Guto Nyth Bran (Glanffrwd)

Guto statue in Mountain Ash
The story of Guto or Gruffydd Morgan is beyond doubt, Guto was born in Llwyncelyn (Hollybush) in 1700, but his parents moved to Nythbran when he was very young. He grew up a fleet-footed boy, and there was no one who could beat him on the flat, on the steep hillsides, or on the wild mountain top. He was so fast that he could catch a young sheep whenever he liked. Many had performed similar feats, but Guto did things that had never been done since the days of King David. Sometimes he would be sent by his mother to Llantrisant or Aberdare for yeast. It is said that his mother would put the kettle on the fire for breakfast as he was leaving on the errand. He would cross the Rhondda river by the Pyllau Duon (black pools or pits) near Britannia, climb up the side of the mountain in a dead straight line, take no heed of road, wall, hedge or ditch, and although the distance was over twelve miles, Guto would be back with yeast in time for breakfast.

His mother once sent him on a message to Aberdare while she had some business to attend to, with hopes of a gossip and a pinch of snuff, in Hafod Fach, Away he sped over Cefn Gwyngul to Cwmaman and Aberdare with the message. His mother thought it was time she returned to prepare Guto’s dinner, only to find that he was back. She would not believe he had been to Aberdare until it was proved by the fulfilment of the request in the message.

There is a story and a tradition that he was once asked by his father to gather the sheep on the mountain and bring them down to the yard at Nythbran, “and takes the dogs with you, and bring the sheep down as quickly as you can.” Guto answered, “Keep the dogs here. I’ll do better without them,” and away he went. He brought the flock into the yard in a very short time, without the aid of man or dog. “Did you have any trouble with the sheep, Guto? Asked the old man. “No,” said Guto, “except with that reddish-grey one over there, but I caught her and broke her leg.” “Listen boy,” said the father, “that’s a hare. What on earth are you thinking of? Where did you find her?” Guto replied, “She rose from the ferns on Llwyncelyn Mountain, and before she reached the Hafod. I caught her and then she had a nap with the flock.” “You are a silly fellow,” answered the father.

I heard many of the older people tell of Guto’s great courage when he followed the fox with the Llanwynno hounds all the way to a corner of Cardiganshire. It was dusk when the fox, two hounds and Guto had reached a spot near a gentleman’s house and both Guto and the hounds were too exhausted to catch the fox. Guto was warmly welcomed by the gentleman, and later ran several races with the man’s horse, which had lost him much money through having been by another gentleman’s horse. The place where they finished this chase was a place called is Llanwrtyd Wells which was the old part of Cardiganshire. (The distance between Llanwynno and Llanwrtyd Wells is 55 miles).

The result was that Guto ran against this man’s horse and beat him, winning back all the money which had been lost, and more with it. Guto returned to the Rhondda Valley, where he was greeted only by the strong breezes of Mynydd Gwyngul Singing, See the conquering hero comes.”

I can remember hearing some of the old people – many over eighty years of age and in their grave by now – relating with great relish of the journeys and races of Guto. Although he completed long journeys in what appear to us to be incredibly short times, these old timers had not the slightest doubt of their truth. They could recall his preparations for a race. He would sleep on a warm manure heap in front of the stable, the natural heat of which would loosen his limbs until his muscles were like whip-cord and as flexible as whalebones. Although there were many fast runners to be found on the hills in this pastoral community, there was no one to touch him on a 12 mile race. He was like Azahal, perhaps even faster. He was more like one of the deer Solomon mentioned on the hills of Judea. It is on record, as I said before, when he led the hounds to Cardiganshire that he kept up with the dogs over hill and dale, through briers of the lowland and the solitude of the upland over moor and meadow, often capturing the fox by its tail.

Sian the Shop was Guto’s best friend. She risked a lot of money on his legs, and it is said that many rich gentlemen in the country today are some of her descendants or have derived their wealth through her.

She made a small fortune when a race was arranged between Guto and an English army captain from Carmarthen, stationed with his troops at Hirwaun. The course was over four miles and the prize money was £500, which Guto won with the greatest of ease. Then came a challenge from another Englishman, named Prince, for a match over a twelve-mile course for a great some of money. It was joyfully accepted by Guto and his friends, and away they went to Caerphilly to arrange the terms of the course. A day was fixed and the runners were to start from St Woolos Church Newport and finish by St Barrwg’s Church, Bedwas beyond Caerphilly. Hundreds of pounds had been wagered on the race, and the wealthy men of the parish had gone along to net on Guto’s feet. Sian the shop, now regarded a rich woman, was there, of course. They said she wagered an apron full of sovereigns on Guto’s legs. She was always generous where Guto was concerned, but this time she risked her all on him. The runners started, and they soon left Newport behind, with Prince in the lead and drawing farther ahead all the time. Guto lagged behind and stopped to have a chat with some onlookers until Prince was well out of sight. But when Guto saw it was time for him to move, he said, “I must remember Sian the Shop,” and he sped like a hind over the dale. When some of the other’s mad supporters saw that Guto was gaining, they threw glass on the road to cut his feet or cause him to slip, but he leapt over it and ran like a deer. As he was going up the steep slope towards Bedwas Church, Guto overtook Prince, and on reaching him, asked him if he couldn’t travel a little faster. It appears that Guto ran for a time side by side with Prince, but remembering Sian and her money, he ran on like a mountain breeze and finished the course in seven minutes under the hour-12 miles in 53 minutes. So overjoyed was Sian the Shop that she ran forward to clap Guto on the back, shouting, “Guto Nythbran for ever. Well done, Guto” So she clapped him heartily on the back, little thinking of the hard race he had run and his heart was beating fast as a result of the final spurt. His heart jumped out of its place , and Guto finished , not only a course of twelve miles, but is race on earth: and while Sian the Shop was taking her winnings of two aprons full of gold, Guto was closing his eyes  on all the trouble and kindness , the wealth an poverty of this world, at the age of 37.

Great was the grief in Llanwynno. The remains of this wonderful man were placed to rest under the south wall of Gwynno’s Church, and on the grave was erected a suitably inscribed stone, on which was carved a heart, indicating how the great runner died. Twenty years ago the people of the parish places a large tombstone as a new memorial on Guto’s grave the tombstone was erected in 1866, and on it are the following two verses, the work of Meudwy Glan Elai.

Guto Nyth Bran Grave
Guto Nyth Bran Grave
Translation into English
He was a grand and courageous runner
A giant who always won
May his name for ever
Be kept fresh and radiant.This stone was placed by us
As a token of affection
May his ashes e’er remind us
Of this justly famous man

I have not exaggerated the story of Guto, but rather depicted the highlights sorted out from the thicket of tradition.


The Epitaph of Guto Nyth Bran

Gruffydd was always a champion – a strong
And cheerful runner
A dear man, he slipped under the shroud
From our hands, like a leaf.

Although greatly praised, as swift – as the hind
Or the breeze on a hill;
A man as fragile as dust
Cannot escape the call of death.

Alaw Goch (David Williams)