As heritage pubs go there are few within Wales or beyond our borders able to boast a historic tapestry as ornate and detailed as that of the Skirrid Mountain Inn. In the third in our series of features on Wales’ historic pubs we focus on the haunted inn that proudly claims to be the oldest in Wales. Darren Devine reports
Ghosts, gruesome deaths, and an association with some of the most influential figures in Welsh history – the Skirrid Mountain Inn has a heritage as colourful as that of any pub in Wales.
So much so that it has been able to weather a storm that has driven four pubs a day across the UK out of business and is at last beginning to see conditions improve.
Manager Geoff Fiddler knows that while so many other inns have been consigned to the history books his has survived because it already occupies a prominent place in them.
Standing in the shadow of Skirrid Mountain, the Monmouthshire pub was said to be a rallying point for Welsh rebel leader Owain Glyndr before he marched on to Pontrilas, in Herefordshire.
Dating back to 1110 the pub functioned from its earliest origins as both a hostelry and a court house dispensing justice to local ne’er-do-wells.
And halfway up its ornate spiral staircase stands the cell, now used as a store room, where prisoners spent a lonely last night before being sent to meet their maker by bloodthirsty judges for minor offences.
The last person to be executed at the pub, in Llanfihangel Crucorney, near Abergavenny, was hanged on the orders of revolutionary leader Oliver Cromwell for stealing sheep. The hangings were carried out from a beam across the joist of the pub’s staircase and the slab on which the bodies were placed remains at the well of the stairs.
Mr Fiddler said it’s this history that attracts tourists, spiritualists and ghost hunters on a near year-round basis. The country inn can accommodate up to nine people, but such is its popularity with those preoccupied by the paranormal it’s fully booked on weekends until December.
The 50-year-old landlord, who has been in the pub trade for 23 years with the last four spent at the Skirrid, said: “We have people coming every weekend, almost all ghost hunters and paranormal societies, and the next Saturday that we could offer anybody accommodation is the second week in December. The pub has always been here and whatever else changes the pub doesn’t. It’s absolutely steeped in history – people come from miles around just to look at and touch the stairwell.”
Mr Fiddler, who runs the pub with wife Sharon and 37-year-old stepson Wayne Rowlands, says his scepticism about the paranormal has been shaken by his experiences since taking over.
He said: “We’ve got an incredible oak castle-style door at the front of the pub and one winter’s evening when I was opening up I saw a man in a tri-cornered hat beckoning me.
“I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but it was half-dark at the time and he was fleeting and gone.”
Mr Fiddler says the pub, which includes two bars, a restaurant and a family room, also enjoys a strong reputation as a place to eat as well as drink. This has helped keep it afloat in the face of challenges from cheap supermarket beer and the smoking ban.
But he said his hostelry has tried to strike a balance between offering an appetising range of locally-sourced food on its menu without going down the gastro- pub route.
“We’ve got a reputation for nice food, but we’re not a high-brow place.
“My wife cooks with the help of one other cook and the most expensive meal we have is a £12.95 sirloin steak. It’s not a gastro-pub – I wouldn’t eat at a gastro-pub because I find them soulless places.”