In this episode, the spotlight is switched from ghosts to folk tales, and not just any old folk tale but arguably the most famous Welsh folk tale of all – that of Gelert, the heroic hound who paid the ultimate price for being man’s best friend.
It’s a tragic tale which begins with a piece of folklore before taking some unexpected twists and turns through the secret history of Gelert, including a journey through Wild Wales and the early days of tourism, Welsh culture from the costume to the longest place name, and even the French Revolution.
You can listen to the whole adventure by pressing the play button below, and to read more about Beddgelert, and many more Welsh curiosities, in The A-Z of Curious Wales.
Please join me – if you dare! – for an investigation into the supernatural secrets of two eerie real-life tales featuring a ‘woman in white’ haunting on both sides of the Severn Bridge.
Unlike previous episodes, I tried something a little bit different with this one by looking at two “new” stories, one of which takes place over the border in…. not Wales.
The “Women in White” either side of the Severn
On the Welsh side of the Severn Estuary, a “ladi wen” left the “superstitious” residents in the Vale of Glamorgan too terrified to walk about after dark. While on the English side, two ghostbusters claim a “potty-mouthed” spirit was effing and blinding at them at a “most haunted” beauty spot.
In this real-life Welsh ghost tale, I go in search of the facts surrounding a persistent spectre which haunted Swansea’s “most haunted” house in the late 19th century.
During a key scene, which sounds more like a work of Gothic fiction than a real event, the supernatural visitor lured the occupiers out of the house and into the moon-lit night, where it revealed its true purpose.
This lead to the discovery of what appeared to be a buried skull, which saw the press dub it “a ghost to rival Hamlet’s father.” As a result, not only did this spook have the whole city talking, but even the police decided to investigate…
The Swansea Devil is a “cursed” Victorian work of art which, if the legend is to be believed, burnt down a Welsh church during the Second World War.
But the mystery doesn’t end there.
It disappeared without a trace, only to reappear a long way from home following an appeal by the media to track it down.
The mystery of the Swansea Devil
In this episode I go in search of the truth behind one of Wales’ most infamous sculptures. Some tantalising new secrets about this satanic statue are uncovered along the way, including the experts’ strange new theories as to its original purpose.
Some of the research behind this episode was originally published in my collection of curiosities The A-Z of Curious Wales, whereas the latest revelations have been uncovered much more recently.
You can listen to the fantastical tale by pressing the play button below. And if you enjoy, please consider subscribing so you’ll never miss an episode again:
To kick things off, I decided to start with a Welsh ghost story which always goes down well at my live events, and which also happens to be one my personal favourites.
I discovered the tale of the “two-headed phantom of Abersychan” while researching my first collection of spooky stories, “Ghosts of Wales: Accounts from the Victorian Archives“, and this rather unique account does indeed involve a – you guessed it! – phantom with not one, but two heads.
Who or what is the Two-Headed Phantom of Abersychan?
This terrifying-looking fiend was hunting (when you’ve listened to the podcast, you’ll understand why the word hunting is in bold!) for victims after the sun had set in the late 19th century.
Even more shocking than its appearance is its secret origin story – trust me, the “real” reason this spectre came to have two heads is quite… well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but rather unpleasant.
You can listen to the ghastly tale by pressing the play button below, and if you enjoy it please consider subscribing so you’ll never miss an episode again.
It’s a bit like a Welsh X-Files, but Mulder and Scully have merged into one person, and have forgotten all of their skills or abilities. On the plus side, they have gained the ability to speak the Welsh language.
There’ll also be lots of exclusive bits you’ll never find anywhere else, like some very special guests which I’ve got tucked up my sleeve, and some topical spooky news stories that I’ll be sticking my nose into.
With a new episode uploaded every Thursday, I’ll soon be exploring all manner of curiosities, from the secret origins of folkloric favourites likes of the ever-festive Mari Lwyd, to the Welsh Halloween, Nos Calan Gaeaf.
How to listen to the new Ghosts & Folklore of Wales podcast
If you enjoy what you hear, please consider subscribing by clicking on the link for your favourite podcast platform below. By subscribing, you’ll never miss an episode EVER – and I’ve got some classics on the way! – and it will put a big smile on my face knowing people are listening and enjoying these ramblings.
And remember: It’s the best, the beautiful, it’s the ONLY Ghosts & Folklore of Wales podcast.
Press the play button below to listen to the Ghosts & Folklore of Wales podcast… if you dare!
Each episode of Ghosts & Folklore of Wales podcast offers Mark’s unique insight and research into a different curious subject, from long-lost real-life ghost stories to the myths and legends of the Mabinogion.
Upcoming topics include: seasonal traditions like the festive Mari Lwyd and the Welsh Halloween, Nos Calan Gaeaf; unusual funeral and wedding customs, such as the macabre Sin Eater and eerie corpse candles; and how the magic of witches, wizards and the ancient Druids continue to cast a spell over the land today.
Subscribe on your favourite player by following the links below:
Of course, me cancelling a few events really means nothing in the grand scheme of things.
My eternal thanks go to all of the heroes risking everything on the front line to keep us safe right now, and I can’t imagine what hardships they are facing.
Also, as someone who spends a large amount of my personal and professional time in theatres, art galleries and bookshops, my heart goes out to all of my friends facing an uncertain future in these and other industries.
It can be easy to overlook the arts at times like these, but let us not forget the immense contribution they make to our daily lives.
I look forward to seeing you all sooner rather than later.
On Sunday, March 15, 2020, my spooky new full-colour title was unleashed upon the world, and is now available from all good bookshops.
Ahead of its release I did an interview with Jenny White for the Western Mail newspaper, and here are some of my answers about the book writing process:
What inspired this book and, more broadly, what has inspired your fascination with the paranormal stories of Wales?
I’ve been fascinated with ghost stories for as long as I can remember, but I have no idea when and why it started. Maybe it was during my school trips to Llangrannog which, as anyone who was in Welsh language education will know, is incredibly haunted by a certain Black Nun!
Wherever the fascination came from, I’ve wanted to write a book about Wales’ “most haunted” places for a very long time, but I was never interested in just rehashing what was already out there. This is why my previous books on the subject have looked at obscure long-lost stories, not well-known stories.
It was only last year that inspiration struck and I decided to combine what are, to my mind, two very different types of ghost stories into a single book. The first are those more rooted in folklore, which have been passed down for generations and involve suits of armour clanking around old Gothic mansions. The second are the modern-day accounts, such as those seen on the ghost hunting TV shows, which are trying to prove the existence of life after death using scientific methods, rather than just spooking people.
My aim with this book was to look at both side-by-side and to see if there were any connections between the historical tales and more recent sightings.
Tell me a bit about the research process for the book. Did you make any interesting discoveries along the way?
The research process involved a lot of reading, a lot of interviewing and, where possible, going out, rolling up my sleeves, and doing some ghost hunting of my own. I made lots of interesting discoveries along the way, the best of which were those that added new details to already well-known tales.
For example, the story of the White Lady in Oystermouth Castle is a popular ghost story in Swansea, but when you actually go back and dig out the original accounts from the nineteenth century you discover some interesting new facts, as well as a few contradictions.
What are your favourite places, and favourite stories in the book – and why?
My favourite place would probably be the Prince of Wales pub in Kenfig. Besides the fact that it’s just a wonderful pub which serves wonderful food, it also has some incredible stories attached to it which, as far as I know, have been overlooked by other ghost books. It’s always nice to be able to put something new into the world.
Another favourite is Craig-y-Nos Castle because it combines ghost stories with another of my other big passions in life, opera. It is said to be haunted by its former owner, the superstar soprano Adelina Patti, and some claim to have heard her singing there. I also heard of a nice ghost story involving opera at the Wales Millennium Centre but, sadly, I was unable to find out any more information about it and couldn’t include it in the book. If anyone knows anything please let me know!
Here’s the publisher’s blurb from the back of the book:
Wales is said to be the most haunted country in the world. Restless spirits roam the ancient land, from the lofty peaks of Snowdonia to the dark depths of the abandoned mines. In Paranormal Wales author Mark Rees takes the reader on a spine-chilling journey to dozens of these locations, which include well-known tourist landmarks and more secluded spots well off the beaten track.
These accounts of disembodied voices, supernatural mists and pesky poltergeists range from centuries-old legends to modern-day sightings. Visit the ‘oldest pub’ in Wales, where more than 180 people are claimed to have been sentenced to death by hanging. Explore the majestic opera house built by a world-famous soprano, who some say continues to perform on her beloved stage from beyond the grave. Spend the night in a seemingly idyllic manor house, where the presence of a Victorian housekeeper is said to reduce unsuspecting guests to tears. Or step back in time at one of the many ivy-strewn castles, where ladies in white patrol the Gothic battlements as tortured screams ring out from the dungeons below.
Some of these stories might be familiar, others less so, but they all have one thing in common – they will make you think twice about turning off the light at night. Illustrated throughout, Paranormal Wales will be of spine-tingling interest to those wanting to discover more about the country’s haunted and hidden heritage.
I’m very excited to announce that the title of my next book will be PARANORMAL WALES – coming 2020!
As the name suggests, it will be a spine-chilling quest in search of the country’s “most haunted” places and, unlike my previous Ghosts of Wales books, will be based on modern-day tales of things that go bump in the night.
My aim with PARANORMAL WALES was to compare more recent first-hand accounts of strange phenomena with those from legend and folklore and, by doing so, to see if any connections emerged between the more superstitiously-minded past and the scientifically-minded present.
It was also important that the majority of the locations could be easily visited by curious ghost hunters after reading the book, and so the vast majority are accessible to the public today.
What’s it all about?
While the finer details of the book are under wraps until early 2020, I can reveal that the five key areas I focused on were:
Haunted historical sites
Spooky stately homes
Pubs and hotels
Paranormal Wales – coming 2020
Check back soon for more updates and, if you want to be one of the first people in the world to get your hands on a copy – and to attend a top-secret spooky launch party! – sign up to the Mark Rees newsletter.
It was an evening of strange tales and spooky surprises, all under the watchful gaze of Old Nick himself.
And best of all, we discovered some new details about this “Satanic statues” secret origin along the way…
Swansea Museum: The Ultimate Venue for Ghosts of Wales Live!
Swansea Museum is one of my favourite places to visit, not just in Swansea but in Wales, and was the perfect venue in which to launch a book of curiosities.
It’s an institution which I’ve refereed to in the past as one of the city centre’s “holy trinity” of cultural landmarks, and now that it is also home to the demonic carving steeped in folklore it was the obvious choice.
But as well as the venue, I also had to enlist the help of some…
Special guests for Ghosts of Wales Live!
I was joined for the occasion by the always-amazing Lotus Sisters Belly Dancers (pictured), who made an extra special effort for their performance by creating these snazzy new witch-themed outfits.
If you haven’t seen them live, be sure to check them out – especially the sword balancing act!
Also in attendance were my good friends from Cymru Paranormal, a Wales-wide paranormal investigation group who conduct scientifically-based ghost hunts in some of the country’s “most haunted” places.
Swansea Museum has long had a reputation for being haunted, and now that it has the supposedly-cursed Swansea Devil in residence, it seemed like the perfect time to conduct an investigation of our own. The results of their experiments will be revealed soon.
Hidden Secrets of the Swansea Devil
The room was full of guests for the book launch, and I’d like to wish a huge thank you to everyone who made the effort to join me for the occasion.
In particular, there were those who had first-hand accounts of their own relating to the Swansea Devil. One lady, who was even kind enough to bring a photo along, once live – LIVED! – inside the original building on which he was poised.
In the photograph (above) you can see him peering out from above the open window of the bicycle shop in the centre, from where he would once have had an unobstructed view of St Mary’s church.
My next book, a collection of Welsh ghost stories, is due to be released in March 2020. Check back soon for details of the next spooky event!