Fourteen miles north of Newport, the valley of the Llwyd opens out at the airy iron and coal town of BLAENAFON (sometimes Blaenavon), whose population has shrunk to five thousand, a third of its size in the nineteenth century. It’s a spirited and evocative place, a fact recognized by UNESCO, who granted it World Heritage Site status in 2000.

Blaenafon ironworks

The town’s boom kicked off at the Blaenafon ironworks, just off the Brynmawr road, founded in 1789. Limestone, coal and iron ore – ingredients for successful iron-smelting – were abundant locally, and the Blaenafon works was one of the largest in Britain until it closed in 1900. This remarkable site contains three of the five original Georgian blast furnaces, one with its cast house still attached, and the immense water-balance lift. Also here are the workers’ cottages, some unchanged and others converted into a museum offering a thorough picture of the process and the lifestyle that went with it.

Big Pit National Mining Museum

Guided tours at the evocative Big Pit National Mining Museum involve being kitted out with lamp, helmet and very heavy battery pack, and then lowered 300ft into the labyrinth of shafts and coalfaces. The guides – mostly ex-miners – lead you through explanations and examples of the different types of coal mining, while all the while streams of rust-coloured water flow by. The dank and chilly atmosphere must have terrified the small children who were once paid twopence – of which one penny was taken out for the cost of their candles – for a six-day week pulling the coal wagons along the tracks. Back on the surface, the old pithead baths – one of the last remaining in the country – now holds a compelling, and very moving, museum documenting the lives and times of the miners and their families.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Wales features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

6 of the best road trips in the UK

6 of the best road trips in the UK

There is something about a road trip that creates an endless state of heightened excitement. It comes with a heart-in-mouth, funfair-like thrill. And no matter …

21 May 2018 • Mike MacEacheran insert_drive_file Article
Beyond Snowdon: the best alternative hikes in Wales

Beyond Snowdon: the best alternative hikes in Wales

Wales-bound hikers invariably make a beeline for Snowdon, Britain’s highest mountain outside of Scotland. But with annual visitor numbers cresting the 600,000…

25 Apr 2018 • Luke Waterson insert_drive_file Article
8 great alternative UK city breaks

8 great alternative UK city breaks

London, Edinburgh, Cardiff… These are the usual suspects when visitors are thinking about UK city breaks. But there are actually 66 other cities to be explore…

23 Apr 2018 • Greg Dickinson insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right