These are some legends and folklore I have tracked down about the area I have been living since November of last year. My favourite is the one about the treasure stored at Mynydd y Drum summit. I have been looking but no luck aas yet........
The first legend found is a 16th Century farmhouse. We discovered it on our epic walk from Ystradgynlais to Coelbren and back via Ystrad Fawr
Site Description 1. 16th-century origins with many additions and alterations. Addition note: Fully storeyed gentry house of ca. 1600 with peculiarities of planning discussed by Jones and Smith in Houses of Breconshire (see sources). RF Suggett 12/10/1999. 2. Ystrad Fawr is an L-shaped manor/farmhouse, lying at the Southern end of Ystradgynlais. It is a stone house of two storeys throughout. From the front project two two-storey blocks, one a porch, the other a small wing, and between them lies a staircase. At the back is another original small square wing. There appear to be three chimney stacks, one on the back wall, one on an end wall, and one in the middle. The thickness of its walls indicate the porch is part of the original design. The house includes a double silled window, a doorway on the other side of the large oak-beamed fireplace, and a spiral staircase from one bedroom leading to a high, timbered loft. Oliver Cromwell is reputed to have stayed at the house. It appears a floor was added to the East side of the house in the early nineteenth century, together with the re-fronting of the house and the creation of a centralized plan of rooms and passages internally. It is possibly the earliest gentry house in the district and is unique for its combination of porch, staircase and oriel. (Sources: Jones and Smith, 'The Houses of Breconshire', pp. 43-7, Brycheiniog, xvi, 1972; Article in the Western Mail from c.1971). Ian Archer, RCAHMW, 4th February 2005
The following tale concerning a haunting in Ystradgynlais was printed in British Goblins (1881) by Wirt Sykes. 'In the parish of Ystradgynlais, in Breconshire, Thomas Llewellyn, an innkeeper's son, was often troubled by the spirit of a well-dressed woman, who used to stand before him in narrow lanes, as if to bar his passage, but he always got by her, though in great alarm. One night he mustered up courage to speak to her, and ask her what she wanted with him. To which she replied, 'Be not afraid; I will not hurt thee.' Then she told him he must go to 'Philadelphia in Pennsylvania,' and take a box from a house there, (which she described,) in which there was a sum of 200l. But as he did not know how to go to that far-off place, he said as much. 'Meet me here next Friday night,' said the phantom; 'meet me, I charge thee.' She then vanished. The young man went home and told this story to his neighbours and friends. They held a consultation with the curate of the parish, who promptly appointed a prayer-meeting for that Friday night, to which the young man was bidden, and by which it was hoped the purpose of the ghost to spirit him off to Philadelphia might be circumvented. The meeting continued until midnight, and when it broke up the young man's friends stayed with him; but they had no sooner got beyond the parson s stables than he was taken from among them. His subsequent adventures are thus related by himself: 'The apparition carried me away to a river, and threw me into it, chiding me for telling the people of our appointed meeting and for not coming to meet her as she had charged me; but bade me be not afraid, that she would not hurt me, because she had not charged me to be silent on the subject; nevertheless I had done wrong to go to the parson's house. Now, said she, we begin the journey. I was then lifted up and carried away I know not how. When I came to the place,' (in Philadelphia,) 'I was taken into a house, and conducted to a fine room. The spirit then bade me lift up a board, which I did. I then saw the box, and took it. Then the spirit said I must go three miles and cast it into the black sea. We went, as I thought, to a lake of clear water, where I was commanded to throw the box into it; which when I did there was such a noise as if all about was going to pieces. From thence I was taken up and carried to the place where I was first taken up. I then asked her. Am I free now? She said I was; and then she told me a secret, which she strictly charged me to tell no person.' Extensive and ingenious guessing was indulged in by all Ystradgynlais, as to what this secret might be; and one woman made herself popular by remembering that there was a certain Elizabeth Gething in other days who had gone from this neighbourhood to Pennsylvania, and the conclusion was eagerly arrived at, that this was the woman whose phantom the young man saw, and that the secret she told him was her name when alive. They questioned him as to her appearance, and he said she was largely made, very pale, her looks severe, and her voice hollow, different from a human voice. This was considered by the Ystradgynlaisians, with many nods to each other, as a most accurate description of what Elizabeth Gething would probably be, after having shuffled off this mortal coil. The time occupied in this mysterious transportation and ghostly enterprise was three days and three nights; that is, from Friday night to Monday night; and when the voyager came home he could scarcely speak.
The town Ystradgynlais is located in southwest Wales on the river Tawe and it is a center for ironmaking and coal mining. The wizard in this story, however, is in search of greater treasures than just iron and coal! The wizard spouts a good deal of mumbo-jumbo as he chants his spells, but one word is worth noting: Athanaton, which is a Greek word meaning Un-Dying, i.e. deathless, immortal.Explore: For another story about treasure hunting, see Arthur in the Cave. For another story in which the devil makes an appearance, see The Devil's Bridge. [notes by LKG]
THERE once lived at Ystradgynlais a wizard with an iron hand. By means of his magic he discovered that there was a great treasure hidden in Mynydd y Drum, and that he could secure it if he could only get some plucky fellow to spend a night with him on the mountain near the rock under which the gold and silver lay.
For a long time he could not secure a companion. He approached all his friends and acquaintances in vain: they were afraid and refused to have anything to do with such a perilous adventure.
At last, however, John Gethin, who was a reckless youth and said that he cared for nothing in heaven above, or in the earth beneath or in the water under the earth, said he would accompany the man with the iron hand on condition that he received half the treasure.
One dark night the twain went to the mountain and took up their stand on a greensward near the rock under which the wizard said the treasure was concealed. "Now," said the magician, "I am going to call upon the spirit which guards the treasure to present himself before us." He put on a robe of black covered with talismanic characters, girded himself with snake-skins tied together, and placed on his head a cap of sheepskin with a high crown bearing a plume of pigeons' feathers. In his hand he had a whip, the thong of which was made of the skin of an eel and the handle of bone. With this he traced two circles on the sward touching each other like the figure 8. After that he took a great black book and lit a candle and stepped into one of the circles. "Stand in the middle of the other circle," said he to Gethin, "and whatever happens, do not step out of the ring." Gethin did as he was told.
The wizard opened his book and read: "I adjure and invocate thee by the silence of the night and by the holy rites of magic and by the number of the infernal legions, that without delay thou present thyself here and answer my demand by the force of the words contained in this book." This he repeated thrice.
First there appeared a monstrous bull, bellowing dreadfully, but the plucky Gethin held his ground, and the bull vanished. Then a gigantic goat came and rushed full pelt at Gethin, but as he did not move the goat also melted into thin air. Next a huge bristly boar charged at him, and an immense fire-breathing lion crouched and leapt at him, but Gethin stood motionless, and as soon as these fearful apparitions crossed the circle drawn by the magician they vanished into space.
Then a great fly-wheel of fire, blazing brightly and roaring loudly, made straight for poor Gethin. For a moment he lost heart and swerved out of the ring. No sooner had he done this than the fly-wheel of fire assumed the shape of the Enemy of Mankind, and began to haul Gethin away. The man with the iron hand seized hold of him and tried to get him back. Poor Gethin nearly parted in half in the struggle between the two.
The Enemy of Mankind was getting the better of the tug of war, when the wizard said, "By the power of the East, Athanaton, of the West, Orgon, of the South, Boralim, of the North, Glauron, I charge and command thee to suffer this man to live while this candle lasts." The Evil One let go his hold of Gethin and vanished.
Thereupon the wizard immediately blew out the candle and gave it to Gethin. "Had you not swerved out of the circle," he said, "all would have been well, but as you disobeyed my command, this is the utmost respite that I can secure for you. Put the candle away in a cool place. As long as the candle lasts your life will be safe."
Gethin went home and preserved the piece of candle very carefully, stowing it away in the coldest place he could find. But as time went on he found it was wasting away, although it was never lighted. Gethin was never the same after his fearful night on the mountain, and when he found the candle was wasting away he took to his bed. As the candle wasted away he did the same, and after some years both came to an end at the same time.
The wizard attended him during his last hours, and those who carried the coffin, which was supposed to contain Gethin's mortal remains, found it very light. The story went that Gethin's body disappeared out of the coffin before it was nailed up, and that the wizard put a lump of clay there instead to save appearances, but no one was bold enough to open the coffin to find out the truth.
The hoard of treasure hidden under rocks on the top of this mountain is protected by demonic entities which attack anyone close to discovering the gold.There was a conjurer living at Ystradgylais at the beginning of the present century, who had an iron hand; and there is an old tradition that a treasure is hidden at the Garngoch, the highest point of the Drim mountain. The "Iron-hand" conjurer made the acquaintance of one John Gething, a farmer's son, who lived at Werngynlais farm, and gave him some books to study, with a view of teaching him the black art. John is reported to have made great progress in a short time; and, being a very courageous man, his teacher was able to perform in his presence many things which few mortals can withstand.One day John Gething was working at the hay on his father's farm, when two men appeared before him. John said to them, "Hei!" And one of the men said to him: "Well, is it for thee that thou hast spoken! Thou must come with us to the Garngoch to seek the hidden treasure."John went, and on the way he found out that he who spoke to him was his old teacher: but the other being disappeared, and John never saw him again. On arriving at Garngoch the conjurer told John that he was not, on the peril of his life, to divulge anything that he would see or hear that night on the top of Garngoch. When night came on the conjurer opened his books, lit a candle, and began to read, with strict injunctions to John not to be afraid of anything he saw. While the conjuror read spirits appeared and surrounded them with great noise; and then great light shone on Garngoch, and John saw three pots full of gold. Nothing more happened that night; but the conjurer gave John strict instructions to meet him there another night which he named. When the appointed night came John met him to time. The first thing done by the conjurer this night, after giving John the same instructions as on the previous night, and that he was not to be frightened, was to make two rings joined like the figure 8. John stood in one ring and the conjurer in the other, and neither of them was to step out of the ring, or fear, at the risk of losing their lives or being carried away by the devil! The conjurer lit his candle and began to read his books; and the spirits appeared with great noise. Then came a fiery bull, and ran at John Gething; but John stood in the ring fearlessly, and the bull and all the evil spirits vanished. The conjurer was very pleased with John Gething's courage, and told him one night more would be sufficient for them to fight against the spirits to secure all the hidden treasure and gold he had seen on the first night. The conjurer, before leaving, told John on what night he was to meet him again. On the third night the conjurer had brought more books, and told John before he opened them that it was a matter of life or death to im how he acted that night, that terrible things would appear, but there would be no harm if he stood fearlessly, and did not move out of the ring; but first he must have a drop of John's blood to give to the devil to satisfy him before the spirits appeared, and John gave a drop of his blood to the conjurer to give to the devil.The conjurer then made to rings as before, lit his candle, and began to read his books. The spirits came with greater noise than before, and surrounded them, and a large wheel of fire came towards the ring in which John Gethin stood, and John was so frightened that he stepped out of the ring. The devil immediately took hold of him, and was going to carry him away in such a terrible storm and heavy rains as no one before witnessed in the district, but the conjurer implored him not to kill John, as he had displayed such courage before; and there was a hard fight between the devil and the conjurer for John's life, and the devil at last gave in, and permitted John to live as long as the candle lasted which the conjurer had to read his books, and the devil told them that neither of them should ever have the hidden treasure, but a virgin not yet born would some day own the same.The conjuror gave John Gething the candle, and told him not to light it, but to keep it in a cool place. John did so, but the cndle wasted, though it was never lighted, and John Gething from that night became ill, and worse and worse, until he died. The candle also was found to have wasted completely at the time of his death.
During John's illness several doctors attended upon him, but no one understood the cause of his sufferings or death, except a few persons to whom he divulged what had transpired on the Garngoch. John was buried at Ystradgynlais church.
E. SIDNEY HARTLAND.