Haunted Wales: A Guide to Welsh Ghostlore, by Richard Holland
Haunted Wales, by Peter Underwood
More Anglesey Ghosts, by Bunty Austin
From the publishers’ websites:
Haunted Wales: A Guide to Welsh Ghostlore: ‘More ghosts and goblins I think were prevalent in Wales than in England or any other country.’ So wrote researcher William Howells way back in 1831 – and the author of this compelling collection believes he was right. Wales is a fearfully haunted place. It abounds in castles and mansions, ancient churches, lonely lanes and crossroads, even bare mountainsides which can lay claim to a resident spook or two. For the first time, this haunted heritage has been explored in depth. Richard Holland has carried out a careful study of original sources, delving into old books, journals, Eisteddfod transactions and unpublished essays. His research has revealed insights into Welsh folklore and resurrected ghost stories which have long been forgotten. The ghosts of Wales are of great age, their manners and appearance hinting at beliefs older than the oldest books. They are bold and memorable, striking in appearance, forceful in character, often terrifying and sometimes even dangerous. Prepare for a fascinating county-by-county tour of hundreds of ghostly encounters from one of the most haunted countries in the world.
Haunted Wales: A fascinating collection of ghost stories from all over Wales brought together by Peter Underwood, an acknowledged expert on the paranormal. This book covers not only more well-known hauntings but also some more recent, and highly surprising, sightings. In his wide and varied experience Peter has handled objects which were alleged to have been moved by paranormal means and heard a recording of reportedly paranormal music. Rather more significantly he has met and talked with many, many people who have either seen or heard or even felt a ghostly presence. Welsh folklore and daily life have long been visited by occult phenomenon. Told in chilling detail these stories will delight paranormal enthusiasts of all ages.
More Anglesey Ghosts: Bunty Austin has always been fascinated by ghosts. When she came to Anglesey (Mon) years ago, she was overwhelmed by the fund of such stories about people and places – and the matter of fact acceptance that there were such things. Being Celts, the islanders seemed to have strong psychic powers. Collecting stories about haunted houses, lanes on which ghost sightings were a part of everyday life and old memories passed down from generation to generation, fragmented experiences became a wealth of folklore over the years. More Anglesey Ghosts is a further selection from Bunty’s extensive collection of ghostly goings-on.
The History Press and Amberley Publishing continue to produce high-quality books of interest to the paranormal enthusiast. Under review are three that deal with the ghosts and folklore of Wales.
Richard Holland, editor of Paranormal magazine until its demise, and several earlier books on aspects of haunted Wales including the amusingly-titled Wales of the Unexpected, has produced a model of what a ghost gazetteer should look like. He has ranged widely in the antiquarian literature, and has traced each story back to its source. To allow the reader to follow up his entries he has included references and an extensive bibliography.
Accounts are restricted to those originally collected before the Second World War, to keep the book to a manageable size, and he has bypassed later versions written up by undependable authors. One result of this policy is the omission of some well-known stories that he has not been able to track back to reliable early sources and where he does not trust more modern ones. Given the extensive quantity of stories that he could have included, he has confined himself to English-language sources, though he adds that many of the Welsh-language accounts have been ably translated into English anyway.
He begins with an overview of the categories of paranormal he has included. Despite the title, it is not restricted to ghosts, encompassing apparitions of the living and of animals, poltergeists, and all sorts of folkloric beings. There is a section on ghosts’ motivations for haunting, and one outlining the major collectors on whose work he has drawn. The bulk of the book comprises a well illustrated county-by-county tour (taking a rather eccentric clockwise route beginning in Flintshire and ending in Powys) which is well-written and clearly laid out, making the text easy to navigate. The current (at time of writing) county boundaries have been adopted.
Very welcome is the presence of an index, a rarity in this kind of book, divided by named ghosts and places. Also included are a glossary of Welsh unfamiliar terms used and a thematic index which allows the reader to find with ease topics on, say, headless ghosts or links to fairy lore. Perhaps the book should have been called Haunted Old Wales, considering the absence of post-war accounts. There is a complementary volume to be written on more recent ghost stories (and possibly one examining untranslated Welsh-language accounts), but within its terms of reference it is doubtful if this one could be bettered.
Peter Underwood’s Haunted Wales might sound as if could be that complementary volume detailing recent cases, but despite the confusingly similar title to Holland’s book, this is actually an almost straight reprint of Underwood’s 1978 Ghosts of Wales with a few minor editorial adjustments. No material has been added, and the only item in the bibliography published after 1978 is the author’s own 2009 Haunted Gardens as it includes two Welsh locations which appeared in the earlier work. Haunted Wales is organised alphabetically by place-name, with the county added, and the result of a more or less straight reprint is that he has fallen foul of the Welsh predilection for altering boundaries. That quibble aside, Underwood always writes elegantly, and is a pleasure to read. Given the large quantity of material from which they had to choose, it is unsurprising that there is not much overlap between this and Holland‘s book. Both are worthy of a place on the shelf of anyone interested in Wales’s paranormal heritage.
Richard Holland expresses surprise that Anglesey has such a paucity of ghost stories, and speculates that this is perhaps because it keeps its secrets. That has not been a problem for Bunty Austin, who has now written three books on the island’s ghosts. Being based there helps, and Bunty bach, as she is often affectionately called, is clearly gregarious, able to encourage people to open up to her and tell their stories. This makes More Anglesey Ghosts far different in style to the other two books, being chatty and full of direct speech most probably reproduced from memory.
The author, an ex-head teacher, crafts each account with an eye to its narrative structure, and that is a problem for anyone hoping to use the book as a guide. The chapters are essentially anecdotes, and it is disconcerting to read the line “Those are the facts that I took to Peggy (padded out a bit by me to make a good story).” Another account given to her which she transcribes she has been told is “embellished a little”. Such throwaway statements make the reader wonder how much the incidents recounted might have been shaped in the service of telling a “good story“. Whatever the status of the contents, it is an extremely enjoyable read, though of limited use either to the researcher or to visitors, and rather out of place in the Amberley range of ghost guides.
Amberley also publishes Anglesey Ghosts, by Bunny Austin. The History Press publishes Haunted Swansea and Beyond; Haunted Cardiff and the Valleys; and Hunted Newport and the Valleys, all by ‘South Wales Paranormal Research’.