The Phantom Lights of Tuskar







Tusker Rock takes its name from the Viking ‘Tuska’ a Dane. ‘Tuska’ and his fellow Vikings partly populated the Vale of Glamorgan.


Below is are some of the vessels that have hit Tuskar Rock:

In November, 1847 the barque Henry of Liverpool bound for Cardiff hit the Tusker Reef near Porthcawl and was breaking up when the Barnstaple smack William and Jane sighted her and was able to save 18 of her crew. Only one, an apprentice, was lost.

In November, 1847 the Leith Packet from Newport for Stirling in Scotland was lost on the Tusker Reef but all hands were saved by a passing vessel.

In December 1870 the Cardiff Pilot cutter Dasher started to break up after hitting the Tusker Rock near Porthcawl in a thick fog. Because of the weather the wreck was not sighted and the pilot and his two assistants used the wreckage to build a raft on which they tried to head for the shore. Fortunately they were picked up by the Porthcawl Lifeboat (Good Deliverance).

On 14 October 1886 the iron sailing ship Malleny, of Liverpool, left Cardiff for Rio de Janiero with coal. She was towed as far as Lundy Island but after the tug had left the weather worsened and the captain decided to shelter in Swansea Bay. However as she sailed in heavy seas across the bay her rudder was lost and she drifted towards the coast. Although she was sighted in the bay the high winds had taken down the telegraph lines and it was impossible to alert the Porthcawl Lifeboat. She struck the Tusker Rock off Porthcawl and all 20 crew were lost.

The Cyhiraeth: a loud shrieking noise, is suppose to predict a disaster at sea. This loud shrieking noise would sometimes be accompanied by a dismal light that would hover over the waves.

The Tolaeth: It is said that a few early nineteenth century carpenters have heard the Tolaeth even before being asked to make the coffin.


Below is the story of  'The Phantom Lights of Tuskar' - as told by Alun Morgan

So many wrecks have occurred on the treacherous reefs and sandbanks near Porthcawl (see Porthcawl: its History and Development for a fuller account) that it is little wonder many strange stories have been told about the coastline. Not so very long ago, when the docks were being built, it was firmly believed that a ghostly and inexpiable light could be seen hovering above the Tuskar Rocks. 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 forth coming 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 with fish, fair weather and a good season were indicated.

In addition to the phantom ship described in Part 1 the sailors of Porthcawl talk 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 down the coast, smelled abominably of sulphur – so much so that life in the coastal villages became difficult. In this ship the devil had placed the souls of sinners, but its constant meandering had annoyed St. Donat so much that he pierced the hull with a spear. The devil, who at that moment 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 handkerchief 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 earthy 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 the Vale. 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 short life 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.


Illustration by Margaret Wooding



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