The Skirrid Mountain Inn by C.M. Saunders
There are not many more desolate, beautiful, and beguiling places on earth than the Black Mountains of the Brecon Beacons, where the peaks penetrate the heavens and a perpetual mist crawls down the mountainsides. But in the shadow of these mountains lies an even more mysterious place, this one made by the hands of man, The Skirrid Mountain Inn.
Located in the tiny village of Llanfihangel Crucorney near Abergavenny, the historic Skirrid Mountain Inn claims to be the oldest pub in Wales, dating back to the year 1110. This date is sometimes disputed, as the building's architecture is more akin to 16th or 17th Century design. But even if that's the case, in all probability an earlier watering hole once stood on the same site which was then renovated meaning that in all likelihood, at least sections of the building are much older. One thing that cannot be disputed is that the place has character. The exposed oak beams are said to be fashioned from old ship's timber, and many of it's wooden window and door frames are considered to be of original construction. During Skirrid's existence, countless kings, princes and nobility have stayed there and the Great Bard, Shakespeare himself, is said to have taken inspiration from the place. One of the most popular tales is how the Welsh rebel Owain Glyndwr used the inn as a base in the early 15th Century, rallying his forces in the cobblestoned courtyard in opposition to the rule of King Henry IV.
The inn was later used as a Court of Law, where criminals were charged with crimes such as trespassing and sheep rustling. As petty as they now seem, capital punishment was imposed for certain offences, which reputedly led to as many as 182 people being hanged there. The hanging beam, complete with deep grooves worn by the rope, is still firmly in place over the well of the main staircase. The inn was allegedly a favourite haunt of the notorious 'Hanging Judge' Jeffreys, who travelled the country living up to his name at every opportunity. It is said that he carried out mass executions at Skirrid on the king's orders in the wake of the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion (so-called because it involved the protestant Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of the catholic King Charles II, rather than having any ties to the county of Monmouthshire). The condemned cell is now a bathroom, and is haunted by the ghost of a bloody, one-eyed convict, who stabbed himself to death rather than face the hangman’s noose. Many people have felt a malevolent presence on the staircase beneath the hanging beam, and it is speculated that this could be the ghost of an anguished victim, or even the hangman himself, who perhaps is still to satisfy his blood lust. The ghost of Judge Jeffreys himself has also been seen at the inn since his premature death from liver disease in 1869, apparently looking for the next felon to send to the gallows.
There is a graveyard adjacent to the property which is the last resting place of a woman called Fanny Price, who worked at Skirrid and died from consumption in 1873 in her thirties. She is said to be one of the main culprits of the ghostly goings-on, and has been known to sneak up behind guests and whisper her name in their ears. Whether or not Fanny Price is the white lady, who also haunts the property and is identifiable by the rustling of her dress and the lingering smell of antiquated perfume, is open to debate. Some other non-paying guests also have names. They include a local sheep rustler called John Crowther, who has made many appearances throughout the establishment, and a clergyman called Father Henry Vaughn, who's presence is said to be benign and comforting. In the interests of full disclosure, I can find no trace of a Father Henry Vaughn in any personal accounts or official documents prior to a 2002 edition of the TV show Most Haunted, during which he was named by the self-proclaimed spirit medium Derek Acorah. Acorah was later discredited and left the show under a cloud after a very public fall-out with presenter Yvette Fielding. John Crowther was also name-checked by Akorah in the same episode but conversely, there is a record of a John Crowther being executed at Skirrid for the crime of sheep rustling.
People sometimes see strange moving shadows and faces at the windows, orbs of light, and cold spots, a tell-tale sign of supernatural activity, are frequently experienced for which no logical explanation can be found. Helmeted figures have also been spotted, as well as a ghostly cat. But perhaps the most bizarre claims of all involve none other than the infamous Rudolph Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy in the Nazi Party. He spent considerable time in nearby Maindiff Court Military Hospital during his years as a prisoner of war before being sent to Nuremberg in October 1945, and his ghost is sometimes said to be seen on the mountain trails around Skirrid. Fittingly, the name itself is taken from the word 'ysgyryd,' Welsh for 'shiver.' The legend goes that during the crucifixion of Jesus, the mountain itself showed it's anger by shaking and breaking into two, creating Ysgyryd Fawr (Great Shiver) and Ysgyryd Fach (Little Shiver).
Maybe all the death, destruction and misery to take place there and thereabouts is why Skirrid Mountain Inn has become known as one of the most haunted locations in the whole of Britain.
It's reputation is such that along with the aforementioned Most Haunted, it has also hosted featured on Extreme Ghost Stories (2006) and been the subject of numerous independent investigations by various paranormal groups and individuals. One of these is 53-year old Janet Bingham from Gloucester, who spent years hosting events for some of the bigger paranormal groups in the UK. She says, “The Skirrid is extremely well known in paranormal circles. We had to book a good six months in advance to hire it. I've been there five or six times in total. I haven't been there for a couple of years now, but as far as I am aware it is still open to the public. I only have personal experience from the location which of course, I cannot prove. I remember it was one of the very few places I saw a full bodied apparition. It was an old man sitting in the bar area. I only saw him as my camera flash went off, which was unfortunately not pointing in that direction!”
“I also felt very uneasy in both of the bedrooms upstairs, and in vigils noises have been heard and shadows seen. But again, the use of digital recorders, cameras, and ouija boards have given us no concrete evidence to actually take home with us. I think it is so active because of its history and the many deaths that have occurred there. I do feel there is evidence to be had. But as they say, investigating is a little like fishing. It's all about being in the right place at the right time.”
Other people have been more fortunate. Or less fortunate, depending how you look at it. One of the more commonly-told tales surrounding the inn concerns a woman who visited one day with a friend. As they approached, the woman began to suffer from a sudden and inexplicable panic attack. She was ushered inside the inn, where she sat down and was eventually calmed by staff. However, her ordeal was just beginning. Soon, she began to feel that she was being slowly strangled and passed out. She was taken outside where she regained consciousness, but was very shaky and uncomfortable. It was agreed that the woman should go home. Later, she was horrified to find a thin red mark, like the burn of a rope, developing around her neck. This was no isolated incident. Countless visitors have complained of shortness of breath, anxiety, and feeling a choking sensation. Yet another guest left in the middle of the night, her hair still wet, claiming that unseen hands had held her under the water when she was taking a bath.
When the inn was put on the market in 2002, the outgoing landlady Heather Grant told BBC Wales, “There has been lots of spooky goings-on since I've been here. When I first moved in I have to confess that I was pretty unnerved. We have one lady ghost who died of consumption, but there is no bad feelings around her. But we have another, a man, who comes up the stairs, and there isn't a nice feeling when he is about. The regulars of the pub see things happening too and once, when my father stayed, he was woken by a dark figure standing at the bottom of the bed. He won't stay here on his own now. I had a buyer and it was all about to go through, but then the haunting got really bad. There were glasses flying about and all sorts. I think the ghosts want me to stay.”
Flying glasses and moving objects are indicative of poltergeist activity. The word 'poltergeist' is German for 'noisy spirit,' and is one of the most common types of haunting. Numerous other stories that could be attributed to poltergeists have come out of Skirrid over the years. Doors inexplicably shaking in their frames or slamming shut by themselves are especially common, as are peculiar knocking sounds and unexplained footsteps. A more recent tale is that of the ten pound note with three pound coins on top of it that travelled across the bar on its own accord for fully three minutes before dropping to the ground before a group of astonished onlookers.
Sarah Klockner is another paranormal researcher who investigated the inn in October 2014. She said, “We were setting up and one of my colleagues came out of room one and saw a figure on the landing of the floor above. We decided as a group that we'd all sleep in the same room, and we finally went to bed at about 5am. At about 6.30 I woke up to voices coming from the bar/restaurant area. It sounded like a bloody party. I looked at one of the girls and realised that she could hear it too, and we assumed it was cleaning staff. But later that morning, we spoke to the landlord and he said no staff arrived until about 9am. So who or what did we hear?”
Of course, sceptics could argue that all these stories are just that. Stories. But Skirrid does boast a particularly long, grim and bloody history, and it has a lot more of these 'stories' attached to it than virtually anywhere else in Wales. If, for arguments sake, we say that 99% of these experiences are the result of natural phenomena, honest mistakes, fevered imaginations or plain old lies, what about the remaining 1%? That would be all it takes to prove the existence of the paranormal. Given it's history and reputation, if anywhere in the world is genuinely haunted, it is Skirrid Mountain Inn.
One final thing. For centuries it has been a tradition in Wales for pub owners to fill a tin tankard full of ale, what they call 'The Devil's Cup,' and leave it on the doorstep outside in the hope it will appease resident spirits and keep evil at bay. It is a tradition upheld at Skirrid, for obvious reasons. Yet when the landlord retrieves the tankard each night, some of the ale is always missing. The owners say they hope it's the devil drinking it but of course, some shrewd local or passer-by could be helping himself to a free drink every night!
Skirrid Mountain Inn is open for business, promising, “A friendly welcome, comfortable rooms, good beer and hearty meals.” What they don't tell you is that should you stay there, you might also have a paranormal experience.
Watch Skirrid on Most Haunted and decide for yourself: