I worked at Wales' most haunted house and it changed my view on life

The exterior of Llancaiach Fawr
There's nothing to fear – just a special atmosphere, oodles of history, and a few spirits who like to roam -Credit:Western Mail

My obsession with property and interiors began at a very young age, fuelled mainly by one of my mum's favourite things to do – having a nose around historic houses. So when I landed my first full-time permanent job at one of Wales' most magnificent manor houses I was beyond ecstatic – until someone told me it was considered by some people to be Wales' most haunted building.

Back then there was no internet or Google to research the background of Llancaiach Fawr, an incredible Grade I-listed 16th-century house nestled into the countryside on the edge of the village of Nelson, near Treharris, so I was unclear what I was going to experience.

After a pretty sleepless night I arrived at the manor full of angst and nerves – and not just because it was my first day at a new job. I needn't have worried as my new colleagues were wonderful, the atmosphere at the site was welcoming, and there was no sign of a ghost – yet. For more property stories sent to your inbox twice a week sign up to the property newsletter here.

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Llancaiach Fawr manor house
Grade I-listed, the manor is one of Wales' most special buildings -Credit:Jo Ridout, Media Wales

Llancaiach Fawr is truly a remarkable house – once a family home that was bought by Rhymney Valley District Council before unitary authorities were in existence and, with great vision, turned it into a living history museum where you step back in time. It is now owned and managed by Caerphilly council.

As visitors wander from the visitor centre in the 21st century and through the pretty topiary garden they are travelling back in time to 1645 when Edward Pritchard owned the manor. At the robust front door one of his servants greets you and invites you inside to find out what life is like at the manor at this time.

The interiors are pared down to a simpler time, the servants are dressed as they would have appeared in the 17th century, and they even talk in an 'olde worlde' way as they tell visitors all about their typical day at the manor in 1645.

Llancaiach Fawr manor house
The house is now a living history museum where you step back in time to 1645 -Credit:Jo Ridout, Media Wales
Llancaiach Fawr manor house
The house was used as the local courthouse in 1645 when Colonel Edward Pritchard owned it -Credit:Jo Ridout, Media Wales

Every day, at lunchtime, the servants would come back to the 20th century staffroom to eat their packed lunch and chat about how the building was that day – silent, something stirring, or a bit spooky. I was intrigued but sceptical. I worked in the visitor centre and only occasionally went over to the manor but both buildings taught me to be more open-minded about whether there may be more to life than what we actually think.

In my experience most people don't believe in ghosts and some that do and have had an experience feel maybe nervous about discussing it. People who are more inclined to at least entertain the idea usually put noises down to an old building moving about or, at a push, the sounds of the house being residual energy that has been absorbed by the ancient walls and played back, known as the stone tape theory.

Llancaiach Fawr manor house and grounds
The whole site has a very special ambience -Credit:Jo Ridout, Media Wales

My first experience was in the manor house. I was on my own with the external doors locked yet kept hearing footsteps and chatting above me but, after investigation, there was no-one there – my imagination probably. But there are two major events that I could not debunk even to this day.

After doing a ghost tour one evening inside the manor and having checked all customers had gone, all external doors were locked, and the house was empty, I switched off the lights but then remembered I had to move Thomas the cat into the parlour.

A woman dressed as a servant outside Llancaiach Fawr manor house
Servants greet you at the manor as you step into 1645 -Credit:Mirrorpix
A woman stands by a table inside Llancaiach Fawr manor house
Life in the 17th century experienced in the present -Credit:Mirrorpix

I knew the way in the dark so I didn't put any lights on and just used my torch. As I carried Thomas to the parlour there was the sound, and the touch, of someone or something blowing a raspberry in my ear. I fled the scene at speed and when I recounted the event to my colleagues they thought it was hilarious and typical of me – while other people hear voices and footsteps I get a raspberry blown at me.

But that's the essence of Llancaiach Fawr – it is mostly playful. Although footsteps or the sound of crying, chatting, and giggling can feel a bit nerve-racking at the time of hearing them it's not threatening. The only time I felt worried was the time Thomas the cat's fur stood on end and he hissed as he gazed at something invisible behind me and I felt full-body chills – we both sprinted out of the manor's front door.

The kitchen by candlelight
The kitchen by candlelight -Credit:Western Mail

Maybe one of the eeriest experiences for me was when I was alone in a locked visitor centre between a day and evening shift and there was the noise of saucepans being banged with what sounded like a wooden spoon in the locked cafe's kitchen. I rushed over – by then I was a bit braver since the raspberry event – and unlocked the kitchen door to find it empty and the other access door closed and locked. When I left the room and began to walk away the saucepans would start up again. I'd rush back and they would fall silent inside the locked room. It happened three times before I gave up, went back to the office, and just let the ghost get on with it.

The servants' hall by candlelight
The servants' hall by candlelight -Credit:Western Mail

In 2015 I returned to the manor house to interview Ed Williams, who was one of my colleagues back in the 1990s, because he not only worked at the manor but actually lived there when it was his childhood family home. During the time he called Llancaiach Fawr his home Ed said he regularly heard footsteps and voices – but his most spooky experience happened after the house was turned into the museum.

He said: "It was a summer evening, it wasn't dark, and there was a function in the manor. I was helping to bring dishes back to the visitor centre. As I was walking down the garden, a figure – I would definitely say Victorian with a stovepipe hat and a black cloak – ran very quickly past me. He was as plain as day to me. The other staff remember me being visibly shaken by that visitation as it occurred on a bright day. There was a rumour that circulated afterwards that I ran after him – I can assure you I didn't." See more of my chat with Ed here.

Ed Williams stands outside the property
Ed Williams who used to call the manor his home -Credit:Western Mail

There are a number of ghosts said to roam the house, visitor centre, and grounds according to documented sightings over the decades and they include Ed's Victorian shadow man, Mattie who was a housekeeper during the 19th century, a number of children (possible one of the culprits of my raspberry-blowing experience), and the spirit of Colonel Edward Pritchard himself.

An amazing event that happened at the manor most recently has got me thinking about my time there again. Knowing that I am very intrigued by the paranormal Tracy and Nigel from the Hanbury Arms Haunted Hotel and Museum recently contacted me to share a photo that was taken as part of one of the ghost tours their group Lost Entity Paranormal was running at the manor.

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Tracy said: "It was a very active night at the house – we had loads of motion-activated light ball activity, massive electro magnetic spikes, especially when Barry brought out his 1674 coin trigger object. There was rem pod activity and we have disembodied voices picked up via EVP, electronic voice phenomenon, and guests reported being pushed."

It's an impressive haul of evidence on its own because on many occasions the manor house is silent, sometimes eerily silent, but on this night it produced one of the best photographs of a full-body apparition that I have ever seen. Tracy said: "No-one saw what was actually standing there with them in Mattie's bedroom as it was very dark until team member Barry reviewed the photos. It really is one of the best photos of a full-bodied apparition captured to date. Given the historical background of the manor we feel it could be a civil war soldier, also known as parliamentarians or roundheads, especially looking at his boots and helmet, or at least a person in armour.

On the right is a full-body apparition
On the right is a full-body apparition -Credit:Lost Entity Paranormal
Easier to see the ghost capture in black and white
Easier to see the capture in black and white -Credit:Lost Entity Paranormal

"Gathering evidence of the paranormal to showcase to the public is a huge part of our job although some people will never be convinced no matter what we do and that’s okay. Guests keep coming back because whatever paranormal experiences they might have they know it’s genuine – there's no trickery, drama, or deception – so if photographic experts would like to examine the photo in depth we would welcome the chance."

Helen Wintersdean, who was in the group on that tour, said: "It didn't take long for things to start happening. Temperature fluctuations, various instruments affected. There was low lighting in the room but not completely blacked out. The photograph was taken behind me so I know that nobody was to the right where the blurred figure has shown up on the photograph. We felt something was in the room with us so this photograph is very exciting."

Llancaiach Fawr manor house
Ghost hunts are organised events at the manor during the winter -Credit:Media Wales

Chatting to Louise Griffith, who works at the manor and regularly leads the ghost tours, she was not surprised by the latest event because since I left my job there the activity has continued and includes an evening when the usually unflappable Louise felt terrified. "We heard the loud footsteps and then a few people screamed," she said "So I started to talk more quietly so we could hear anything else that was going on and then heard a noise that I've never heard before. The windows of the house don't open, the doors are super-thick and heavy, but suddenly we heard that archetypal ghost story noise of a door slowly creaking opening. So I screamed myself and everyone ran across the room, including me, away from the noise.

"Then two things came together and honestly I've never been as scared in my life – the door creaked again and then heavy footsteps were coming towards us down the corridor. I was absolutely convinced that something was going to walk through the door – the sounds were so real. It was then total pandemonium. That was the most scared I've ever been in the house because it was so real."

The servants' quarters on the top floor
The servants' quarters on the top floor was my least favourite space -Credit:RVE 38

I am not surprised by Louise's experience or that this photograph has happened. The house has such a unique ambience to it that I've never felt before or since but it appears to be so random in its activity and timings.

Most of my family and friends think I am too gullible and have just been watching too many episodes of Ghost Adventures and Help! My House is Haunted, especially if I then follow up a ghost story with the time I saw a UFO just outside Macclesfield (who knew that town was a hotspot for unexplained sightings?!). Read about the 'flap year' when there were multiple UFO sightings in Wales here.

the great hall inside Llancaiach Fawr manor house with jo ridout as a 'ghost'
Tracy says the photo of the full-body apparition is open to scrutiny by experts BUT this is a photo of me in the great hall, not a ghost -Credit:Western Mail

But my time at Llancaiach Fawr has made me more open to the possibilities of other dimensions and life after death – or at the very least the stone tape theory of stored and replayed experiences. Since I left Llancaiach both my parents have passed away and I have had some experiences that have reinforced my views. Maybe it is my mind playing tricks on me, just desperate to think I will maybe see them again, but my time at the manor house began a journey for me to be more open to possibilities.

Even if, somehow, all my experiences are a projection from my own mind the thought that maybe some of it is real has given me comfort in my grief – and I have one of Wales' most special houses to thank for that.

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