The Valleys | South Wales | Tourism | Things to Do | Accommodation | Events
It would be disingenuous to deny that the South Wales Valleys are emerging from a very difficult century. But to dwell on those difficulties would be to fall into a common trap that overlooks the monumental historical importance of the region and the regeneration projects that are turning the Valleys into one of the biggest tourist destinations in Wales.
A new millennia has brought a sea change in thinking in the Valleys, local economies are driven and united by the realisation of just how much they have to offer. The last 200 hundred years may have brought hardship but they also turned the region, at various points, into one of the most influential parts of the world and bequeathed to history the labour movement and the very first National Health Service. Its significance in world history is too often overlooked.
Fortunately this is a dawning realisation; the World Heritage Centre at Blaenavon is a truly world class attraction that is leading the way for many more destinations that have so much to offer.The Afan Valley and the Brecon Beacons are perfect for walkers, nature enthusiasts and extreme sports lovers alike, whilst it should also be noted that the Valleys have the highest concentration of country parks in Wales. As if that wasn’t enough there are also some historic and charming towns, like Caerphilly, Ebbw Vale, Merthyr Tydfil and Pontypridd, full of medieval history, friendly faces and unforgettable charm.
is undisputedly the best place in Britain to explore what the Industrial Revolution really meant for those who lived through it. In addition to the World Heritage Centre and its interactive museum, within Balenavon the Big Pit: National Mining Museum
offers visitors a unique chance to experience the visceral conditions of life in the mines. The Blaenavon Ironworks
is yet another resource dedicated to the industrial history of South Wales. Used as the setting for the BBC’s Coalhouse, the Ironworks is one of the most important monuments to have survived from the early part of the Industrial Revolution.
Castle was built towards the end of the 13th century by Gilbert ‘the red’ de Clare, a Norman Lord famous for his auburn locks, as fortification against his sworn enemy Llewelyn the Last Prince of Wales. It survived numerous attacks largely due to the unprecedented scale and complexity of its defensive architecture and its utilisation of natural marshes and moats which can all be enjoyed by today’s visitors. Today it survives as a national landmark, second only to Windsor as the largest castle in Britain, and is frequently used in television series like Merlin and Dr Who.
Just five miles north of Merthyr Tydfil
, Garwnant Forest is a gateway to the Brecon Beacons
. Garwnant is a wonderful place to explore all the Beacons have to offer and to discover the secrets of the wildlife that lurks within the woodland. The forest is home to three reservoirs, a number of streams, spectacular views and local wildlife. Garwnant is predominantly family orientated, with several easily accessible and well signposted trails, and several play areas. The new visitor centre has very recently re-opened a number of improved and new facilities, all designed to make your foray into the forest even more fun.
Forests and parks in the valleys
Afan Forest Park:
The Afan Forest Park is set in one of the most beautiful valleys in Wales. It is home to many memorable walks and p
ulse racing mountain bike tracks but you can also enjoy the woodland in a Land Rover on the Afan Forest Safari or even enjoy open air theatre at the purpose built amphitheatre.
The gardens that surround the listed Regency villa of Bedwellty, were designed for a local industrial magnate early in the 19th century with as much care, grandeur and exoticism as the house itself. The grounds play host to several seasonal events and also boast cascading ponds and a stone grotto.
Cyfarthfa Park: The beautiful grounds that surround the Crayshaw family home contain as much history as the celebrated museum within the castle walls. The Crayshaws were especially interested with innovative horticulture and were able to experiment on a grand scale, many of their innovations are still visible today.
Parc Bryn Bach:
Bryn Bach Park is an 340 acre area of grass and woodland surrounding a 36 acre lake. Bryn Bach is a haven for cyclists, walkers and picnic makers, but you can also fish, canoe, play a round of golf or even camp in this glorious setting on the doorstep of the Brecon Beacons National Park
Parc Taf Bargoed:
The Taf Bargoed Park, developed on the site of a former colliery, is often described as the hidden gem of Merthy Tydfil
. The Green Flag Park facilitates walkers, cyclists, canoeists, riders and anglers and boasts an exceptional Environment and Heritage Centre that delivers information on the social and natural history of the park.
The site of the Garden Festival of Wales in Ebbw Vale
has been renovated as new tourist destination. In addition to a shopping centre
Festival Park now includes an owl sanctuary, a fishing lake, a woodland craft centre and a sculpture trail with works that featured in the Garden Festival.
Cwmcarn is another converted mining valley that has been transformed into an area of outstanding natural woodland. Once home to a Bronze Age settlement, Cwmcarn can be explored by car, bike or foot with a number of trails, fishing lakes and sculpture paths. The forest hills provide some unforgettable views and the opportunity to get back to nature.
In many ways the Aberdulais Falls encapsulate the history of the Valleys. The power of one of the most scenic waterfalls in Wales is tamed by the industrial ingenuity of man. A trip to Aberdulais not only includes breath taking views of the waterfall but also an educational experience in how the force of the running water was harnessed to power the tin plate industry.
Bedewllty House was built for the master of the Tredegar Ironworks. After the closure of the works at the end of the 19th century the house was given over to the people and it was here that Aneurin Bevan, architect of the NHS, began his political career. The plight of the miners in Tredegar
and the lessons he learnt in Bedwellty House, were to drive the ethos of the rest of his career.
Big Pit: National Coal Museum:
One of the finest museums in Wales, the Big Pit is an innovative educational experience that brings the life of a miner to life, revealing the day to day experiences of the workers who built an empire. With an underground tour, exhibitions and virtual guides, the Big Pit is an unforgettable day out set in a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Used as the setting for the BBC’s Coalhouse programme, the Ironworks houses the best preserved blast furnace complex of its period and type in the world. It is one of the most important monuments to have survived from the early part of the Industrial Revolution. Part of the Blaenavon UNESCO World Heritage
sites, the Ironworks provide an invaluable educational resource for anyone interested in the history of the Valleys.
The home of the Crayshaw family, this early 19th century mansion houses an incredible array of artefacts from the social history of Merthyr
. The museum allows the visitor to gain a perspective on the differing lifestyles of mine owners and mine workers, and the incredible wealth accrued by the former. Cyfarthfa also exhibits a impressive collection of paintings and documents from the Merthyr Rising and the roots of the labour movement.
Llancaiach Fawr Manor:
The 16th century manor house was built for the Ap Richard (later Prichard) family during the tumultuous reigns of Tudor monarchs. The family and the house went on to play a significant role in the civil war, todays visitors are invited to step into a reconstruction of what life was like for country gentry in the 17th century.
Joseph Parry’s Cottage:
The ironworkers cottage where the famous Welsh composer, Joseph Parry, grew up is now open as a museum. 4 Chapel Row not only provides an insight into what life was like for a working class family in the middle of the 19th century, but it also houses an excellent exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Joseph Parry.
Pontypool and Blaenavon Heritage Railway:
The highest standard gauged preserved railway in England and Wales is an appropriately industrial way to explore the landscape around the UNESCO World Heritage Site
. Whilst you survey the traces of Blaenavon’s industrial past you will also be treated to a landscape that is full of surprises and natural splendour.
The Winding House:
The Winding House is home to the museum of the county of Caerphilly
. The history of this ancient town; from Roman occupation, to Norman conquest, Civil War and the Industrial Revolution, is retold inside the glass facades of this award winning building. There is an exciting programme of exhibitions as well as a permanent collection of artefacts and research facilities.