This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Nos Galan Road Races, a global phenomenon that started on a bitterly cold New Year’s Eve in 1958.
Topping the UK music charts at the time was It’s Only Make Believe, by Conway Twitty and children’s’ television show Blue Peter was broadcasted for the very first time.
Earlier in the year, Donald Campbell set the World water speed record at 248.62 mph and the Empire Games were held in Cardiff. Welsh athletics administration officer, secretary and press officer at those Empire Games was none other than Bernard Baldwin, a man who would go on to host his own athletics event in his home town of Mountain Ash just five months later.
Many years later, Bernard was awarded the MBE for his services to the world of athletics.
It was the late Bernard Baldwin MBE who came up with the idea and the wonderful concept of celebrating the life of legendary Welsh athlete Griffith Morgan (Guto Nyth Bran) in a unique way that would capture the imagination of the world.
Bernard, who served in the Fleet Air Arm as a trainee air gunner during the Second World War, went on to become a schoolteacher, teaching at Tintern Village School in the Wye Valley, Mill Street Secondary Modern School in Pontypridd, and Treforest Lower Comprehensive School.
An accomplished cross country champion himself, Bernard loved history, sport, and Welsh folklore, and when he stumbled upon the tale of Guto Nyth Bran, his life would never be the same again.
Bernard went on to receive his MBE from The Queen at Buckingham Palace in 1971, for his services to British athletics. He was also granted the Freedom of the County Borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf in 2014.
Griffith Morgan was born in the South Wales Valleys in 1700 and grew up at Nythbran Farm, on the outskirts of Porth, in the Parish of Llanwonno.
There are many tales about this remarkable runner - a man who could outrun a hare, a horse, catch a bird in mid-flight and run to Pontypridd and back to the farmhouse before the kettle had time to boil!
Guto’s childhood sweetheart Sian ran the village shop, hence the name Sian O’ Siop (Sian of the Shop). They were saving to get married when Guto took up a race challenge in 1737 against a man called Prince, who lived in Bedwas.
Guto was said to be the ‘Fastest Man on Earth’ - a man who could run 50 yards in just four seconds and 10 miles in 45 minutes. But how fast could he run 12 miles?
A date was set for the 12-mile race from Newport to Bedwas and Guto won it convincingly in a time of 53 minutes – seven minutes within the hour!
Everyone was delighted, nobody more so than Sian, who ran up to him as he crossed the finishing line and gave him a hearty slap on the back. But this took the last breath out of Guto’s aching body and he collapsed lifeless at her feet.
Guto was laid to rest near the western porch of St Gwynno’s Church, Llanwonno, a 12th Century church situated in the Parish of Llanwonno. Over 200 years later, Bernard Baldwin MBE would discover the legend and vowed to keep it alive.
The Nos Galan Road Races were born and the first event held on the streets of Mountain Ash on Wednesday, December 31, 1958.
Sponsored by the Daily Mirror newspaper, with Welsh marathon runner and 1948 Olympic Games Silver medallist Tom Richards as the first-ever Nos Galan Mystery Runner, representing the spirit of Guto Nyth Bran.
Many more well-known sporting celebrities would follow in his footsteps over the years, carrying the Nos Galan torch from the graveside of Guto Nyth Bran down the hillside and into Mountain Ash town centre to mark the start of the main race.
Previous Nos Galan Mystery Runners have included Chris Coleman, Colin Jackson, Linford Christie, Alun Wyn Jones, Ron Jones, David Bedford, Nicole Cooke, Lillian Board, Shane Williams, Nathan Cleverly and Colin Charvis.
But who will be this year’s race champions and Nos Galan Mystery Runner?.....only time will tell.
The first-ever Nos Galan Road Races champion was World cross country champion Stan Eldon. Women’s’ races were first introduced in 1963, with Carol Mitchell crossing the line first.
Bernard himself went on to organise the Nos Galan Road Races for an amazing 36 years, attracting thousands of athletes, spectators, famous celebrities and the world’s media to the town of Mountain Ash. He sadly passed away on January 3, 2017, aged 91.
The Nos Galan Road Races, still going strong after 60 years, is the biggest open-air New Year’s Eve street party in Rhondda Cynon Taf each year.
Not only does it attract thousands of competitors and spectators each year, but it also remembers the life of Guto Nyth Bran, keeping the legend alive.
The late Bernard Baldwin MBE once said: “Guto Nyth Bran will forever rest at St Gwynno’s Church, in the Parish of Llanwonno, where the sigh of the wind and the call of the wild will forever sing the sad requiem of the greatest runner that ever lived.”
As was Bernard’s main aim all those years ago, Guto will never be forgotten and the Nos Galan Road Races will continue in memory of both men.
Posted on Friday 28th December 2018