Ysbyty Ifan – bigger than it looks

Crepuscular rays shining on Llwyn-Onn Guest House

Crepuscular rays shining on Llwyn-Onn Guest House in the distance

Aside on my walk to Ysbyty Ifan on Thursday 13th August 2015. I had cycled from Chester, the 50 hilly miles to Llwyn-Onn Guest House about 8 miles east of the tourist honey-pot (since the Romans relaxed there) Betws-y-Coed. I’d stayed at that guest house so I could focus on writing a story and this time to do the same. I enjoy walking around the area. It has such a notorious history for such a beautiful place and yet few know about it. This though, was not planned.

Ysbyty Ifan August 2015  - bridge over the River Conwy

Ysbyty Ifan August 2015 – bridge over the River Conwy

In search of a shop in Ysbyty-Ifan that I thought wasn’t there I saw an elderly couple (me plus a few) waiting at the bus stop. I said, “Are you waiting for a bus or perhaps a taxi?”


I examined the mostly-blank bus timetable. “But the next bus isn’t until tomorrow. It only goes Wednesdays and Fridays.”

Old woman hitting man with her handbag, “I told you it wasn’t Wednesday today. You’ve got to get that telly fixed.”

Also at the bus shelter were three young children. A boy (~7 years) asked me, “Would you like to play our game?”

Ah, children don’t usually ask ancient grownups to play with them so there must be something in it for them. I played along. “Okay, what do I have to do?”

A girl (~11) said in a gorgeous Welsh lilt, “Well, for a pound you have these three stones and if you get one in the bucket you win.”

I saw a small red bucket full of water on the seat in the shelter and a scattering of stones on the floor. The youngest boy (~4) piped up, “Or you can have two goes for £three!”

The others shushed him, scared I’d walk away by the bamboozlement. The bent to wag her finger at him, “That’s too much.”

The little boy grinned, “Nine pounds?”

I fished out a pound coin and handed it over in exchange for three stones. “Ah,” I said, the Geographer getting the better of me. “Now see this is limestone, that is slate, but look closely at the piece of quartz. See it has green inside it? That’s probably Malachite. Find some with lots of green and you’d have a semi-precious crystal you could sell in the city.”

I made a terrible hash of getting my first stone in the bucket but the children changed the rules on the fly and the third one sploshed in. I was rewarded with a piece of quartz.


I was really in search of a one-man sized hydro-electric turbine I thought I’d seen in the village over 30 years ago. I asked a woman who mainly wanted to talk about the busloads of kids they get measuring the river. Hah, that was my fault – back in the early 1970s it wasn’t enough to stand, stare and field sketch for a Geography field trip. I’d taught them to measure river speed, pH, size and shape of pebbles, etc. I wrote an early teachers’ guide to doing all that in my Conwy River Trail. Anyway, the woman pointed me back to the village where she said I’d find my water wheel.

Yep, there was one – huge wooden one probably 200 years old for grinding wheat into flour. I asked another woman nearby if she’d heard of a local turbine making

18th Century water wheel in Ysbyty Ifan - wrong wheel!

18th Century water wheel in Ysbyty Ifan – wrong wheel!

electricity but she misheard me, unlocked and took me into the mill building. Wow, well-preserved gearings and faded notices about the water wheel. [Since I wrote the above I have read The River Conway by Wilson MacArthur (1952 pub Cassell) in which he visits that waterwheel in the late 1940s and finds the HEP generator inside that old wooden wheel mill building!  The mill owner and man who built the HEP to power the whole village was Thomas John Roberts – photo on the left. Note the culvert taking water over the wheel – hence it was an overshot wheel. Love his trousers…


The woman said she didn’t live in the village, only helping a friend out and

Thomas John Roberts, dog Bach and their water wheel. c1949

Thomas John Roberts, dog Bach and their water wheel. c1949

pointed me at the village shop where I’d find a woman who had lived in Ysbyty all her life –(so far – I don’t like it when people think they’ve already lived ‘all’ their lives). No wonder I didn’t know there was a shop, the entrance is through the back door, a kitchen and into a small room. Shelves supported the odd jar of jam but no drinks.

In fact there was more confectionary than any other products and that was handy because in came Alan Sugar aged 7 to spend my one pound. The lady storekeeper laughed with me as she learned how the trio had lured me into their enterprise.

She sold the lad a pound’s worth of Haribo sweets and gave me a complementary mug of water. She knew of no local HEP project except one the school designed as a water-storage scheme but had it turned down by the local water authority – shame.

village2Aug2015All this to research the hole-in-the-wall gang that pillaged and raided Chester and other border towns in the 15th century. I discovered much about that –at least who their landowners were – The Rhys family, whose stone effigies lie in St John’s Church built on the site of the original hospice put there by the Hospitaller Knights of St John. Not only the sick took refuge there but the bad Red Bandits, or Black Knights, who did the raiding sought sanctuary there. I walked a few more miles up to the house those noble landlords lived in. A quiet, lovely place called Plas Iolyn near the hamlet of Rhydlydan. I’d read it was a roofless ruin but it’s a refurbished lived in listed building. No sign that it once housed the most notorious noble family of North Wales. Their names ap Ryse became changed over the years to Price and the last one sold the property in 1921. Hey, they were famous! One of them, Rhys Fawr, is said to have killed Richard III at Bosworth in 1485. Another Tomos Prys became a playboy, adventurer, pirate and poet and died in 1634. Doctor (of Law- The Red Doctor) Elis Prys ingratiated himself with Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII and was probably responsible for changes in the way Wales was administered since – as well being absolutely brutal in the way he disposed of the monasteries and the hospitallers. Yet, nothing of this shows in plaques or signs near their home at Plas Ionlyn. The local church in Ysbyty Ifan houses their marble effigies (might just be polished limestone).

Rhys family effigies - St John's Church Ysbyty Ifan

Rhys family effigies – St John’s Church Ysbyty Ifan

What interests me is not only that fascinating local history lies beneath the surface in this picturesque place but what little there is in the church and local signs in the village say nothing at all about the massacre of the Red Bandits, the thieves and pillagers who took refuge there. Yet the townspeople of Chester from where I rode my bike along the same roads that the bandits rode their horses, in league with other border towns hired “White Knights” and wiped out all the bandits. No sign of that. I’m doing more research and writing to historians who should know. In any case, I think I have a plot for another historical fantasy…

I waved a bye-bye to the three kids, waiting, hoping for more people to pass by, maybe more who think it’s Wednesday. I just heard the girl call out to a passing hiker, “Come and win some Marrakesh here!”


Does anyone have a copy they could lend me a copy of Wynn, Sir John (1990). Jones, J. Gwynfor, ed. History of the Gwydir family and memoirs. Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer


Also, a copy of The Conway River Trail by G.J. Nelder. It was printed en masse at Colne Valley High School in the 1970s. I can’t find my own copy. It wasn’t for sale just for Geography teachers and pupils.


Other Nelder News


How to WIN Short Story #Competitions

A pdf version is available from Ideas4Writers here.

For UK Amazon Kindle 
For US Kindle


New story published recently and it will only cost you 50p (80 cents) or less than the biscotti for your coffee.

One of my wife’s colleagues ran into a container. Clarify Nelder. Okay, he was sailing to the Isle of Man and the container had fallen off a ship. To a writer of spooky stories this is a rich start to a horror story. What’s in the container? Surely not people, yes but what kind of people… It’s called Voyage of the Silents, published by Pennyshorts



To grab a copy of one of my ARIA books here are the links

Kindle – Amazon.comhttp://www.amazon.com/ARIA-Left-Luggage-ebook/dp/B008RADGYC/

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Kindle UK – http://www.amazon.co.uk/ARIA-Left-Luggage-ebook/dp/B008RADGYC/

Paperback UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/ARIA-Left-Luggage-Geoff-Nelder/dp/1905091958/

Publisher’s website with more details and formats.


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Check out the page with video clips and purchase links http://geoffnelder.com/project/exit-pursued-by-a-bee/


  1. Jackie Parry

    A lovely story – enjoyed the pictures and light-hearted parts with the kids!

  2. Glen Barrera

    Nice! It should make for an interesting story.

  3. Claire Stibbe

    So this is where you were instead of writing? I can see why. Wonderful landscape and great photos. I would love to have seen how you did with the red bucket. Third time lucky!


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