It’s 7:30pm and it’s midnight in Wales.
It’s midnight and dark forest and perhaps witches? Or ghosts? Or strange troll-type creatures with a malevolent glint in their eye? Anyway it’s very dark and we should have stopped sooner to book our lodging for the night…but we didn’t.
The dark is different in a land without big cities throwing light pollution into the sky. The night is different. What’s that they say on Game of Thrones? The night is dark and full of terrors. I mean, at least in Wales it might be. We left Tintagel around 4pm, and drove north. Thinking we’d stop around 6pm to get our bearings and look along our route to book a place to stay for the night. But then there wasn’t a good place to stop, and we just kept driving. And it just got darker. And there were no cities, or towns, or streetlamps…just a road, and the dark. And what you imagine to be in the dark. I suppose this is why medieval cities had walls.
A sign ahead has a bed symbol with an arrow pointing right. This means lodging, we think? We turn off the "A" road we’ve been on, onto the deeper dark of the exit road. Into the woods. Deeper. We were probably in the woods before we turned…but now we’re really in them. We drive a mile. Another mile. Nothing but the night around us. Then, at last, a building, some lights ahead.
We drive so slowly up to it, getting a look. No one stirring. A few lights on. I turn into the empty parking lot. There’s an odd greenish-blueish light set up on the side of the lot, casting a sickly glow on the looming trees. I do not have a good feeling about this place. Nor does my Mom—but neither of us says anything. This place may be the only place, and the only place would be better than none. Even if it’s run by trolls and highwaymen.
“I’m going to get on my phone and see if there’s anyplace else near,” I say. I have just enough slow internet service to get online and search. One pops up. 12.5 miles away. 24-hour front desk. Free wifi. Perfect. I book a room. It takes forever, but finally goes through. We pull out of the creepy lot, by its creepy lodge, and drive towards our new stop for the night.
“I didn’t like the look of that place,” says my Mom.
“Me neither,” say I.
It’s a hairy drive on dark lanes and then through a quaint little town before we get to our spot, but we get there. The Cwrt Bleddyn Hotel and Spa, which is apparently also a Ramada, which seems strange but we’re not asking questions at this point. They don’t have a room with two beds, the lovely concierge Charlotte says “but I can upgrade you, no charge, to our largest heritage room.” We’re grateful. There’s a beautiful willow tree out front and a fountain, and lots of cars which means lots of folks, and hopefully not trolls. Charlotte says, “Breakfast is in the restaurant from half six to 10. The spa and pool are just outside and you can use them all day tomorrow if you like.” She gives us the keys. “Room 35. Past the bar, down the steps, through the door, up to the top.”
We get lost. I go back to the desk. Charlotte walks us through to the correct staircase. It’s spiral. We go up.
Three flights up with our bags. Two doors. I open the one on the left with our key card.
It’s big, but…eh, I don’t know. Odd. A small-ish bed. Strange yellow lighting. A bathroom with slanted roof and no windows. It smells a bit damp. We’re on the third floor and there are exposed rafter beams. This is an old, old building.
We are both making the best of this. Then my Mom says, is this room 34?
No it’s 35, I say, holding up the key envelope, on which Charlotte wrote “35.”
“I think it’s 34,” says my Mom. I’m so tired. How could we be in 34 if the keys to 35 opened the door? I open the door to look at how it’s numbered on the outside…and it IS 34.
“I guess…I’ll try the keycard on the other door.”
The other door doesn’t have a number. On it is written “The Catherine Parr Room.” It opens with our key card. 'I guess our keys open all the doors?" I say. "Maybe we should try all the rooms."
Room 35 is giant. The whole rest of the top floor. Beautiful old wood and leather furnishings, not damp at all. Giant bed that we’ll be quite comfortable sharing. Fabulous. I took a picture:
Giant bathroom too. Bathtub seven feet long, I make a note to avail myself of it later. The john is actually a John. As in, made by Edward Johns. I look it up later—it’s a vintage blue dolphin loo with cistern and pull chain. People lose their minds over them in the antique markets. This one is there just for…using. Perhaps by Queens? Anyway here’s a blurry picture I took of it. It’s blurry because it feels funny to take a photo of a toilet, and I was laughing at myself:
The toilet’s an antique and the tile is a bit Alice in Wonderland via Tom Petty, but it’s all good. Except…Well, the only thing that’s not quite right about the bathroom, I guess I would say,
Is the gaping hole in the wall leading to the totally creepy dark crawlspace.
I suppose a gaping hole in the wall leading to a totally creepy dark and dusty crawlspace that maybe has paint cans or construction equipment or maybe something more exotic, who knows because I’m not going in there…anyway I guess you could call that, a bit unusual. I didn’t take a picture.
There’s a plywood board and a large standing mirror to one side. “Let’s just, cover it up,” suggests my Mom. She is very wise. We do this. No problem. Head downstairs for a drink at the bar to soothe our jangled nerves.
Mom has a stout that’s brewed 10 miles away. It’s fruity and delicious. I order a Jamesons. Neat? Ice? Water? Asks the bartender. “Uhh..ice?” I say. I am not an accomplished drinker. But my Grandpa John drank Jamesons. An Irish chap across the bar pipes up. “One cube!” he says. “What’s that?” I say. “One cube! One cube of ice—Jamesons is a sipper” he says. “One cube,” I say to the bartender. “Jamesons is a sipper.”
We’re sipping our beverages and the stress of the night and the troll hotel and the dark wilderness roads is beginning to melt away. Charlotte finds us at the bar. “I’ve printed out a bit of history of the hotel for you,” she says, handing us a few pages of lore. Henry VIII used to come to this place when it was a hunting lodge, they say. That’s why our room is named for Catherine Parr—the wife who survived, more luck to her. They say Captain Morgan—of the rum, and the piracy—did too, and the Oak Room on the first floor is paneled with wood carving from one of his pirate ships. And most likely it is—I took a picture of it:
A debate about whiskey breaks out. The Irishman opines further about Jamesons. A woman’s voice cuts in from a table opposite the bar. “Scotch is bettar,” she says, drily. “What’s that?” says the Irishman, jovially. “Scotch is Bettar,” she says in a fine loud brogue. “Why would ya drink anythin else?”
I try to perform diplomacy. “I’m both, I’m both: I’m Irish and Scottish, it’s fine!—Jamesons tonight, I’ll have a scotch next time.”
It’s no peace accord, but the jokes are good-natured and the ancestral rivalry quiets down as we finish our drinks and head back upstairs. Up three flights of the spiral staircase, back to the Catherine Parr room at the top.
I take a bubble bath. It’s quite nice. My Mom is already asleep when I get into bed. Want to get a good night’s sleep. Long day of driving tomorrow, if I'm up early enough I might take a dip in the pool the next morning before we head out. Sleep mask on. Turn out the light. Settle into the big comfy pillows.
But I don’t fall asleep.
I would like to take a moment for a brief aside here. I think it is pertinent to say that ghosts leave me alone. I have never seen a ghost. A few times, maybe, I’ve had a sense of presence, once or twice definitely beneficent, once maybe a bit unsettling—never malevolent or downright scary. I don’t have ghost stories. My husband has seen ghosts. His mother Carolyn, who has lived on Vinal Haven and North Haven, has some blood curdling tales of her experiences in houses there. But so far, ghosts leave me alone.
So for me to feel something…well, that might mean something, no?
I’m lying there in the dark with my sleep mask on and something feels not quite good. I shift in the bed. My Mom, who does not talk in her sleep, shifts on her side of the bed and mumbles something, an unintelligible phrase. A moment passes and she says something else, indecipherable. A third time, a soft ripple of phrases that mean nothing I can understand. I take my sleep mask off.
I look around me in the dark. There is some bleed from the skylights—oh, right, our room has skylights. It’s very posh, if it weren’t for the giant exposed rafters that you have to watch you don’t bonk your head on…and of course, the feeling that something else is in the room.
Or in the crawlspace?
I think of the open hole in the bathroom wall, improvisationally covered with board and mirror. The bathroom door is open. I think, I’m going to close that door.
I get up. I close the bathroom door.
I mean almost. The whole place is carpeted, bathroom too, and the carpet won’t let the door close all the way. Almost, though. Maybe that’s good enough?
I get back in bed. Something is still….around.
Lying on my back in bed, I feel stronger measures are needed. I am making it up as I go, here in Wales where there are perhaps unfriendly spirits in the Catherine Parr room, and truly should we be surprised if a hunting lodge of the British aristocracy including a dude who had several wives killed and a notoriously blood-thirsty pirate—would it be a shocker if it turned out they did some bad deeds here, too?
I invoke our ancestors. I raise both hands, palms out, to summon. I invoke my family spirits gone on before. In my head—or was I speaking? I was speaking somehow. This is heightened stuff, in the dark in Wales. It would be silly if there weren't SOMETHING IN THE ROOM.
I say their names. My father’s name, my grandparents on both sides. My great grandparents that I knew. All my people. I call them in. Watch over us tonight, I think-say. Protect us as we sleep.
I am not making this up when I say I could hear something else listening. Not my ancestors, I mean. Something else.
But I also felt a bit safer. The grandmothers were there. The grandfathers. The way-back kinfolk. Spirits of good will and protection. There was a tent of energy around us. My Mom was still asleep.
I pulled my sleep mask on and hoped for the best.
8am the next morning: pouring rain making a tattoo on the skylights, grey light waking us up. Safe in our bed. “How did you sleep?” I asked my Mom. “Pretty well,” she said. “I mean, okay.”
“Do you ever talk in your sleep?” I asked her. I didn’t think she did, but what do I know. “Talk in my sleep?” she replied. “No.” “You did last night,” I said. “Really?” she said. “What did I say?” “I couldn’t understand it,” I said. “Weird!” she said. “Are you going to try the spa?”
I did. I grabbed my suit and went down to check it out. It was cool. Like, a little Roman bath in the middle of the Welsh countryside. I took a picture of it:
I swam a lap, dipped into the hot tub, tried the steam room, sat in the sauna for a minute. Lovely. Nipped back upstairs to get our bags, we had a bit of breakfast (included in our booking price, how nice), and headed to the front desk to check out.
There are two women there, neither of them Charlotte. “And how was your stay?” asks one “Oh, lovely,” we reply, basically at the same time. “Oh good,” say the women behind the desk.
There’s a pause. They’re printing our receipt. I ask,
“Do you…have ghosts here?”
The women look up sharply. “No.” says the older of the two, decisively.
Another pause. The younger asks, “Why? …Did you see something?”
I am immediately certain that they have ghosts. More certain than I was last night, when it could have been my imagination. Immediately, 100%, unequivocally, quite, certain.
“Didn’t see anything,” I say. “I felt, a presence. Presences.”
“Well, there’s only been a few times, when someone said they saw something. But it’s always in Room 35.”
“Ohhhhh,” we say.
“Yeah, there was one time someone saw a woman in the window, walking…And another time, there was a man in the window below…”
“Uh-huh,” we say.
“But you didn’t see anything?”
“Well, hope you enjoyed your stay!”
We leave. I snap a last photo as we walk to our car:
When we stop for lunch, I google the hotel. I type “Cwrt Bleddyn ha…” and my phone auto-finishes. Haunted. The place is haunted as all get out. Glasses rising from the bar, staff touched by unseen hands, someone playing a piano that doesn’t exist, ghosts all over the joint. We drive towards Glasgow, and speak no more of it.
Happy Saint Davy’s Day. Wales has ghosts.
AVALON will have its world premiere in August 2019, produced by Opera House Arts and staged in a site specific production at Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies on Deer Isle. All text and photos ©2019 Melody Bates
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