There’s a banner hanging above the grand staircase. The light from the glass-topped domed ceiling pulls your eyes to it the moment you step into the stately entryway – “GRAND RE-OPENING – 30th October 1897” it declares in neat print – yet the colourful bunting adorning the vestibule is tattered and torn in places, and the wooden floor is scuffed and stained. The muted light – derived chiefly, if not quite exclusively, from candlelight – is soft and delicate, but you’ll learn the hard way that it conceals a lot, too. Like the pool of blood at the bottom of the stairway. Like the Quiet Ones who skulk in the shadows.
You begin to wonder how anyone could’ve thought Sker – a Welsh word pronounced “scare” but one that has no literal translation, I don’t think? – Hotel was fit for anything, let alone a grand re-opening. It’s dusty and dirty, and many of its rooms are stacked with unopened crates and boxes. Every mirror in the hotel is fractured and splintered. Later, when you explore the upper floors and stumble upon horrifying contraptions that have surely been yanked from the imagination of HH Holmes and his infamous Murder Castle, you’ll realise the plans to open this place weren’t “grand” at all. Later still, when the banner lies in ribbons on the floor of the lobby as the heavy footfalls of blind men – or are they monsters? – stomp aimlessly from one side of the room, ears pricked for the slightest creak that’ll give away your position, you’ll be left wondering how on earth you can survive this.
It’s fitting that a story of sirens and shipwrecks is set on the coast of Wales, the Land of Song. Sker Hotel is filled with evocative images of life at sea, its numerous rooms stuffed with nautical trinkets and decorations. The theme is further enforced when you stumble into the hotel’s labyrinthine basement and catch sight of the black, unblinking glare of the portholes studded across the walls. In other rooms, you might discover a deep-sea divers’ helmet or find an antique harpoon. And every now and then in your travels, you’ll happen across a strange chair with manacles, and gramophone trumpets positioned just-so on either side of the headrest. You’ll try not to get too close to those.