Blaenavon is a former mining town high on a hillside in south eastern Wales. There are so many unique industrial monuments, buildings and landscapes in the area that it has been designated as a World Heritage Site. It’s a place to visit to learn more about this neglected but fascinating part of 18th and 19th-century social history.
Major attractions here include the Big Pit National Coal Museum, Blaenavon Ironworks Museum and the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. Visitors can also discover the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway, Blaenavon World Heritage Centre, Blaenavon Male Voice Choir and many historical walks through Blaenavon’s mountains. Much of the surrounding landscape forms part of the Brecon Beacons National Park too.
Blaenavon grew around an ironworks which opened in 1788 and is now a museum. Steel and coal mining industries followed, and the town’s population rose to over 20,000. Since the ironworks closed in 1900 and the mine in 1980, the population has declined to less than third of that.
With so much to see, the Blaenavon World Heritage Centre is the best starting point. It explains with displays, videos, interactive touchscreens why Blaenavon is of global importance. In 2012 there are a series of temporary exhibitions in the gallery featuring the work of talented local artists.
The Centre is the start of walks around the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape and the onsite Tourist Information Centre provides maps.
Big Pit: National Coal Museum is the most popular attraction in the World Heritage Site. It is based around the former Big Pit Colliery, which was sunk in 1860 and closed in 1980. The site reopened as a museum in 1983 and won the Gulbenkian Prize for museum of the year in 2005. A visit includes a 300ft descent into the old colliery, where a former coalminer demonstrates what working life was like at the coalface. The museum also includes historic buildings linked to the coal industry, including a blacksmith’s forge, stables, miners’ canteen, explosives magazine and winding house.
Visitors can also enjoy the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway – a restored steam railway line with a station in the town centre. The line used to be an important method of moving coal through the valley but was closed to passengers in 1941.
Blaenavon World Heritage Centre, Church Road, Blaenavon, Torfaen NP4 9AS. Tel: 01495 792 615. www.cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/blaenavonironworks