The Phantom Lights of Tuskar

So many wrecks have occurred on the treacherous reefs and sandbanks near Porthcawl (see Porthcawl: its History and Developme account) that it is little wonder many strange stories have been told about the Ogmore by Sea coastline. Not so very long ago, when the docks were being built was firmly believed that a ghostly and inexplicable light could be seen hovering above the Tuskar Rocks just off Ogmore by Sea. Sometimes the light drifted westward and could then be seen hovering over Sker Point. In either case old salts said, the light was the harbinger of storms and a forthcoming wreck.

Possibly because of this light the water around Tuskar was regarded with awe by local fishermen. It was considered appropriate, for example always to cast out three nets. If the middle one filled with crab and lobster, bad weather and a poor season would follow; if it filled weather and a good season were indicated.

In addition to the phantom ship the sailors of Portcawl told a tale in the early nineteenth century of a ship from the underworld. It was a three-masted barque which, as it sailed up and do coast, smelled abominably of sulphur—so much so that life in the villages became difficult. In this ship the devil had placed the sinners, but its constant meandering had annoyed St. Donat so much that he pierced the hull with a spear. The devil, who at that momoent was counting the number of souls aboard, was thrown into the water and had to swim for his life. The ship was wrecked and a giant from the Gower made a toothpick from the mast and a handerkerchief from the sails.

Accompanying the ghost light of Tuskar there was the 'cyhiraeth'. This was merely a sound but was no less frightening and was dreaded not only by sailors but by all the folk who lived within the sight and sound of the sea. It was an unearthly noise, starting first as a moan heard in the distance across the waves and gradually increasing in pitch and loudness until it became a scream. It might stop suddenly or die away gradually only to come again in a startling shriek that petrified all those who heard it. It often travelled inland, frightening the people in the lonely little villages of Ogmore by Sea and Porthcawl. It was always the harbinger of a terrible storm with the certainty of a shipwreck to follow.

The cyhiraeth sometimes brought the 'tolaeth', another sound, less frightening but more ghostly. This was the noise a carpenter would hear at night after making a coffin when he knew perfectly well that his workshop was empty and locked up for the night. He and his family would hear the sound of hammering but inspection never revealed anything untoward. The tolaeth was well known throughout Wales for in the past, because of epidemics and a short expectancy of life, coffin-making was one of the carpenter's chief sources of income. In the coastal areas, because of frequent wrecks, more than the usual number of coffins were required and the tolaeth was a sure indication that increased activity in the production of this particular commodity was about to materialise.