Mystery Of The Gwydir Witch: Beyond Their Emerald Spires

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Guest writer R. P. SERIN recalls a mysterious holiday in North Wales, where he and his family may have encountered the infamous Gwydir Witch

Guest writer R. P. SERIN recalls a mysterious holiday in North Wales, where he and his family may have encountered the infamous Gwydir Witch

The farmer was staring at me with weary eyes. ‘No,’ he said, after several moments of awkward silence. ‘That wouldn’t be a good idea.’

It was a cold, ash-grey afternoon. The second day of our autumn holiday in Betws-Y-Coed, a small village in the heart of North Wales, popular with tourists such as ourselves who swarm to it in barely manageable numbers during the school breaks. My younger sister, who was 10 at the time, looked at me expectantly. Her friend, who was staying with us for the week, smiled.

I’m not sure how much the girls even wanted to look at the cows – they were probably too old to be interested, but my mum had insisted. There was mooing coming from the vast shed that was behind the irate looking farmer.

‘Come on, let’s go back. Tea’ll be ready soon.’

I thanked the farmer for his time, apologised for the bother and headed back up the track, damp slate sliding coarsely beneath my feet.

Our accommodation was situated on the side of a road that seemed quiet, until a car would come thundering past, speed limits and the like clearly of no concern. Extending over the soaring hills and mountains beyond was the Gwydir Forest, adding to the picture-book scene of country cottage bliss. It had two up two down windows, and a centrally placed door which opened directly into a modestly sized living room. 

To the left was a ground floor bedroom, where my wife and I had opted to sleep. The kitchen and adjacent shower room were on the right. A wooden staircase, leading to the bedrooms upstairs, filled the back wall. All six of us – my wife and I, my parents, and the two girls – could barely fit in the room together, but nobody minded. While it was small, it was also inviting and homely. Snug as opposed to cramped.

That evening we decided to take a walk into the woods. The sprawling pine trees concealed endless gloom beneath their emerald spires. Poppy and Ruby, my mom’s dogs, ran ahead as we shined torches into darkened spaces. I told stories of the Gwydir Witch, an old hag who prowled the woods at night, looking for children to take away and do whatever it is that such creatures do. It was all fabrication of course, but it can be hard to resist thinking of such things when exploring such places. The Blair Witch Project has much to answer for.

It was later, as we sat together in the compact living room enjoying the warmth of the open fire, that the Cows began to bay. The contented mooing of earlier had been swept aside by tormented howls. I’d never heard anything like it. No wonder the farmer had been reluctant to let us look.

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 Eventually they fell silent. 

The following day was spent exploring the beautiful Snowdonia landscape, stopping for a guided tour of an old, decommissioned slate mine. A rickety cart took us down to the depths of the earth, where we could walk around the dimly lit caverns, carved out by the calloused hands of a world that is no more. In the cold and the damp and the dark, you felt you could almost touch it, though it remained forever out of reach.  

Back at the cottage, as evening slipped once again into darkness, we sat in the glow of the living room fire. A gentle breeze, easily heard through the old single pane windows, was caressing the walls outside.

The scrabble board was out, and though not everybody was playing, the room was filled with lively, good-natured conversation. Then, with no intervention from any one of us, the front door swung open, revealing a dense blackness that clawed at the humble glow in which we were sat. 

‘It must be the Gwydir Witch,’ dad joked. ‘Or the wind.’

We all giggled, though I couldn’t have been the only one thinking the breeze barely seemed strong enough to blow dying leaf from the weakening grasp of its once life-giving branch, let alone open a door.

I got up to close it, making sure to properly engage the flimsy looking latch. 

As we settled back into our evening, pouring more wine, eating more snacks, and playing more scrabble, the door was forgotten. 

Until it opened again.

This time I turned the key to lock it properly. It did the trick.

The next few days passed without incident. Doors didn’t swing open on their own volition and the cows remained silent. 

It was around 2 o’clock in the morning when I woke up. Mouth dry, needing a drink. I cursed myself for not bringing a glass of water to bed with me. Not that it was much of a problem. Being in the downstairs bedroom meant that the kitchen wasn’t far away.

The fire had gone out, leaving the cottage crisp and cold. I felt my way through the dark, sweeping my hands around cautiously, hoping to avoid a noisy – or painful – collision with some hidden piece of furniture.

Once I’d made it to the kitchen I patted the wall blindly, finding the light-switch more out of chance than anything. The long fluorescent bulb hummed and crackled, flickering wildly before bathing the room in its artificial glow.

I squinted at the harsh illumination and the scene before me came slowly to focus.

As expected, the door to the shower room was closed. The sink and draining board were still adorned with the evening’s washing-up. What I hadn’t expected was to find every single cupboard door pulled wide open and every drawer fully extended; the weight of their contents pushing them precariously towards the ground.

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I stared for a moment. Who would have done this? My wife and I were the last to go to bed, and they had definitely been closed then. I made my way around the room, closing each drawer and door as I went. I filled a glass with water from the tap, took a long drink and made my way back to bed. I fell to sleep with ease.

Over breakfast, I described what I’d seen, asking who had done it. No one came forward. Still, it made for an interesting topic of conversation; a further thread in the ongoing Gwydir Witch narrative that we were all now spinning.

Campfire ghost stories, and playful folktales aside, I was sure that it was nothing supernatural. The wind must have blown the aging cottage door open, and either someone had sabotaged the kitchen as a playful prank, or they were going through a particularly active phase of sleepwalking. 

What happened on the final evening proved harder to explain. There was a subtle charge of frenetic energy as people scurried around the cottage, sweeping things from the floor and packing them into bags while others continued to lounge around the living area, trying to relax through the knowledge that the next day would bring a return to the normality from which such excursions were designed to escape.

I don’t remember what I was doing when the shower room was found to be locked (although I know I wasn’t packing bags – that’s a job deemed too advanced for my capabilities), and I don’t remember who it was that noticed. But I do remember what happened next. 

I knocked on the door but there was no response. The shower didn’t seem to be in use, so whoever was in there should have been able to hear. I called out. Nothing. 

Curiosity turned to confusion and confusion turned to panic. Was someone hurt? Perhaps they had slipped on the wet floor, smashing their head on the porcelain sink as they fell. I shouted for help, preparing to break through the door. 

My dad arrived and tried the handle for himself. It wouldn’t open. I glanced back. All six of us were now gathered round. The kitchen felt claustrophobic.

If we were all in the kitchen, who the hell was in the shower room?

It was impossible to lock from the outside, and it couldn’t have happened by accident.  A long brass hook, that hung on the other side of the door, needed lifting into an eye latch that was fixed to the door frame. And yet, as we disengaged the handle and pushed, the door shifted slightly before stopping, leaving a small gap between the door and the frame. It was just wide enough to see that the lock had been lifted into place.

We called out again, and there was still no reply. Given that everybody was safe, breaking in didn’t seem quite so necessary. The shower room had no windows, and it didn’t seem likely that someone could have managed to sneak past, locking themselves away.

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My dad, who was always more practically minded than I, stretched a coat hanger out and slipped it between the gap. With the door ajar, even by such a small margin, the hook was pulled tight, wedging it firmly into the eye. It didn’t lift easily, but with a little trial and error, and a touch of frustration, he finally managed to do it. The hook swung down with a satisfying rattle.

We stepped inside. Everything was perfectly normal. The lock was in good working order and, from this side, could be engaged with ease. We tried from the other side, just to be sure, but it was impossible. Even if you managed to somehow flip the hook upwards, an unlikely achievement in itself, there was no way it could drop into the eye.

Again, we joked, and again we blamed the Gwydir Witch – it seemed as good an explanation as any, and then we moved on, making the most of our last night before making our way home.

We never really talked about what happened. At the time, I was the kind of sceptic who questioned everything, that is everything except my own materialist dogma. I couldn’t explain these events in a manner I deemed ‘rational’ so, like any good materialist, I ignored them. 

I suspect other members of the group, more open to alternative possibilities, didn’t bring it up for quite different reasons. If you don’t talk about it, perhaps it didn’t happen.

But it did happen, and I still can’t explain it. Since then, I have shifted away from my old rigid assumptions. My scepticism has matured, allowing me to question, what for many, is still the unquestionable. There is a growing body of evidence, collated from a wide range of reputable sources (and even published in peer reviewed journals) that our current scientific models are ill equipped to explain every phenomenon within our universe.

I would not like to guess at what happened in that old cottage in the heart of Snowdonia, on the edge of the Gwydir Forest, but I am willing now to accept that it may well have been the result of forces well beyond what we understand to be real. Perhaps it was even the Gwydir Witch. 

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R.P. SERIN (he/him) was born in 1981. He lives in Shropshire, UK with his wife and two children and has worked in the NHS as an Operating Department Practitioner for over 15 years. In 2018, he graduated from the Open University with a 1st class Honours Degree in History and is an Affiliate Writer with the Horror Writers Association. His work has previously been published in Hellhound Books, Dream of Shadows Anthology, Paranormal Magazine, Horrified Ezine, and elsewhere. He was diagnosed with Autism in 2019. His website, is here.

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