Snowdonia’s ghosts, ghouls and scary places

Long before Halloween became a time when things went bump in the night, the Celts of Wales celebrated the end of summer and the beginning of winter with the ancient festival of Samhain (pronounced ‘sow inn’). As the days drew shorter and the nights darker and colder, it marked a time when the boundaries between the living and the dead became blurred, and ghosts crossed over…

Snowdonia and the lands and islands around it were places where Samhain was celebrated by local people. Visit the region this autumn and explore some of the places where, according to stories, the dead still walk with the living.

The landlord of Beddgelert

In 1821 David Pritchard, the landlord of the Goat Inn in Beddgelert, died suddenly and hadn’t left a will. Soon after he was buried Goat Inn visitors heard ghostly footsteps and strange noises such as the fire being raked, and the rattling of fire irons. Then people reported seeing the landlord wandering the village and appearing near Gelert’s grave.

He terrorised everyone in the village until one night he visited a farmer called Huw. Huw asked him why he was scaring friends and neighbours in the village where he once lived. Pritchard’s ghost told the farmer he had unfinished business, and gave Huw a message for his widow.

She heard the message and followed her late husband’s instructions, lifting the hearthstone in the bar room most affected by the fire raking noises. There she discovered a pouch containing a hundred gold guineas, Pritchard’s legacy to his wife and children.

The ghost of David Pritchard was never seen again – though villagers still claim to catch sightings of the restless landlord under the tree by Gelert’s grave.

The Angelystor, Llangernyw

Legend has it that the residents of Llangernyw, a village hidden along a lonely, winding road between Abergele and Llanrwst, learn of their impending fate from a supernatural presence that lives under the boughs of a 3,000-year-old yew tree.

Each year on Halloween and 31 July the Angelystor solemnly announces, in Welsh, the names of the parish members who will die that year.

Once upon a time a resident mocked the idea of a spectre living in the grounds of the village’s medieval church and he paid a visit to the yew tree on Halloween to prove it was just a myth. Yet when he arrived at the church yard he heard a deep voice reciting names. And the first name he heard was his own.

“Hold, hold, I am not ready yet!” he cried. But the Angelystor had spoken and he died later that year.

Llangernyw church is old, yet it stands on a site that has been sacred for thousands of years. The yew tree where the Angelystor hides is believed to be the oldest living thing in Wales.

The Anglesey Arms, Caernarfon

The Anglesey Arms occupies a prime spot in Caernarfon, by the quay near Caernarfon Castle and overlooking the Menai Strait. It’s the place to be on a sunny day – but it’s not always been a pleasant spot to spend time.

Previously the busy port’s customs house, it was built near the place where prisoners were executed.

Visitors to the Anglesey Arms claim to have seen a ghostly apparition hanging by the neck in the bar, and glasses moving by themselves or hovering slightly above the tables. Upstairs, guests have heard footsteps, door handles turning and keys rattling in locks.

The ghouls of Plas Mawr, Conwy

At the centre of Conwy’s medieval walled town, the Elizabethan townhouse of Plas Mawr is reputed to be home to ghouls, the restless spirits of two people who died in tragic and freakish circumstances.

Plas Mawr’s owner was an influential merchant by the name of Robert Wynn. He had two wives, both called Dorothy. The first died from illness but the second slipped down a narrow staircase and was killed with her unborn child.

When a doctor tried but failed to save her, he sought to escape up the chimney before Wynn returned, fearful that he might blame him, but he became trapped in the chimney and suffocated.

Some believe the doctor’s body remains behind the chimney and that both he and Dorothy haunt the building to this day.

The soldiers of the Roman Steps

The Rhinog Mountains are considered Wales’s last true wilderness, and there’s no doubt it sees far fewer visitors than other parts of Snowdonia.

One of the most popular walking routes around the range’s tallest peak, Rhinog Fawr, starts by following a medieval packhorse trail known as the Roman Steps. Even though the route isn’t Roman, Romans certainly came to Snowdonia.

This might explain the local legend which says that a ghostly patrol of Roman soldiers with mules can sometimes be seen trudging up the steps. Don’t let this put you off a sighting, though: anyone following the soldiers will be led to a secret stash of gold!

Can’t get enough of ghostly goings on? Why not read this blog from the archives which we published last year – you’ll find out even more about supernatural North Wales! Love wine and spirits? This blog is scarily good too!

Snowdonia wild swimming: everything you need to know

We all know that feeling when we jump into cold water. It takes your breath away, stings your skin like sharp needles, and for a moment you can’t imagine anything more uncomfortable. Yet as quickly as the sensation hits you, it passes. A warm numbness settles over your body, then when you leave the water and reach for your towel, your skin feels hot and tingly. In fact, you feel really good!

This is just one of the attractions of wild water swimming. Read on for many more, and some great places in Snowdonia where you can try wild swimming for yourself.

Why go wild swimming?

Seasoned wild swimmers will enter cold water without a wetsuit and will regale you with the many health benefits: a sense of elation and relaxation; a soothing of aching muscles; and an all-round sensation of feeling good. What’s not to like?

Then there’s the practical side of the pursuit. You don’t need to spend lots of money on gear, and so there’s no need to lug it all with you either. It’s just you and nature in perfect harmony.

Finally, it’s a different way to explore the landscape and immerse yourself in nature; see surrounding hills and forests in a new light; plunge beneath the surface and see another world, too.

Then there’s the sense of calm isolation. Chances are, most of the time it will only be you in that cold water. Swim from the shore and feel truly alone, with only the sound of you splashing gently in the water to keep you company.

Wild swimming: how to get started

It’s well worth stating the obvious first. You need to be a good swimmer, and confident in your ability. If you’re just starting out, find a friend to go with you. Even if they sit it out on the shore, having someone nearby will help soothe any nerves you may have, and they will be able to raise the alarm if needed.

As we’ve said, you don’t need any special kit. However, if you’re just starting out it’s probably worth having a wetsuit handy. Try wild swimming with it on first, before having a go without. Also invest in a brightly coloured swimming hat and tow float (see top tips below).

Wild swimming: top five Snowdonia lakes to try

  1. Llyn Padarn, Llanberis: popular but relatively shallow lake with spectacular views all around, especially towards the Pass of Llanberis, Dolbadarn Castle and Snowdon’s lower flanks beyond. There are plenty of access points, especially on the Llanberis side, and other than a seasonal tourist boat, other watersports users tend to be paddleboarders and kayakers.
  2. Llyn Dinas, near Beddgelert: at the foot of Nant Gwynant valley, Llyn Dinas is a tranquil lake fed by waterfalls and feathered on its southern shores by ancient trees. There are a few unofficial laybys on the A498 as well as a small parking area at the lake’s southern end. The waters are quieter than Llyn Padarn but you will hear passing traffic.
  3. Llyn Llydaw, Snowdon: head up the popular Miners’ Track from Pen-y-Pass which crosses Llyn Llydaw (actually a reservoir) via a causeway. Wade in and let yourself feel small against the towering rocky massifs of the East Ridge (Y Lliwedd) and the notorious Crib Goch that flank both sides of the water.
  4. Llyn y Foel, Moel Siabod: Park at the Moel Siabod Cafe and follow the trail towards the peak, reaching Llyn y Foel in a gorgeous cwm beneath the summit. No problems with traffic noise here, and not so many bystanders as you might have at Llyn Llydaw. This is the kind of lake wild swimmers love!
  5. Llyn Cwm Silyn, Nantlle: We’ve left the most off-the-beaten track for last! In a cwm north west of the Nantlle Ridge, Llyn Cym Silyn is actually two lakes almost joined together. Grab a good map, follow minor lanes from Llanllyfni village south of Caernarfon, and have this wild spot of Snowdonia all to yourself.

Our top tips for safe open water wild swimming

  • – Don’t go wild swimming alone until you have some experience behind you
  • – Wear a brightly-coloured hat (bright orange or greens are the best) so you can be easily seen
  • – Invest in a tow float (a small buoyancy aid that you tether to your waist and trail behind you)
  • – Enter the water slowly and give your body time to get used to the cold (no running in or diving bombs here, thank you)
  • – Make sure you know the tide times if swimming in the sea or tidal waters
  • – If you get into difficulty, don’t panic. Stay calm and attract attention by raising your hand and shouting for help
  • – Always let someone know where you are going and ideally give a time for when you expect to return

Image courtesy: Swimming at LLyn Cau|©debjam/Flickr. Llyn Padarn by © Copyright Robin Drayton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Llyn Dinas by © Copyright Tony Edwards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Llyn Llydaw by John Allan / Causeway across Llyn Llydaw. Llyn y Foel by Peter Smyly / CC BY-SA. Llyn Cwm Silyn by © Copyright Chris Andrews and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.