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  • Day106

    Day 106: Blaenavon Industrial Landscape

    June 1, 2017 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Off and out reasonably early this morning, after a small but decent breakfast in our apartment. Thankfully not too much driving today, but still plenty of stuff to get through! After a couple of days break from UNESCO stuff, we were getting back on that horse with a visit to Blaenavon and the associated mining works.

    It's about an hour to the north of Cardiff, so we loaded up the car and headed off. First stop was the museum where we read through the information and boned up for the video, then drove across to the Ironworks. This was a giant forge area where coal and iron ore was forged into pig iron and then later steel.

    It was here in this ironworks where a local chemist discovered how to make good quality steel from poor quality iron ore (apparently the trick was lining your blast furnace with tar and limestone bricks). His discovery made him a wealthy man, but ultimately backfired as it became more economical to extract poor quality iron ore elsewhere, like in America and Germany. Gradually the mines shut down and Wales became an industrial graveyard.

    But I'm getting ahead of myself! The area is famous for coal mining and iron ore mining, and at one point something like a third of the world's coal came from southern Wales, and this area in particular. It was horrible, nasty work, working 12 hour shifts six days a week, sometimes even starting as young as five years old. Conditions were as appalling as you'd expect, though at least the pay was reasonable provided your made your quota. This was actually a key area in the social reforms of the Victorian era as well, because every time inspectors came down from London they were horrified at what they found.

    We had a quick lunch in a cafe, then headed for the Big Pit mine, actually one of the later mines sunk here. It opened in 1901 and ran up until the 1980s, mining coal. At least this was tunnelled work, rather than the awful open-cut coal mines they dig in Australia! The main reason for visiting this particular site was the underground tour, which I'm happy to report was excellent (though you aren't allowed to take a camera or anything battery-operated down the shaft).

    A former employee took us down to 90 metres below the surface, walking around some of the tunnels where he'd worked and telling stories about life down in the mine. Surprisingly, canaries were still actually in use until the 1970s when more sophisticated systems were installed. Hard to believe!

    We had a further poke around the site before heading off late in the afternoon with more driving ahead of us. We drove up to the Brecon Beacons national park through some absolutely stunning scenery, where we finally arrived at our cabin around 6pm. It was essentially a potting shed in a hippie lady's backyard, very rustic but nice enough. Annoyingly, the bathroom was at the other end of the garden and didn't have a light, so calls of nature were a bit interesting! And it was a little cramped, since most of the spare floor space got taken up by a roll-out bed.

    But we managed! We had pre-arranged for the host to make us dinner, which she duly provided and was lovely. Vegetarian pasta with some antipasto to start with - basically all products from the garden I think. Slept quite soundly.
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    Joel Baldwin

    Forge rooms at the ironworks

    Joel Baldwin

    Water-powered elevator

    Joel Baldwin

    The town and the Big Pit

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