Ghostly Pembrokeshire Stories

By Terry John Witch

Many of us like nothing better than to be entertained on a dark winter’s night by ghost stories that curdle the blood and chill us to the bone - and Pembrokeshire has a wealth of scary tales.

Many of these centre around Halloween, the night when ghosts and demons stalk the night hours. In the past, local people kept to their houses after dark or, if they had to be out, hurried home before midnight. They feared meeting the Hwch Ddu Gwta, the Tailless Black Sow, which haunted the countryside and seized souls to carry off to the underworld.  It could be encountered almost anywhere, a huge beast with red eyes and a black, scorched-looking skin, from which there was no escape should someone encounter it.

It may have been the Hwch Ddu Gwta that haunted the banks of a steam near Narberth, although some versions of the legend describe a large black cow. Whatever it was, it terrified local people to such an extent that after dark no one would cross the bridge that spanned the stream. One brave local, full of alcohol after an evening session at a tavern, decided to ride his horse fell-pelt across the bridge in defiance of the story. Just to be certain of not seeing the beast he kept his eyes closed and his head down as he galloped towards the crossing. Unfortunately his steed missed the bridge completely and fell into the river, throwing him into the icy waters. When he surfaced, spluttering and gasping, there was the beast on the opposite bank, glaring straight at him. Terrified, he fled on foot back to the safety of the tavern, his screams waking people in every house he passed. It took him many months to recover from the shock and he never again ventured out during the night hours.

It was not only the Hwch Ddu Gwta that roamed abroad during the winter evenings. A sight to freeze the heart was the pack of phantom hounds, which first appeared each year on Halloween night and then on occasional nights throughout the succeeding months until the following Easter. They usually appeared whenever stormy winds tossed the trees and tore ragged gaps in the clouds, racing through the skies from the north, their howling plainly audible above the crash of the gale. When they reached a hill top near Haverfordwest on which was perched the ancient ramparts of an Iron Age fort, they circled above it before heading off to find innocent souls to drag off to Hell.

The Devil himself appeared on Halloween night, eager to seize those who had recently died and who during their lifetime had made a pact with him, selling their souls in return for something they most desired. However much they had benefited from the pact, and however much they might repent of it, there was no escape. At some point during the funeral Satan would appear to haul away the body and soul of the victim, leaving behind a stench of sulphur.

One man who sold his soul for power and riches was John Meyrick, who in return became Chief Justice of South Wales. His body disappeared from the room in which it lay, leaving behind a charred and blistered coffin and the smell of brimstone.

One elderly man living at Carew, who had led a life of wickedness, was so alarmed by this story that he inserted a clause in his will insisting that he should be cremated after his death. The ashes were to be taken to the top of Carew Church, where they were to be riddled through a sieve and allowed to blow away on the wind, so that the Devil could not take him.

An equally terrifying prospect was a glimpse of Lady Joan Mansell, who was feared during her lifetime for her cruelty and selfishness and who, after her death, still horrified the people of South Pembrokeshire. Each year on the longest night of winter she could be seen travelling at high speed in her carriage across the countryside between Tenby and Bosherston.  The horses pulling the carriage were all headless, as were the two coachmen and Lady Joan herself. As the apparition reached Samson’s Cross a mile from Bosherston, it disappeared in a flash of flame, leaving behind the sound of rapidly diminishing hoof-beats.

Categories:History, Pembrokeshire

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