In the summer of 2020 a group of brave people decided to break into an abandoned Welsh fort. It was a derelict building on a tiny island of its own – not the sort of place help can easily reach should you need it. They were there hunting for ghosts, and what they actually found sent a shiver down all their spines.
There’s something intrinsically scary about abandoned forts. They were built for military use after all, so it’s possible that people died there. And many of them are falling to pieces – creating a labyrinth of broken parts that could very easily injure you.
Interestingly, it turns out that Wales is a bit of a hotspot for ghost encounters. It’s home to a lot of old forts and castles – many of which seem to come with at least one ghost story attached. Tales of gruesome murders and restless spirits blight their names. You can go on an official ghost tour if you like… or, of course, you can take matters into your own hands.
The fortress the ghost hunters went to explore is called Stack Rock Fort. It’s located just off the coast of Pembrokeshire – right in the midst of crashing waves and far away from any sort of human contact. If you went there, your only companions would be the hundreds of screeching seagulls which have made the island their own.
Despite the presence of so many birds circling around, there’s something oddly creepy and still about the fort. It’s been largely untouched by human hands for nearly a century – apart from the odd curiosity-seeker of course. It’s also hopelessly overgrown with out-of-control vegetation and looks like something out of an apocalypse movie.
And you won’t find much evidence of the fort’s previous occupants at Stack Rock. There’s nothing in the building that’s supposed to hurt you, since it was officially “disarmed” all the way back in 1929. But the ghost hunters were after something more metaphysical, and they’re pretty sure they found it.
Who are these human beings risking life and limb for the sake of ancient ghosts? That would be the members of Dark Arts TV, which is a paranormal investigation YouTube channel. It’s run by a man named Karl Hassall and a variety of other ghost hunters – including his girlfriend Natalie Burton. Apparently, they’ve made quite a name for themselves in the paranormal community.
The official Facebook page for the Dark Arts team declares, “It is our mission to gain and provide evidence of the other side – paranormal and spiritual activity and the intelligent interaction that is possible between the two worlds.” Well, where better to do that than in an abandoned island fort?
Karl Hassall first got interested in ghost hunting after an alleged paranormal experience he had as a kid. In 2019 he told the Wales Online website that his childhood home in the English city of Manchester was haunted by “silhouette-like shapes moving about, the gas hob turning on by itself – all kinds of crazy stuff. We had to get someone in to bless the place.”
It was also in 2019 that Karl visited the island for the first time alongside his girlfriend Natalie Burton. And he was happy to talk about it to the website. The paranormal investigator said, “I researched it a lot, rented a boat to get us over and spent the night – it was a really creepy place.” No kidding.
Karl remembered, “The sense of isolation once you arrived was unbelievable.” He added, “There was nobody else there, so the noises we were hearing were really freaky – like voices coming from one of the lower levels, along with some loud bangs and a really low rumbling, metallic sound. It sounded like one of the big guns they used to fire on the island being dragged – I still can’t explain it.”
Maybe knowing the history of the fort will help explain at least a little, though. It was built between over a two-year period from 1850, but it was actually the brainchild of King Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell all the way back in 1539. He proposed that a fort be built in the spot, but it didn’t actually happen until centuries later.
It was decided to finally build the fort after French leader Napoleon III threatened to invade Britain. Any attack would be made by sea, and the Royal Dockyard was on the waterway the fort now protects. When the construction was built, it came complete with what was at the time very powerful weaponry: cannons that could blast a ship apart.
Originally, the building contained three 32-powder guns and one 12-pounder one. A few years after its creation it was updated and given – you guessed it – more guns. And by 1870 the fortification could host 150 soldiers. These men would have spent uneasy nights in the cold of the island – never knowing if or when an attack might come.
Gradually, though, the fort stopped being of such strategic importance. The soldiers were then slowly dismissed until only a few remained. When World War I broke out, the fort was still active but relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Then, come 1929 it was taken out of commission entirely.
After that came the question: what to do with an abandoned fortress? Times had changed and acceptable living conditions in 1852 were very much not anymore. The construction had no power, running water or flushing toilets. In 1932 it sold for £160, which to be fair was way more money back then.
In 2005 the fort went up for sale again, and the BBC website reported on the story. Mary Joyce of the Haynes Agency – which was managing the sale – told the broadcaster, “The current owner bought it at auction, but [he] hasn’t done much with it. I think he used to go there for picnics. It is so unique, I think it might not be a local person who buys it, but there is always someone with an interest.”
The agent went on, “Inspection is going to be difficult – as it has to be by boat – although we have lined up someone up who runs a helicopter and they are checking out [a] landing area. There are no services from what we can see. There is damp inside and no accommodation, but there are a couple of guns inside.”
The 2005 buyer turned out to be a man called Gary Philips, and he took steps to stop people trespassing on the island. That didn’t stop people though, as urban explorers were desperate to take a look at the place. Eventually, in 2018 the building went up for sale again, but no one stepped in to buy it.
The lack of buyer interest shouldn’t be too surprising, though, since the building’s just fallen more into disrepair. Some people have explored the fortress via drone and it looks like a bomb hit it. In 2017 the Wales Online website reported, “Stack Rock Fort is scattered with derelict, dungeon-looking buildings, dangerous drops and hidden shafts.”
But no matter the danger, people can’t stay away. It’s just such a fascinating place. A YouTuber called Alex Brown took some drone footage – with permission from the authorities – and when he posted it up on YouTube, the comments were filled with people dreaming of visiting or outright buying the place.
One person commented, “I would love to camp out there for about a week just for the peace and quiet.” But they’d still have the seagulls to contend with – oh, and very possibly the ghosts as well. When Karl Hassall and his crew set out for the island once more in August 2020 they were looking for a creepy encounter.
Along on the ride with Karl were some other YouTubers: the eponymous hosts of Sam and Jess Explore and Matt of The Secret Vault. The former’s main objective, though, was to find a ghost. In the video, he tells the camera before starting out, “It’s quite a weird vibe over there so I’m hoping to get some spirit box responses – maybe some noise as well.”
The clips shows the crew finding several creepy things as they make their way around the island. In among all the old, crumbling bricks there are some modern things as well: evidence of past urban explorers or ghost hunters. Finding a plastic torch on the ground, Karl quips, “This is from the last explorers who came here and died!” Well, hopefully it was a joke.
The team come across some interesting graffiti dotted about as well. One explorer all the way back in 1943 had left his name on the wall. But you can see some other, more dangerous remnants of the past in the fortress as well. For instance, some massive cannons remain where they’d been abandoned all those years ago.
After a lot of exploring, Karl then gets down to business. He tells the camera, “It’s time to do some spirit box.” He would also be attempting to contact the dead via something called a “necrophonic app,” which he admits being skeptical of. But, he says, “We’re going to try it out on the island and see what happens.”
The ghost hunters are then seen venturing down into one of the darkest, creepiest parts of Stack Rock Fort. As the seagulls squawk wildly outside, Karl tells the audience, “We’re not [expecting] amazing results. We didn’t really get anything last time [with the] spirit box in the fort itself, [but] maybe things will change.”
But the spirit box begins making noise right away. Karl says to any potential ghosts, “Try and use this device to come through, speak to us. Is anyone still working here? Okay, you try and tell me what this room is used for.” Matt adds, “There’s no other signals coming through on any frequency, so if something comes through, you know it means something.”
Matt calls out in the video, “Don’t be afraid of us. If you’ve got something to say, we’re listening.” But nothing happens. Instead, Karl decides to turn off the spirit box and try out an app called Deadwave. And this one seems to work much better. Karl asks, “Does anyone here want to speak with us?” and he appears to get some kind of an answer. An apparent voice says, “Death.”
Yes, this probably wasn’t the answer anyone really wanted. Karl asks the strange voice, “Do you want to tell me what this room’s used for?” And once again, he gets the creepy monosyllabic answer, “Death.” As if that wasn’t spine-chilling enough, a distant bang like that of a cannon can suddenly be heard in the clip.
Karl asks the possible ghost, “You trying to speak with us?” and it answers, “Perhaps.” He then questions, “Did you die in this room?” and gets only the word “death” again. Matt presses on with, “Did you die in this fort?” and the voice responds, “Pain.”
Worryingly, the voice then speaks again, saying, “Go away.” But Karl isn’t completely buying it. He tells the audience, “This is the thing with this [the app], to me it’s super inconclusive. It’s like, the stuff that comes through is like, is it a coincidence, you know what I mean?”
The group subsequently progress into an even deeper and darker part of the fort – just to see what would happen. On the way, they pass a hole into the sea which had been covered up at some point with a wooden board. Matt suggests, “Maybe they chucked somebody down there to die.”
When they reach the deeper room, Matt quips, “Twenty pence for the spirits to manifest” and drops a coin on the floor. With the spirit box making noises, he asks anything that is listening, “So what are you doing here, when you’re working here? Are you conscripted? Were you navy, army?”
Matt tries other questions, asking, “Do you like it in the dark, dungeon area? Speak to us now, let us know you’re here. How old are you?” And at that point, there is a weird, creepy noise in the distance. Matt tells the others, “That sounded like a child’s voice.” They then keep going, with Matt asking, “Are you a child?”
Over the noise of the box, Matt says, “Whoever that was [who] made the noise, are you trying to speak to us?” He continues, “Are you meant to be in this area, is something bad happening over here? Are you just passing through? If you talk to us we’re not going to do anything to you for being here.” Then a faint voice seems to say, “Hello.”
As Matt and Karl realize they might not be alone in the dark room, more unexplained noises seem to echo in. Matt calls out to the ghost, “Tell us who you are, tell us something about yourself. Are you here with us now? Are you happy being here?” And then then a rumbling noise suddenly rings out.
This noise really seems to freak everyone out. Karl says in the YouTube clip, “The whole building was like shaking then,” and they decide to leave the room and go back outside. Matt muses, “When you hear a big bang like that, it could be something coming in.” They make their way back through the fort – discussing the sound that “shook the walls.” But there is nothing and nobody outside.
An unnerved Karl speaks up, “So what could have been making that noise?” He then adds, “When I was here last time the whole building literally rumbled.” Was it just the noises a massive, ancient fort would make as the sea crashed against it? Or could it have been something more sinister?
Karl and his team obviously survived the encounter unscathed. And the fort still sits abandoned on its island… for now. In July 2020 it was announced that there were plans to turn it into an activity center – a project which planners said could take up to ten years. But if that work does go ahead, they’ll have to be careful with what they might disturb.