One of the perks of a travel blogging conference is the opportunity to explore a new area. So I was happy that this year’s Traverse conference was in the Welsh capital of Cardiff, a place I had only visited briefly in the past. I soon discovered that Cardiff was a vibrant city full of green spaces and interesting architecture, and I jumped at the chance to go on one of the trips to the surrounding countryside that Visit Wales had arranged. Together with three other bloggers I went for a tour of Glamorgan’s Ghostly Vale with Shân’s Wales Tours. We were about to discover the Heritage Coast, a starkly beautiful area teeming with history, ghosts and real life tragedies.
Into the Ghostly Vale
Wales is said to be the most haunted country in the world, and the Ghostly Vale its most haunted region. There was certainly no shortage of ghosts on this tour, a non-stop parade starting with the eccentric 4th Earl of Bute who frequents Cardiff Castle. Shân was a lively raconteur, with a constant flow of stories. She joked that there were occasions when she seemed to summon up the spirits herself. As if to prove the point, we turned the corner and giant waves lashed up over the sea wall and onto the road in front of us!
Everywhere we went had its own tale to tell. There was the field where an (allegedly) unfaithful wife was buried up to her neck, and the road where a traveller rescued a ghostly head from a group of football playing demons. Then there were the atmospheric ruins of Ogmore Castle, with their legend of a mysterious White Lady.
The most spooky place of all was St Donat’s Castle. This is the domain of Lady Stradling, who was murdered in the castle, and who is always beautifully dressed when she materialises. Unfortunately her appearance tends not to be appreciated because her visits invariably presage a death in the family. St Donat’s has several other ghosts, including a dog with bright red eyes. However Lady Stradling is the “senior” phantom, and she is scornful of the more recent apparitions.
The Glamorgan Heritage Coast
This trip wasn’t just about ghosts. Shân has an extensive knowledge of Welsh history, and she pointed out abandoned villages, old wells and prehistoric sites as we passed. She told us about famous shipwrecks and about aristocrats whose interest in the supernatural and taste for laudanum may not have been unconnected. Then we stopped for lunch at the historic Plough and Harrow, a 14th century pub whose bar was once used to store the bodies of shipwreck victims while their coffins were being built. Not surprisingly the pub has a few ghosts of its own.
Shân built up a picture of Wales in an earlier era. “They were harsh times,” she said. Justice was cruel and landlords were pitiless. Pirates and plunderers abounded, the seas were treacherous and the lonely roads a peril for the traveller. I thought of all this as I stood on the cliff at Nash Point, where the steam vessel Frolic sank in 1831, losing all 78 people on board. It was a wild place: the wind whistled in my ears, and blew so fiercely I could hardly keep my balance. Far below were the sandbanks and jagged rocks that led ships to their doom. No wonder there are so many ghosts around here.