Hollow Demon Oak

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  1. Ian Topham says:

    Re: Hollow Demon Oak
    This is how the case was covered by John Ingram in ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ (1897)

    Nannau, the ancient residence of the Vaughan family, in Merionethshire, is said to stand upon the highest ground of any gentleman’s seat in Great Britain. In the days of the famous Owen Glendower, this romantically-situated dwelling was occupied by Howel Sele, a first cousin of the Welsh prince. The cousins do not appear to have lived on friendly terms, Howel Sele siding with the Lancastrians, whilst Glendower, it need scarcely be remarked, was a fierce Yorkist. Ultimately their antagonism came to a fatal termination. There are several versions of the legend, but it is better to adopt that related by Pennant because, although it does not accord with some of the ballads on the subject, it appears to have a historic basis. The historian states that Glendower and Sele having long been at variance, the Abbot of Kymmer brought them together in hopes of reconciling them, and had, apparently, succeeded in effecting this charitable purpose. Whilst the two cousins were out hunting together, after their apparent reconciliation, Owen observed a doe feeding, and remarked to Howel, who was considered the best archer of the day, that there was a fine mark for him. Howel bent his bow and, pretending to take aim at the doe, suddenly turned and discharged his arrow full at Glendower’s breast :

    Then cursed Howel’s cruel shaft,
    His royal brother’s blood had quaffed,
    Alas! for Cambria’s weal!
    But the false arrow glanced aside,
    For ‘neath the robe of royal pride,
    Lay plate of Milan steel

    Fortunately for him the Welsh chieftain, as described by the poet, had armour beneath his clothes, and therefore received no hurt. But, enraged at his kinsman’s treachery, he turned upon him fiercely, and although Howel was fully armed, after a short conflict, slew him! The next thing was how to dispose of the body ; and according to the ballad of the Spirit’s Blasted Tree, by the Kev. George Warrington, it wa3 Madog, Glendower’s companion, who suggested for the place of
    sepulture –

    A broad and blasted oak,
    Scorched by tbe lightning’s vivid glare,
    Hollow its stem from branch to root,
    And all its shrivelled arms were bare.

    Be this, I cried, the proper grave
    (The thought in me was deadly sin) :
    Aloft we raised the bapless chief,
    And dropped his "bleeding corpse within.

    After this dire catastrophe Glendower returned in haste to his stronghold, without, of course, giving any information to the Lord of Nannau’s people. Howel was sought for in every direction, hut was nowhere to be found. His alarmed retainers hunted through all the recesses of the neighbouring forest, the while his sorrowing wife shut herself up from all comfort in the solitude of her gloomy castle. The years passed by, and no tidings reached Nannau of the missing lord:

    Yet Fancy, in a thousand shapes.
    Bore to his home the chief once more;
    Some saw him on High Mod’s top,
    Some saw him on the winding shore.

    With wonder fraught, the tale went round-
    Amazement chained the hearer’s tongue,
    Each peasant felt his own sad loss,
    Yet fondly o’er tho story hung.

    Oft by the moon’s pale shadowy light,
    His aged nurse, and steward gray.
    WduM lean to catch the storied sounds,
    Or mark the flitting spirit stray.

    Pale lights on Cader’s rocks were seen,
    And midnight voices heard to moan ;
    ‘Twas even said the Blasted Oak,
    Convulsive, heaved a hollow groan

    But still the fate of Howel Sele remained unknown to everyone save Glendower and bis companion Madog. At last, after ten years of silence, Glendower died, and the partaker of the chieftain’s secret was at liberty to reveal the mystery ; his lord’s last words being:

    To Sole’s sad widow bear the tale,
    Nor let our horrid secret rest:
    Give but his corse to sacred earth,
    Then may my parting soul be blest,

    Madog hastened to obey his prince’s last behest, and, as soon as events allowed, betook himself to Nan nan’s saddened home, and told the horrified and long-hoping wife that she was a widow indeed. The revelation was rapidly noised abroad among the retainers, and confirm- ation of it demanded; Madog led them to the blasted oak, which was hastily rent open, and the bleaching skeleton exposed to view :

    Back they recoiled the right hand still,
    Contracted, grasped the rusty sword;
    Yv’hich erst in many a battle gleamed,
    And proudly decked their slaughtered lord.
    They bore the corse to Vanner’s shrine,
    With holy rites and prayers address’d ;
    Nine white-robed monks the last dirge sang,
    And gave the angry spirit rest.

    But notwithstanding the burial rites were read, and many masses said for their dead lord, his spirit was not believed to be at rest, and almost down to the present day the fearsome peasant has dreaded to pass at night by the blasted oak, "the hollow oak of the demons." Until its fall and destruction on the 13th of July 1813, the haunted tree was an object of nocturnal dread, and the poet could truly say:

    And to this day the peasant still
    With fear avoids the ground;
    In each wild branch a spectre sees,
    And trembles at each rising sound.