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The Nos Galan Races

The famous races held every New Year's Eve to commemorate the life of Guto Nyth Brán and his legendary athletic prowess.

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Nos Galan road race medal, 20th century

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A Nos Galan Road Racing Badge, 20th century

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Guto Nyth Brân

Every year a race like no other is held in the Mountain Ash area on New Year’s Eve.  The “Nos Galan Race” is to commemorate the legendary athletic prowess of a local man, Guto Nyth Brân.  The races were first run in 1958 and have grown from a single 100-yard dash and a 4-mile run to a series of events, the highlight of which is the 5km race.

Guto Nyth Brân, or Griffith Morgan (1700-1737), was born in Llwyncelyn in the Rhondda in 1700.  He was brought up on Nyth Brân Farm near Porth, hence his nickname.  There are many tales surrounding Guto’s prowess as an athlete including that he managed to chase and catch a live hare and a that he could catch a bird in flight.  It is said that he once ran from his home to Pontypridd, a distance of some 7 miles, in the time that it took his mother to boil the kettle.  This feat caught the attention of a local girl, Siân, a local shop owner, who became his manager.

Undefeated

Siân o’r Siop organised races for Guto and the first was against an unbeaten English captain stationed at Carmarthen.  Guto won the four-mile race easily and he and Siân collected £400 of prize money.  Siân continued to arrange races for Guto but his talent as an athlete meant that no-one could defeat him and challengers became fewer and fewer.  He and Siân became sweethearts and settled into a quiet life in the Rhondda. 

A challenger

Years into his retirement a new runner, known as Prince or “Prince of Bedwas”, emerged as a challenger.  He was unbeaten and Siân persuaded Guto to enter into a head-to-head race.  Though he was 37, he entered into training to prepare for the 12-mile race from Newport in Monmouthshire to Bedwas Church near Caerphilly.  Prince took an early lead in the race but Guto surged past his opponent in an uphill sprint near the end to take victory and title of the fastest runner of his time.

Unfortunately, the exertion of running 12 miles in a time of 53 minutes, and the adulation and praise that followed was too much for Guto.  Overwhelmed by the congratulatory back-slaps and celebrations, he collapsed at the finish line.  He died in Siân’s arms at the age of 37.

Today

Today, the Nos Galan races are run to commemorate his athletic ability.  Each year a mystery celebrity guest starts the event, placing a wreath on Guto’s grave at Llanwonno Church before running to the start line carrying the Nos Galan torch.  The senior 5km race is begun when the main torch is lit at the start line.  Past celebrities have included, Linford Christie, Kirsty Wade, Iwan Thomas, Stephen Jones and Jamie Baulch. 

Guto Nyth Brân is buried at Llanwynno Church near Mountain Ash and there is a statue to him in the centre of the town.

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