Of spooky nights

In the dead of night, will the author dare to answer the knock on her door in the haunted Gregynog Hall, North Wales?

Gregynog Hall, North Wales

My first night at Gregynog Hall in North Wales was uneventful but exciting.

It was the dead of winter; we almost did not reach the 800-year-old country mansion because it was snowing heavily. And by the time we did make it to the expansive property — all of 750 acres — everything had turned a dazzling shade of silver. Fresh snow. Piles and piles of it covered the mansion’s gardens, courtyards, fountains, hedges and secret pathways.

Only visible was the black-and-white, timber-framed structure of the main building that rose in perfect contrast to the white around it.

Everything seemed straight out of a fairy tale. Everything, except the noises in the night. My room, as big as a mini tennis court, was perched solitarily on the first floor, quite apart from the rest of the rooms in that wing. Through its French windows, I could see the alarmingly huge courtyard and feel the swish of the snowflake against my skin.

The first knock

Exhausted from the journey, I had barely bundled up myself in three duvets and my pink woolly socks on the creaky four-poster bed when I heard the noise. It felt like someone was walking along the corridor outside wearing clogs. I dismissed it as the fancies of my tired soul and the vagaries of the wooden floor. At around 2 am the same night, I heard the same noise again. Clog, clog, thump. Played the whole ‘ha-you-are-tired’ game with my brain and snored away.

The ghosts came out of the ornamental woodwork next morning at breakfast. One of the house guests casually mentioned that Gregynog Hall was famously haunted. Not by one but by a multitude of ghosts — some out for revenge, some pining for lost love, some roaming in despair, and some, well, just hanging around. (Don’t even dare think of puns).

Apparently, the more famous among these ‘spirited’ guests of the great house was the ghost of a maid who haunted the cellars, the ghost of a young girl who preferred to watch you while you slept, and the ghost of a nurse who jumped out a window of one of the rooms on the first floor. This was when I stopped lathering marmalade on my toast. The house guest (the human, not the spirit) also stated matter-of-factly that this nurse haunted the first-floor corridor (I gulped down my toast). This knowledgeable gentleman further speculated that it was actually the lover of the dead nurse who haunted the corridor and not the nurse herself.

I hurried back to my room and, what else, Googled. And discovered that not only was Gregynog Hall haunted, its spookiness had also been well-documented. The historic house has been featured in television programmes such as Britain’s Most Haunted and in Paranormal Channel.

For what it was worth, the tale of its many ghosts only made Gregynog more alluring. Easy to get lost in, parts of it Gothic and parts of it Victorian, Gregynog is everything you imagine an English country-house could be like with its many rooms, library, swivelling stairs, manicured gardens and dank cellars. Its ornate fireplace — with a mantelpiece, squishy sofas and heavy wooden furniture — was the perfect corner to relax on dreary afternoons with a classic from the hall’s extensive library; a Thomas Hardy perhaps.

Despite all its atmospherics, the house had been a happy one. One of Montgomeryshire’s leading landed estates, Gregynog was acquired in 1920 by the wealthy Davies sisters, who made it a centre of art and music for the people of Wales recuperating from the excesses of WWI.

For more than 20 years, it flourished as a veritable house of culture — ceramics’ display, fine furniture, literary soirees, the sisters’s collection of paintings by Monet and van Gogh and visits by the likes of G B Shaw — all were part of its glorious history. After WWII, it was used by the Red Cross as a convalescent home and later, the hall was bequeathed to the University of Wales. Today, it welcomes house guests of all hues and also organises season-specific events such as Easter hunts, spring barbeques, Christmas gatherings and the like.

The second knock

That night, I went back to my room jauntily. The day had been spent well and I had convinced myself that ghosts don’t exist. I did the bundling-up routine and switched off the lights.

For all my bravado, I could not sleep a wink. I threw aside my many covers and went to stare out of the windows. The courtyard, now with muddied snow, looked as eerie as ever. The night was alive; I could even hear a hoot in the distance. Then I heard the noise.

Clog, clog, thump. I rushed back to my bed and dived under the covers, only to hear a sharp knock on my door. This was it. Was this the nurse, or her lover? Or, was it the little girl who likes to watch people sleep? I never did check.

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Of spooky nights


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