If you have had the pleasure or even held a desire of visiting the lush green valleys of South Wales, you won’t need me to tell you that the brooding mountains, weather-beaten coastlines, and dark, sinister lakes have the power to stir your spirit and free the mind. It is a land where legends prosper, where spoken tradition has ensured that the past has never been forgotten through the telling of folklore and legend and is the haunt of many different entities.
Here are ten of the creepiest folklore stories of Ghosts, Witches, Goblins, Phantoms and Fae that have grown as old as the hills themselves and are still told this day in the area by the wise elders that know the worth of paying attention to ancient lore.
Legend has it that in Cwm Pwca, which translates as “Valley of the Goblin” a certain sort of goblin named “Pwca” existed. Mythological creatures, they were thought to have a menacing shapeshifting capability, frequently beginning in the form of a rabbit, horse, cat, goat or dog but at all times black. Said to have the influence to bring terrible fortune, people would be filled with dread if one intersected their path for dread that the “Pwca” would curse them. Pucks Valley in Clydach Gorge was so named because this is one of the areas that he was reputed to hang out.
The name was given to a variety of English fairies, but the stories in Wales are found to be very similar and across vast areas of locality varying very little in detail. Each account will be interchangeable with another with the only difference being the alteration of local names for Pwca.
The story goes that a peasant who is returning from his work (or sometimes he is returning from a fair) in the dark, sees the lit lantern travelling in front of him. He sees that it is a dusky little figure carrying a lantern or a candle over its head and so he follows it for several miles. Suddenly he finds himself on the brink of a frightful cliff. From this height, he can hear below him a foaming torrent of water. At the same time, the little goblin holding the lantern bursts out laughing with a malicious and evil cackle as he extinguishes out the light leaving the poor traveller stranded and left lost in the dark.
2. Old Magw the Witch
Historical accounts suggest to us that Welsh Witches would be conceivably misunderstood and misrepresented often in the middle ages. The term “witch” has had many meanings to many people over the years., For most of the Middle Ages, the word would have described someone who was simply a local healer, maybe someone who mixed herbal poultices and medicines, or perhaps they used charms or spells for healing cattle and other farm animals.
A law in 1563 made witchcraft a capital offence, so from that point onwards more and more people would be called out as being witches as they were universally feared.
Commonly this was simply a convenient way of labelling some ill-fated woman who was unlike everybody else – or, occasionally it would be used as a way of exacting revenge when a wise man or wise woman failed to cure an illness or heal a wounded animal.
The most feared Clydach Gorge Witch was said to be that of Old Magw. A teacher employed at the Ironworks school in Clydach by the manager Edward Frere, Old Magw was reputed to be a vicious, wicked woman with merciless means of dealing out the most severe punishments to children who were late for school or defiant. Widely feared by local folk she was reputed to curse your plants in the garden if you maddened her.
3.The Maddened Ghost of John Dawson
Another teacher reputedly a harsh tyrant at the ironworks school was a man called John Dawson who was reputed to have three pets that he kept close by his side at all times - a black jackdaw, a cat, and a welsh terrier. Disliked by many because of his nasty temper and harsh ways, Dawson would walk daily from home and back to work across the mountain from Twyn Wenallt, however, one day, he just disappeared.
Assumed that he had drowned in a nearby pond, locals in search of his body recovered a sack from the water with the three pets dead inside. However, Dawson was never to be seen again, and no trace of his body was found. The apparition of a figure wearing “old fashioned clothing” and a hat that “dated back to the Seventeenth Century,” has been described high up on Gilwern Hill near the old quarry pits, known as the Tyla. It is whispered amongst locals that this is the ghost of John Dawson, perhaps resolute to tell the story of his murder?
The ghosts of departed mortals usually are known to the witness however some terrifying ones would be of those seeking moralistic resolution. One story goes that some men were drinking in an Inn in Newport when one of the men dared another to go into the nearby charnel house (church vault where corpses would be kept) and fetch a skull. He accepted the challenge and took the skull back to the Inn, where for an hour or so the men debated over their beer as to whether the skull belonged to a male or a female. After a jolly hour, the man returned the skull to where he had found it only once he was alone an immense blast of icy wind grasped him, mauling and hauling him about so much that his teeth chattered in his head. Once he got home, his wife told him that his cane which was hanging up in the room had been beating itself against the wall in a frantic manner and convinced the original owner of the skull had come to get him he swore he would never do such a deed again.
4.The Gwyllgi and the Cwm Annwn (Phantom Dogs)
A spectral black dog ghost has been witnessed by many people in Wales, but they do vary in their consequence. In Welsh folklore, the black dog is usually a night-time apparition, often said to be associated with the Devil or a Hellhound (Cwn Annwn) however the is another dog that has a distinct difference. The Gwyllgi or Dog of Darkness was a spirit dog of terrible shape and size, described as “larger than a steed nine winters old” and rather like a Mastiff with fiery breath and glowing red eyes and an unearthly howl. It can be partly human with the limbs of a dog. The Gwyllgi was sighted around coastal areas of Wales and was not universally classed as an omen of death if seen, unlike the Cwm Annwn which has clear connotations with a warning of death. It is described to be larger than a normal dog and often has large, glowing eyes. Black dogs are almost universally regarded as malevolent. Interestingly once smuggling became unprofitable, the Gwylgi was seen less and less.
The Cwn Annwn or hounds of hell were said to be a pack of sky-bound ghostly hounds to lead out at night by the King of the Otherworld to hunt the souls of the damned. According to Welsh folklore, their growling is loudest when they are at a distance, and as they draw nearer, it grows softer and softer. In legend, the hounds are sometimes accompanied by a fearsome hag called Mallt-y-Nos, "Matilda of the Night." Mallt-y-Nos drives the hounds onward with shrieks and wails, which some say are evil and malicious in nature. Apparently once a beautiful but wicked Norman aristocrat who loved hunting so much that she said, "If there is no hunting in heaven, I would rather not go!" She is said to have regretted making this wish and now cries out in despair as she hunts forever in the night sky. It is not known if she has been seen in this area but no wonder the sighting of the black dog on more than one occasion would fill the locals with fear.
5.Guardian of The Graves
In Llanelli Church yard the ghost of a dog white dog used to be often seen. Said to have once been owned by a local man from Crickhowell, by the name of Colonel Sandeman.