The Skirrid Mountain Inn sits in the shadow of the hills and mountains of Monmouthshire.
With views looking over Skirrid Fawr and surrounded by green fields the inn is steeped in history. But the pub has become renowned for its supernatural reputation.
Landlord and Barry native Geoff Fiddler said he became fascinated by the inn’s history. Back in 2005 the 62-year-old owned a pub in Hertfordshire when he said he and his wife had a “hankering” to return to Wales.
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After seeing seeing the Skirrid Mountain Inn in one of the trade papers and becoming intrigued by the site’s history and reputation Geoff and his wife made the move back this side of the border.
“I only knew about the myths. Going back to when I was a kid even then people would mention about the Skirrid having a ruinous past, a spooky past. It’s always had a reputation for being eerie,” Geoff said.
“It’s one of those places where you’re comfortable as soon as you walk through the door. You can feel the atmosphere immediately.”
There are claims that the inn was used as a rallying point for local supporters of the revolt against Henry IV led by legendary warrior Owain Glyndwr. A popular legend has it that he rallied his troops in the inn’s courtyard before raiding nearby settlements that were sympathetic to the English.
It is even rumoured to have inspired Shakespeare through a practice that is still carried out at the inn today. Every night the pub puts out a small tankard of beer at the front door in an old custom to “ward away the devil.” The Celtic tradition is known as the ‘pwca cup’ in Wales, with the idea being that the devil will take a sip of the ale from the cup and move on.
“There’s a tenuous link that Shakespeare might have used that pwca cup to name Puck in a Midsummer Night’s Dream with ‘pwca’ being Anglicised to ‘Puck,'” Geoff said. He added that many of these stories are word of mouth and have been passed down from generation to generation.
But, along with these myths, stories of ghostly figures and unexplained phenomena also surround the pub. It has a reputation for being haunted by a number of ghosts and being the scene for unexplained occurrences.
“The main ‘resident ghost’ is a lady called Fanny Price who died in the 1800s. Her gravestone is perfectly visible just 300m away up the road,” Geoff said.
“Before she’s seen or sensed there’s a strong smell of lavender perfume – the kind you associate with your grandmother, that sort of musty, lavender smell – and crinkling of a dress.”
Fanny is thought to have been spotted around a dozen times since Geoff has been at the inn. Believed to have been in her 30s when she died, it is thought she left children behind.
“When sightings come she is almost ever-present in one of the rooms upstairs.
“Sometimes, when ladies take off their jewellery to go to sleep, they say they wake up and it’s been re-arranged, almost in a childlike manner in a kaleidoscope of rings and earrings and so on.
“That’s the one that gets me because I’m not a fan of ghosts to be honest with you. That puts me on edge.”
Despite the myths and stories of apparitions that surround the building Geoff says that in the 16 years that he has been at the pub he has only seen a full figure once.
“It was daytime and it was the sort of figure you see on a Toby jug – a coachman with a tri-cornered hat and almost like a long, scarlet coat on.
“People always asked if I was scared and for some reason I wasn’t. The thought of it scares me but in that moment it was more amazement than fright.
“It was over in a glance and over the years I’ve tried to convince myself that I didn’t see it but I know I did.”
But that isn’t the only paranormal experience Geoff has had at the inn. He had been at the pub for just one week and was there with his step-grandson who was about four at the time and who asked to use the toilet.
“He came back seconds later and said: ‘The man in the long dress won’t let me in.’ That frightened me more than what any customer has ever said since,” Geoff said.
“We certainly wouldn’t have told him about the reputation of the pub being a four-year-old. He wouldn’t have realised that gentlemen in those days would have worn a cloak or a robe. Being a brave man that I was I said: ‘Wait until your nan comes home’.”
Geoff said he thrives on the pub’s reputation and popularity but is more interested in its history. “I’m more into the fact that people would have sat in front of this roaring fire for centuries – all different kinds of people from scallywags to lordly people,” he said.
“Though the hauntings interest me immensely you only have to walk through the door to see that it’s not a themed pub – the door itself has been hanging there for centuries.”
The inn is mainly mid-to-late 17th-century though there are some features that are thought to be from an even earlier period. The inn has three letting rooms, two of which are rumoured to have been a court room until around 1640. Room three is where the licensee would have lived. One room at the top of the stairs is thought to be a cell where people were held.
“Sometimes you go in there and could be the happiest person in the world and you come out and feel like crying,” Geoff said.
A popular claim is that the first floor of the inn was used as a court of law and that as many as 180 criminals were sentenced to death by hanging. Markings on the wooden staircase are said to be from rope marks.
“The piece de resistance is the stairwell. We’ve got a noose suspended there – just a suggestion of what may have happened. They’re oak stairs and they are dipped. It oozes character where people walk up those steps,” Geoff said.
“There’s also a great big fireplace and we’ve been told by people in the know that it’s from Tudor times – around 1570.”
Geoff said that, despite the many reports of ghostly sightings from customers, there has been just one malevolent incident at the inn.
“A lady came down dishevelled – she’d been in the bath, she was wet, and she had a coat over herself.”
The woman said she had been in the bath in Room One and that she’d been held under the water but hadn’t actually seen anything.
“The funny thing was that she said: ‘She’s tried to kill me,'” Geoff said. “Most women, if anything, would probably have said: ‘He tried to kill me’ or: ‘It tried to kill me’ because she hadn’t seen anything but she was 100% convinced that it was a woman holding her down.”
The woman left the pub soon after the incident, with Geoff saying she was distraught and shaken, but he never saw the lady again. The incident was re-enacted on the supernatural documentary series Extreme Ghost Stories.
Geoff said that, along with ghostly sightings, there have also been some other odd occurrences in the pub.
“Change on a £10 note appeared to hover above the counter and that started a chain of events where it was picked up by the local newspaper and later by what became a cult television show,” Geoff explained.
Due to the reports of apparitions and its growing reputation the inn has become extremely popular with paranormal hunting groups.
“Each group that comes in now gets more and more professional and they look at it properly. If nothing happens nothing happens,” Geoff said.
“I was with a group of paranormal hunters this week and it was the first time they’d been there and they just couldn’t stop telling me all the wonderful things they’d experienced.
“Rather a disconcerting one which isn’t very nice is a baby crying. It’s a bit unnerving and not the nicest thing you want to hear.”
With the pub now regularly attracting those seeking the paranormal Geoff believes that there could be more philosophical reasons behind their visits.
“On a real-life basis people seem to be moving away from conventional religion and looking for other things – what actually happens when we pass away?
“Maybe 100 to 150 years ago it was accepted that we go to heaven or hell so I think this upsurge in paranormal investigation is huge.”
Although he has owned the pub for 16 years now Geoff said the impact of its spooky atmosphere doesn’t wear off.
“Coming into this time of year particularly I lock up and the sign is swinging outside, the wind is blowing, and there’s only me, candles, and a fire because everyone else has gone. It just heightens your sense because you know you’re not alone.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be terrified but it’s almost like I want to speak, like I want to say: ‘Goodnight everybody.’ You know that you’re not on your own. Terror doesn’t come into it at all – it’s more like an incredible atmosphere.
“It’s so hard to put your finger on – but there’s something not right. People ask if I believe in ghosts and I say I’m not sure. But I can tell you this much – there’s something not right here.”
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