Big Pit, Blaenavon (Blaenafon)
World Heritage Site in south Wales
(Photos Aug 2005, words Sept 2007, content © urban75)
One of the birthplaces of the industrial revolution, the awarding of World Heritage Status to Blaenavon in 2000 put the town right up there with the Taj Mahal and Florence, although perhaps not so easy on the eye.
The town grew around an ironworks opened in 1788, with steel-making and coal mining industries boosting the town's population to a peak of over 20,000.
With the closure of the ironworks in 1900 and, more disastrously, the coal mine in 1980, the population has declined to just 6,400 souls, the majority of them older citizens.
The town's fortunes improved slightly with the creation of the Big Pit mining museum, although recent attempts to turn it into Wales's second "book town" (the first being Hay-on-Wye) haven't met with a great deal of success.
The landscape around Blaenavon is blighted by industrial tips, although recent schemes have helped soften the lines and grass over the black coal waste.
Today the Big Pit (aka The National Mining Museum of Wales) is one of only two remaining mines where visitors can journey to the underground workings below.
A caged lift takes you some some 300 ft (90 m) underground, with wisecracking ex-miners taking you on a tour of the workings.
The Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway - a volunteer-run preserved railway - is located close to the Big Pit.
The 'highest standard gauge railway in Wales' and running through a bleak, windswept landscape, trains trundle up a short steep section of line from a platform by the former colliery furnace site to a halt opposite the Whistle Stop public house.
The railway started operating in 1983 and has plans to extend the line a mile and a quarter further southwards from Furnace Sidings to Blaenavon (High Level).
The rather understated station at Blaenavon.
Industrial locomotives with Big Pit behind.
Looking over the town of Blaenavon.
The tour of the works is fantastic.
Seeing the 'before and after' photos of a community absolutely decimated by the evil Margaret Thatcher, it's hard not to leave just a little big angry and downhearted too.
Some grim-looking underground machinery. I can't imagine how dreadful the operator's job must have been.
Because it's technically still a working pit, visitors have to wear hard hats and remove anything electrical, for fear of igniting underground gasses.
This means that all electronic devices - camera, watches, walkmans, mobile phones etc - have to be left on the surface, so I wasn't able to take any photos. Next time I'll take my old mechanical SLR film camera!
Ocean coal trucks.
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