Its here that people believe you could encounter the ghost of a housemaid called Mira Turner. Some say she committed suicide – but others believe she was murdered to keep a dark secret hidden.
Mira’s story is simple and all too familiar from a time when moral standards were very different from today – a servant girl who was believed to have killed herself by taking poison when her love affair with the Butler, a married man, became common knowledge.
The inquest decided Mira had committed suicide but not everyone was convinced. She appeared to have made a good recovery from her suicide attempt – and as a watch had been kept she could not have taken poison again. Could someone in the household have slipped more laudanum in her food?
As a suicide there is no gravestone today to show us where she was buried. All we know is that her young body lies somewhere in the graveyard of the parish church next door. However staff at Llanelly House do believe that her spirit still inhabits the attic rooms and a number of visitors there have fainted, apparently effected by Mira’s ghostly presence.
The Carmarthenshire Countryside
In Edmund Jones’s time he found most reports of ghosts came from the countryside, seen on farms and in villages, on country roads and in the fields and woods.
According to one Joshua Coslet, who lived on the banks of the river Towy, the lands to the south and east of the river were where you were most likely to come across the “cyhyraeth”. This he described as “a voice that resembles the groaning of sick persons who are about to die.”
“Heard first at a distance and then coming nearer it begins strong and louder than a sick man can make, then lower but no less doleful, then soft like the groaning of a sick man who is almost spent and dying.”
Coslet claimed that the sound could be heard before the death of everyone born in that part of the county no matter where in the world they should be when they died.
Other witnesses also told Edmund Jones of “corpse candles” seen processing along country roads and village streets as a kind of ghostly premonition of a death in the community. These were sometimes accompanied by the sight of the funeral itself with those who experienced them able to recognise the mourners and the face of the deceased carried in an open coffin.
The ruined mansion at Aberglasney stands as the centrepiece to this beautiful garden which attracts visitors to Carmarthenshire from all over the world. These peaceful surroundings are deservedly popular but those ancient walls once witnessed a terrible tragedy.
Four maids, sleeping in their attic bedrooms, died in their sleep as victims of a terrible accident.
The servants’ quarters had been redecorated and a stove had been lit in their room to assist in the drying process. We now know of the dangerous fumes given off by fire in unventilated areas but carbon monoxide poisoning was an unknown cause of death in those distant times.
Unaware of the peril they faced they had drifted off to die peacefully in their sleep.
According to legend the household became aware of the tragedy when night-watchman was doing his rounds of the building. He became aware of the afore-mentioned “corpse candles” apparently floating in the air at the foot of the staircase.
He followed the strange lights up to the attic where he discovered the womens’ bodies tucked up in bed.
Want to hear more of our local ghost stories? I often lead storytelling walks at Newton House and the National Botanic Garden of Wales as well as the regular Creepy Carmarthen Tour. For more details visit http://www.thespookymagiccompany.co.uk.