Ghost Hunters: In the shadow of Snowdonia

This really is one of the more bonkers of the series. It highlights for me how irresponsible ‘ghost hunters’ can be. Some weird stuff is happening in Rhodri’s house. One can only assume that was indeed the case. But there are other stressful family things going on – his wife’s father has died and her brother has committed suicide. He contacts three ‘ghost hunters’  - a very strange reverend who can’t string a sentence together and seems to have some views quite at odds with his profession, an alleged scientific researcher who allegedly channels the dead, and a local councillor (he wouldn’t be getting my vote) who is desperate to find Proof for the characters who seem to be coming through. They do their séances in the dark at poor Rhodri’s house. The man has no prior knowledge (he hasn’t even heard of poltergeists) and he seems to lap up whatever they’re telling him. His impression of Elwyn channelling HAROLD must have inspired Derek Acorah in Most Haunted. Such goings-on can’t be helping the state of the household and I think the Trio should definitely have known better. Their behaviour contrasts so sharply with the priests doing the exorcisms in the ‘Holy Ghostbusters’ episode. Then towards the end of the programme there are some very feeble anecdotes that prove nothing, and Richard Wiseman trying to let everyone down gently by finding alternative reasons why mediums might have access to Unknown Information besides the obvious. It made me feel a bit sad.

Rhodri, Farmer: The first idea we had that there was something not quite right was, we were sitting in the kitchen one night, and we heard this sort of noise, as if something was, you know a kind of a scratching noise. And I kind of looked around, and I didn’t take much notice, I carried on reading my paper. And then it got louder. It was coming from the loft above the kitchen. Crikey, I thought, you know someone’s broken in, somebody’s taking the mickey. And it got louder and louder, and it was almost deafening. I know it sounds a bit odd but it was really frightening, you know. And I said right, I’ve had enough of this, I’m going to take a look upstairs to see what’s going on. So I got myself a torch, and an empty wine bottle. So I walked up to the bottom of the stairs, along the passage, and I hesitated at the bottom of the stairs. And then I could hear the noise just as loud at the bottom of the stairs, which I thought was weird, as it was in the kitchen. So I crept up the stairs with the torch in my hand and an empty wine bottle, got to the top of the stairs, I turned right and went through the door, and I could see the door of the passage, which is about ten, fifteen foot away. And it was rattling like this – chchchchchch – as if someone was inside trying to get out. So I approached the door now, and I barged into the door with the wine bottle, and I flashed the torch, and there was kind of a wind. A wind in this room, and a kind of a murmuring, not a voice actually, you know, erm as though someone’s slowed the tape recorder down – mnn nrrr rr rr, kind of a weird strange noise. And then, complete silence – almost an eerie silence. And I just scratched my head and I thought, god, you know. Closed the door and went downstairs – Was there anybody up there? – Nobody. – What do you mean, nobody? There was nothing there, I said, you know. And I didn’t sleep much that night, I can tell you!

Narrator: Rhodri is a typical Welsh hill farmer. He spends many lonely hours tramping the hills and valleys of North Wales with his dog,  working his flocks and struggling to keep his farm going. He lives in an isolated homestead tucked away in a fold of the hills within the shadows of the hills of Mount Snowdon. And it looks peaceful enough. But the house seems to act as a sort of psychic beacon, attracting paranormal activity into its orbit.

Meiriona, Farmer’s Wife: I was sawing some wood, and I could feel as if there was somebody behind me. So I looked up, looked round, and I couldn’t see nobody, so I looked up onto one of the rafters, and there was the image of a man, an old man, hanging there. So I’ve spoken to the woman, the old lady who used to live in the farm next door, and she said that years ago an old farmer had done away with himself, had hung himself from one of the beams there.

Gwynllyn, Farmer: I was babysitting for Rhodri [indistinct] had gone out to a party. And I wrote down – I’m writing some poetry on the table, and after a bit of that I slept in the chair. And I woke up, and I, er, I could, er, [frowns] you know – felt a heavy presence in the room, you know. And I got up and walked around of the room to see if I could see anything, but some fear came over me. Like a fear of the unknown, you don’t know what it is. And, er, well. I think the best thing I could do – I’d heard there were ghosts here of course, spirits, from Rhodri – but I’d never seen them and I never believed in spirits myself. So I decided to sing a hymn!

Rhodri: One morning I got up and there was a really bad poltergeist. You know what, I’ve found out later it was a poltergeist. The whole kitchen was smashed, you know, cupboards were wrenched off the wall, and glass pickling jars were smashed, and the place was a heck of a mess you know.  There’d been some strength because the cupboards were old fashioned ones and really pinned into the wall with concrete and bits of steel, like that, you see. They’d been just ripped off the wall. I thought, God there’s something wrong here, you know. And I thought, God we’ve had a break-in, vandals have been in and they’ve smashed the place up. But you know, there was no break-in, and the dog was in the house. But the strange thing was, that night, I didn’t hear a thing. If somebody had created that much damage – I wasn’t drunk either, no! – that much damage, you’d hear something. But I didn’t hear a ruddy thing, you know?

Narrator: And there have been many other similar events. Visitors to the house for example have talked of meeting strange figures. Some of the rooms have been left in a state of chaos with no apparent explanation. But over the years the family got used to this state of affairs. They didn’t like it particularly, but they came to accept it. Until last year. Then Meiriona’s brother, who lived in London, and had a successful career as a barrister, suddenly and for no apparent reason committed suicide. Like Meiriona, he’d grown up in the Welsh farmhouse and strong emotional links with it. It seems he began to appear to her on a regular basis, as if seeking help. Meiriona was extremely distressed, and felt she had to take some action.

Meiriona: That was the time when I saw my brother at the end of the bed. And he had been… we’d lost him through suicide, and he wanted help then, he was calling, coming to me for help because he sort of couldn’t leave this world. You know, he wanted to meet up with his mum and the rest of the family, his other brother, so I was just getting so distressed, I just wanted to move out of the house because I was just seeing my brother’s image at the end of the bed all the time.

Rhodri: She came downstairs shaking and trembling, and says, Rhodri, I’ve just seen my brother standing at the bottom of the bed! And it really frightened her. So I said, Right, that’s it! I said. I’m calling in the professionals.

Narrator: As it happens, there is a quite extraordinary team of ghost hunters working in North Wales. The team is made up of three men, all of whom are very highly regarded in their careers. Elwyn Roberts, on the right, is both a research scientist and an acclaimed poet at the annual Welsh festival known as the Eisteddfod. The Reverend Roberts in the centre, no relation, is a priest with a special assignment to deal with paranormal events. And Elwyn Edwards, on the left, is a councillor and also an Eisteddfod poet. They have a very professional working relationship, and they deal with the paranormal in a very practical, down to earth manner.

Rev. Roberts: Elwyn is the man [indistinct] can manifest and bring them out and all everything, and then I tend to take over and say, well now what’s your problem and how can we solve it? And if you said to me, what has been your work for the last forty years? I would say well I’ve been a clergyman but I have been a … social worker, for the spiritual and many of the departed [indistinct].

Elwyn, Local Councillor: Putting people to rest, that’s my main objective. And to let other people know that there are such things as ghosts, and to prove to them what we’re doing, and to prove to them that these people have lived, by showing them the marriage certificates of so-and-so, or the death certificate of so-and-so. Well I get it now and again off people that it’s all in your head. Of course it’s in the head, it works with the mind. But they don’t realise that. And most people I’ve seen, they’re pooh-poohing the story – there’s no such thing! – and it’s a job to get them to understand. Unless they can see for themselves, isn’t it. And I’m sure if they did, they’d be frightened.

Elwyn, Research Scientist: It seems that some possibly discarnate minds, if that’s what the explanation is, and I’m not suggesting that I believe it – they seem to be attached to places. Now the standard explanation is that these are earth-bound spirits or minds, which for some reason are – some emotional reason perhaps – are attached to a place or to a person that they don’t want to let go. And for that reason, possibly don’t progress spiritually. And some of the work that we’ve done over the years has been to try and help such minds, if that is the explanation, when they, er, cause nuisance for people living in houses and so on.

Narrator: This trio of professional ghost hunters has it seems achieved a very high success rate across north Wales in confronting and resolving a whole series of strange unexplained psychic events. They decided to set up a ‘sitting’, as they call it, to try and encounter whatever it was that was troubling Meiriona. They held the sitting one evening in the farmhouse and claim to have been totally successful.

Elwyn, Local Councillor: I started talking in Welsh with him. I knew he could speak Welsh but he’d been away in London for so many years that he’d rather talk in English, so we turned to English. And I asked him what happened, and he said ‘I can’t tell you.’ Why can’t you tell us? ‘I’m too ashamed to tell you.’ Well where are you now? ‘I’m stuck’ he said. ‘Everywhere’s pitch black and I can’t move, I can’t move on.’ And Elwyn described things which he saw about him, connected to him. And Meiriona’s father had left us about three weeks before or a month before, so I asked Meiriona, do you mind if we get your father here to help him move on? She said, no. And all of a sudden her father appeared, he was 80-odd, he appeared on Elwyn. So he asked him, what happened to your son? He said, he’s been a bad boy. And in the end they both left. We’ve been there since and they haven’t appeared.

Narrator: Whatever the claims, the facts of the matter are that Meiriona’s problem went away. The apparent sightings of her brother stopped. For the trio of ghost hunters that wasn’t the end of the matter. For them the farmhouse had a special quality, a special vibration, as they put it. It seemed to be a pathway for spirits seeking to make contact. They decided to come back to hold further séances here.

Part Two.
Narrator: In the lonely farmhouse the three Welsh ghosthunters had now had several sittings with what they claim to be remarkable results. They claim to have encountered a wide range of spirits, not all of them from this area – what they call ‘drop-in communicators’. But some of them they believe actually are or were local people who they can trace in the historical records.

Rev. Roberts: Elwyn tells me, and Wynnie, and all my, my sensitive friends tell me – when you go to a house when they say ‘we’ve got a ghost’ and you open up, it’s like Euston station in that house. There are umpteen of them and you’ve got to trawl around until the right one comes along. It’s very difficult, you’ve got to go home and you’ve met ten, thirteen, fourteen of them, but you haven’t met the little fellow who’s troubling the family.

Elwyn (Councillor): The first man we had was Richard Wynne. And erm, he had lost six of his children. And I found him, he lived at a place called [Tynwyn], and he went to chapel at a place called [Rhydwernyn]. And Elwyn had the name of one [indistinct] and his name was Rhys, and they found him, he died in 1823 but I haven’t finished looking for him yet, but I know where to find him I think.  

Narrator: At one of these events they claim to have encountered an evil character called Harold.

Rhodri: Elwyn went into a kind of hunch, and ‘uh’ he says, ‘there’s something really terrible’s happened in this kitchen. I can feel real real hostility.’ And immediately, everybody in the room saw he’d changed, his clothing changed and his face changed. And I was standing up. And the medium changed and this guy had his face down, but he had these two eyes that were looking up, the most evil eyes I’ve ever seen in my whole life. They were bitter and twisted. And there was a crease across his brow and he looked really vicious, you know. And the medium says ‘I want him to take me over completely’, you know. And we got his name, Harold, “HAROLD” and he spoke like “MY NAME’S HAROLD!” And I had said “Sut mae Harold, Hello Harold” and he said in Welsh [..] meaning “GO TO HELL!” he said to me. I thought, Oh my god, you know. And apparently we finally got out of him that he used to court a girl that was a maid on this farm in the middle of the last century. And he used to come to visit, and the girl finished with him and didn’t want anything more to do with him. And we never really found out what happened, but something really  bad happened in that room.

Narrator: The ghosthunters decided to hold a sitting in the farmhouse that very evening. It was an extraordinary event, held in near darkness in Welsh, translated for us by Reverend Roberts. It went on for about two hours, and there seemed to be many strange inconsequential encounters. But at one point the medium, Elwyn, claims to have got in contact with Harold again. And this time with Mary, the maidservant, with whom he had a relationship all those years ago.

Reverend Roberts translates the welsh: “What did Harold do in the next room? We know something dreadful happened in the other room. Tell us about it. Harold has been unkind. What has Harold done? Elwyn is crying, the medium is crying. Tell us, Mary, what has happened. Tell us what Harold did. We’re on your side, Mary. He’s a nasty  man, we know, we met him before. Something horrible happened in the next room, what happened? Tell us. He is hitting her with a poker. We knew all the time something dreadful happened in that room. He’s a nasty man.

Narrator: After that sort of experience, we have to ask what on earth is going on. The problem as always of course is the matter of verification. The medium can say what he pleases. It could all be pure fabrication. Most scientists tell us that it is – a load of old mumbo jumbo. But not all of them. Some scientists are seriously concerned to test the hypothesis that some psychic mediums may be tapping a quite different communication channel and coming up with valid information they couldn’t have come up with in any other way.

Archie Roy, Professor of Astronomy: Mediums are people who are supposed to be intermediaries between this world and the next. And there is no doubt whatsoever that there have been some genuine mediums in the sense that they have been able over a period of time of decades to obtain information that they simply could not have obtained in any normal way through the five senses. And of course once you had ascertained that such people were genuine, then there was the question of whether they were actually acting as intermediaries between Uncle Harry on the other side trying to convince the sitters that he had actually survived bodily death, or whether the mediums had the gift of abstracting all the relevant information from the minds of the sitters concerning Uncle Harry, and then dramatizing all that information as though it really was Uncle Harry coming through from the other side.

Narrator: The point is, that parapsychologists don’t have to establish a hundred such cases, or even ten. One cast iron case would be enough to indicate the possibility of a psychic channel of communication. A number of scientists have trawled the world for one such case. Professor Ian Stevenson for example, tells an extraordinary story that comes from Iceland.

Prof. Ian Stevenson, University of Virginia: He came through and expressed great concern about not being fully buried, and said his leg was missing, that when he’d been buried they hadn’t buried his leg. To make a rather long story short, he later said that his leg was in the wall of the house owned by one of the sitters. It turned out that the communicator was narrating details of the life of a man, an Icelandic man who’d been something of an alcoholic, and he’d been at a friend’s house on a stormy night and he’d taken too much alcohol, was drunk. He was urged to stay the night, but he didn’t, he said oh I can walk home, and like all drunks he staggered off. He probably had some more alcohol with him and drank it, and fell asleep, and it was stormy, and the tide came in and he was carried out to sea, and then later the body was washed up, but it was without the leg. So that was duly buried, what they had of his body, but his leg was left around and finally it came to a place where there was some building going on, and the person who was building it came along and didn’t know quite what to do and they said ‘well just put it in this wall’. And there it was – they opened up the wall and found this leg. Now this is the weak point – there is no evidence that this was the right leg! But the best part of this is that the deceased was a tall man, and the femur was the leg of a tall person, so that’s a little help there.

Narrator: Of course the question of communication raises the fundamental issue, the absolutely 64 thousand dollar question at the heart of everything – communication with what?

Dr Richard Wiseman, Parapsychologist: Let’s suppose that some of the mediumistic communications are frauds, some are self deception, but let’s make the assumption just for the sake of argument that some are genuine. Well all that tells us is that the medium has access to information from somewhere. Do we know where? Well no, not really. If the sitters knew it, then maybe it’s a type of telepathy. Maybe there’s some kind of collective unconscious, that all of the information we know is in the ether, as it were, and the medium can somehow pick up on it. Maybe there is actually a survival of bodily death, and the medium really is in touch with that person. Now these are all theories, they’ve all been put forward to try and explain the phenomena. I’m not convinced that any sort of mediumistic communication is genuine. But if it is, again in terms of a theory, we’re very much in the dark.

Elwyn (research scientist): If we say that spirit simply means the mind – so we have a body, a physical body which is made of atoms and molecules and so on, and I tend to believe this is manipulated by this other thing, which we call mind. Now if mind is completely separate and independent, though very closely connected with the body during our earthly life, then bodily death will not mean the end of the mind.

Narrator: Elwyn is not alone in that view. Several notable scientists would support him. And there is no doubt there is a vast amount of evidence of psychic communication -  most of it is immensely fascinating, but much of it is also anecdotal and circumstantial. It doesn’t create the cast iron watertight case that scientists are seeking. The jury is still out on what psychic mediums are tapping into to enable them to paint their view of the other world. But it is equally certain that nothing can shake the conviction in the minds of those who have walked and talked in that other world.

Reverend Roberts: What it has done for me, it has absolutely stabilised my faith. I believed before that there would be life after death, but you know we all believe there is a certain amount of that one [screws up face] you know. But this particular case, I’ve known now, without a shadow of a doubt, that there is life after death. And I also find that if I could show you or any other person one single ghost, I would have gone a long way to proving to you that there is life after death.