A Welsh Castle Ghost Story

In 2007, Ken and I spent two nights at the haunted Gwydir Castle in the foothills of Snowdonia, North Wales. Even though the place is called a castle, the Tudor-era structure feels more like a manor house or mansion than the towering medieval fortress ruins that dot the region.

Gwydir Castle in north Wales is a lovely bed and breakfast—and home to several ghosts. ©Laurel Kallenbach

(If you’re a castle lover, northern Wales is your dream destination.) Gwydir is a private home, a museum, and a bed-and-breakfast (with two rooms)—all historically decorated in antiques.

Yet, this charming Tudor “castle” has a ruined past. Built around 1500, it was the ancestral home of the powerful Wynn family, descended from the Kings and Princes of Gwynedd. It was rat-infested, crumbling and damp—and being used as a night club when Judy Corbett and her husband-to-be Peter Welford bought it in 1994.

There are 10 acres of gardens at the historic Gwydir Castle. Peacocks roam the grounds. At night, their haunting cries seem to call “help, help!” ©Laurel Kallenbach

(For a vividly written account of Judy and Peter’s process of bringing Gwydir Castle back to life, read Judy’s memoir, Castles in the Air, available on Amazon.)

The couple had little money but a passion for history, so they spent years living in a construction zone doing much of the painstaking historical restoration themselves. In the process, they encountered a number of ghosts with hundreds of years worth of sitings.

Meet the Ghosts

There’s a female spirit who is reportedly a victim of her lover, one of the Wynn baronets, who stuffed her body behind the wall in a passageway—or possibly in a secret enclosure within the wall called a Priest’s Hole. (A Priest’s Hole was a hiding place for Roman Catholic priests during the turbulent Tudor years when Britain’s “official” religion vascillated between Protestantism and Catholicism, depending on the monarch.)

This behind-the-wall Priest’s Hole was possibly the hiding place of a murdered mistress in the 1600s. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Many people report a foul smell in one of the house passageways—the centuries-old stench of the woman’s corpse. Ken and I smelled nothing, but the passageway certainly feels colder than the rest of the house.

There’s also a ghost of Sir John Wynn—possibly the murderer—who is often seen on the spiral staircase. Gwydir even has a ghost dog, a large one. Judy and Peter actually dug up the skeleton of a large dog years ago in the basement.

Ken and I didn’t do any actual “ghost hunting” at night. Instead, we slept cozily in our four-poster canopy bed in the Duke of Beaufort’s Chamber, a lovely large room furnished with antiques and a private bath in the hall.

Our castle room: The Duke of Beaufort’s Chamber. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Except for the bedrooms, the castle does not use electricity (to keep it authentic). And, at night, the alarm system is activated, so one doesn’t want to creep about and wake the whole house. Besides, why would ghosts appear only at night?

The closest I came to an apparition was when the castle’s two large lurchers (a British breed of dog I’d never heard of before) bounded through the breakfast room. A moment later, a third dog nosed through the breakfast room door and streaked across the room. But, there were only two dogs that I knew of! Could the third have been the ghost dog wanting to join the living pair in play?

Malevolent Lady Margaret

The wisteria-surrounded doorway into the B&B section of Gwydir Castle. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There is (or at least was) one sinister spirit at Gwydir Castle, a woman who haunted Judy for months early during the renovation. Lady Margaret followed Judy everywhere and triggered a series of “accidents” apparently intended to harm Peter.

Fortunately, Lady Margaret Cave—whose good nature darkened radically after the birth of her son in the early 1600s—has not appeared since. She was married to the philanderer Sir John Wynn, so perhaps being married to him sent her into an eternal rage against the man of the house.

Dream Come True: Sleeping in a Castle

There’s nothing nightmarish about staying at Gwydir. In fact, spending two days among its archways, mullioned and wisteria-covered windows, and Tudor-style beams was a dream come true. It’s a little like sleeping in a museum—a fantasy of mine since I was 10 and read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

The dining room is lavishly restored with its original wood panels, which were spirited off to America by William Randolph Hearst in the 1920s. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The castle dining room has a story so long and fascinating I can’t even go into it here. Suffice it to say that its glorious Tudor panels were bought by William Randolph Hearst in the 1920s and stored at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for decades. Now they’re magnificently back in the castle.

Gwydir Castle is three miles from the resort town of Betws-y-Coed and 12 miles from the medieval walled town of Conwy, so it’s a great B&B to stay at while exploring the North Wales castles. It’s also within walking distance of the market town of Llanrwst, which has train and bus connections plus several good restaurants and pubs.

Gwydir Castle is open to the public (admission fee) April through October. Check for times.

P.S. I highly recommend Judy Corbett’s book, Castles in the Air: The Restoration Adventures of Two Young Optimists and a Crumbling Old Mansion (Random House, UK, 2004). I bought a copy while staying at the castle, and I read it on train rides across Wales and on the plane home.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Spooky Postscript

In gathering photos for this blog entry, I noticed that a number of them have round, ghostly patches of light. At first I thought they were shiny flash spots or reflections, yet most of them are against backgrounds with no reflective surfaces. Then I thought they might be dust motes or raindrops on the camera lens.

But they appear in indoor photos and those taken on sunny days. Could they be blobs of ectoplasm? Were Gwydir’s spirits dancing around us?

You decide. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Here I am in the lovely breakfast room. Note the halo around the unlit candlestick behind me. For comparison, the candle on the table is lit—and has a simple glow. Methinks there’s a spirit lurking. ©Ken Aikin

Gwydir Gate, with some white, round lights. Are they ghost entities or merely raindrops on the camera lens? ©Ken Aikin

36 thoughts on “A Welsh Castle Ghost Story

  1. what a charming manor house! what I want to see is haunted armor!
    (But maybe that was Scooby Doo…) Nonetheless a marvelous looking place, and yes Wales is amazing!

    • That’s right, you were in Wales years ago too! The castles are incredible! I can’t remember if there was armor at Gwydir, but if there was, it didn’t move!

    • It was certainly a more scenic and romantic alternative to the usual B&B or same-old, same-old hotel.
      That said, the plumbing is a bit crotchety at Gwydir, and doors and floors and stairs tend to creak. And there’s minimal lighting in the rooms (which I loved because at night it added to the ambiance). However, not everyone is comfortable staying in places such as these. Plus, Gwydir Castle does not allow children under 12 to stay there.

  2. What a delightful way to start off Halloween! All the elements of spookiness we all love. The story of their renovation of the castle does sound like a fun read and I’ll check it out. Seems like you and your husband have lots of fun in your travels–

    • I have a feeling you’d like “Castles in the Air.” I’ve come to realize that I love tales of nurturing old, derelict homes back to health–ala “Under the Tuscan Sun” or “A Year in Provence.” But this story has the ghost story, as well as the amazing story of the Hearst dining room.

  3. You sold me. I’m going to find this B and B the next time I’m in the olde country. What a beautiful place. Thank you for writing this on the perfect day for ghost stories. Yes, I think there might be something afoot with those lights! fabulous.

  4. A perfect post to read on Halloween, Laurel, and I’m fascinated by the globes of light, especially that one around the unlit candlestick. It felt to me that it was observing you.

  5. I have always had the yearning to get to Wales.
    Now more than ever.
    Gorgeous photos and what great stories!

    Will I ever break through the orbital pull of Boulder?!
    Clearly there is magic to be experienced across the pond.

    Cindy

  6. Laurel,

    I’m one of those people Debbie Mihal was referring to who would suggest that those orbs are probably discarnate energy of some kind. I’ve seen glowing orbs of this nature in my own backyard and their energy was benign and playful–like devas or friendly fairies. I’ve also encountered ghostly energy while doing my shamanic work of clearing property. (One Broomfield business, in particular, has a great deal of ghostly activity.)

    The castle is gorgeous and what a fantasy to stay there.

    Walk in Beauty
    Melanie

  7. I have many photos with the orbs as you see on yours, and many people believe they are indications of spirit beings made visible by digital technology, as do I. Thanks for sharing your lovely story!

  8. What fun, Laurel! I love your photos and the story of your visit (esp. The dogs 😉 ). There’s truly nothing to match a Welsh castle for inspiring ghostly tales. My own visit to several northern coast castles last year inspired a ghost story in my imagination. So I wrote it! :) I’m actually offering it for free on my website right now http://www.katharineashe.com. I’d googled the title and discovered your blog — I’m so glad!

    Happy travels!

  9. My husband and I visited Gwydir with my sister and her husband in 2010, and enjoyed it tremendously. Obviously, our interest was primarily in our family history, however the place itself is pretty amazing. even without the manor house itself, Llanwrust is a gorgeous spot to visit. The area has much to offer to those who like to hike and Kayak (my husband was very upset that his back went out before he could do the latter! I’m a bit of a kayak widow).
    We actually had a somewhat unique experience, due to Judy inadvertently overbooking, and got to stay in their private guest room at the top of that spooky spiral staircase! She was very apologetic about this, but we couldn’t have been more thrilled! Something about creeping across the main hall late at night with only a couple of flashlights made the experience that much better. No ghosts to report I’m afraid though. I am a bit of a skeptic, but I want to believe! Alas… nothing.
    I too HIGHLY recommend Judy’s book. It is beautifully written and reads more like fiction than a memoir. I have read it 3 times now (Twice before visiting and once after). It’s worth re-reading after you’ve been there.

    • How wonderful to visit such a beautiful place that was once possibly in your family! Thanks so much for commenting. And I need to dig out Castles in the Air again and re-read it!

  10. I just found out my husband and I have the same 3rd great grand father william winfield III. This brings us to the wynnes though Hannah 1672 and I have been having great fun finding things out. I will never get to england so your pictures and writings are really great. Thank you for sharing.

  11. There is definitely things you can’t explain.We visited the Castle after my wife had read “Castles in the Air”. I wandered upstairs towards the Hall and saw a large dog crossing the hall.whilst i was approaching along the corridor.On reaching the hall the dog was nowhere to be seen.
    I caught up with my wife and friends who were in the gardens and explained what i’d seen at which point my wife told me there was a ghost dog. Fascinating .

  12. While making “The Grand Tour” from Canada with children then (1987) 14 and 16, we included Gwydir Castle and Downing College, Cambridge – of course! At Gwydir, we were guided about the property and buildings by volunteers with the local historical society. Tales of the ghosts were chilling and, while passing through the chapel/dining room, where the fireplace fronts a monks’ hide, I was certain a spirit passed close enough to brush the back of my neck. One of those two children has just given me ‘Castles in the Air’.
    Thank you, Judy Corbett; well done!

    Wynn Downing (Wynn descendant on maternal side)

  13. We spent a few days in Snowdonia last summer, based in Dolgellau, and the scariest thing for me was driving on the narrow roads, sharing them with fast cars, buses, and trucks! (Most of our trip to England and Wales, we traveled by train. Much less frightening!) What a beautiful area, though! Thanks for the fun story.

    • I agree! I’ll take ghosts any day (or night) over driving on the left side of the road along windy, narrow roads where all the locals zoom like mad. And still…there are so many lovely rural areas that can only be explored by car. What to do, what to do????

  14. Does any one know how to get In touch with these people that own the castle I want to learn more about and stuff Bc the wynns are my family and so I would like to know about it

  15. Such fun traveling w/ you… loved the halo around the unlit candle, How’d you do that? How’d THEY do that?
    You look great with your page boy hair cut.
    TY best, jean

    • Thanks for reading!

      My trip to Wales was 11 years ago, but I’m glad you like the hair. I don’t have bangs now, but I keep thinking of getting them again … so thanks for the vote of confidence!

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