Join me as I travel into the Welsh countryside in search of dark deeds and the Devil…
One of the remarkable things about my home country is just how many public houses are said to be haunted (and, indeed, how many opportunities this presents for jokes about spirits). Remarkable, but not altogether surprising: inns and pubs are often the hubs of local life, and so play host to a great deal of human drama. They are also, of course, often old buildings, and almost any old building will generate a couple of ghost stories sooner or later. It all makes sense, I suppose, when you get right down to it.
One such haunted pub is the picturesque Skirrid Mountain Inn, in the village of Llanfihangel Crucorney, near Abergavenny.
The Skirrid, as it’s known, has accumulated more than its fair share of folklore over the years. According to some claims, it’s one of the oldest pubs in Wales, dating back to the twelfth century. Local legend has it that the inn played an important role in Owain Glyndŵr‘s 15th-century Welsh revolt, with Glyndŵr himself rallying his troops in the courtyard.
This story on its own might have assured the Skirrid’s reputation, but there’s more. And much of it is of a decidedly ghastly nature…
According to another frequently-repeated claim, the inn once offered not only food, drink and overnight accommodation, but also hosted a criminal court. Back in the days when justice was of a somewhat rough nature, that entailed the passing of a number of death sentences. The luckless souls whose lives were deemed forfeit are said to have spent their last night in the condemned cell (now a small room off the staircase) before being hanged from a beam over the staircase well. It’s hard to imagine the prisoners’ despair as they waited in the dark on their last night of life, knowing that in the morning they would slowly choke to death, often for no more serious a crime than a spot of sheep rustling.
Then there’s the Devil’s Cup, on prominent display in the bar area.
According to legend, the inn’s proprietors would in the past leave a cup of beer out for the Evil One, should he chance to pay a visit – in the hope, presumably, that he would then leave the building and its inhabitants alone.
Luckily, not all the ghostly visitors to the inn are quite so malign. Fanny Price, a woman who worked at the inn during the 18th century (and who is buried in the nearby churchyard) is also said to put in the odd appearance, presumably for no other reason than affection for her former workplace.
Such a history could hardly but give rise to ghostly stories. Glasses are said to fly across the bar on occasion, thrown by an unseen hand. Strange spectral figures have been glimpsed, and the sound of soldiers in the courtyard, or the rustle of a woman’s dress, have been heard. Some visitors report the feeling of a noose being tightened around their necks.
Luckily, perhaps, none of these things occurred during my visit. I did, however, talk to one witness who told me that, whilst in one of the upstairs rooms, she once felt a threatening male presence nearby, along with the conviction that he disapproved of her. She also once had the sensation of someone placing a hand on the back of her head. No living being was close enough to be the culprit…
Mystery or Marketing?
Pretty hair-raising stuff, you might think. But are the dark legends actually true?
Blasted reason and evidence! It turns out that the Skirrid Inn may only (only!) date back to the 16th century after all. As local historian Fred Hando noted, “no relic survives which would date the present building before Elizabethan days.” The first mention of it as a licenced property was apparently made in 1859. That being so, it seems highly unlikely that Owain Glyndŵr assembled his troops in the courtyard. There is, furthermore, no evidence that the inn was ever used as a criminal court (though it may have been used as a venue for Manorial courts, which dealt mostly with day-to-day administrative matters). Not a single documented execution has ever taken place there.
No matter, perhaps. The ability of a myth to thrive sometimes seems inversely proportional to its actual truth. Even if the Skirrid has not been the setting for strange and terrible deeds, it looks like it ought to have been. Whether the spirits of the restless dead walk there or not, it’s easy to let imagination take control in such a place. Cynics may suggest that the Skirrid’s ghostly reputation has more to do with marketing than mystery, but it will still provide the odd pleasurable tingle of disquiet…
To download your free copy of my ghostly short story, Devil’s Stoop, click here.