Blaenavon has a pretty amazing story
For a town largely dependent on its coal industry, the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s and a continuing post-war decline in production had a predictably devastating effect. But starting with a state pledge to protect Blaenavon's Ironworks during the 1970s – the famous 18th century furnaces are attracting record visitor numbers these days. The town has enjoyed a real resurrection, culminating in its recognition as a World Heritage Site at the turn of the millennium.
A World Heritage Site
The judges had lots of reasons to deem Blaenavon worthy of inclusion alongside the likes of the Taj Mahal and The Great Wall of China: every step you take shadows living history here. The decision to give the town centre conservation status in 1984 has paid off, keeping many of the age-old nooks, crannies and cobbled paths of the ancient buildings around the charming and evocative Broad Street.
The pedestrianised areas make it even easier to sample local food and drink – quite a treat given the range of cheese, bread, meats and delicacies produced in the town.
Where mines, collieries, trams and trains once dominated the landscape, wildlife and vegetation have now returned in rude health. You can’t really go wrong when it comes to walks, whether they’re meanders along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, where 200-year-old lime kilns and tunnels pose a picturesque starting point to the eastern section of the World Heritage Site, or lakeside strolls next to the Garn Lakes, a nature reserve visited by exotic birds, winding past Coity Tips, picnic spots and steam train tracks.
Cyclists can whizz along the former mineral railway line, which now forms a bike route leading the way to some of the areas inspirational built attractions.
Must see attractions
Big Pit, the National Coal Mining Museum, is one of the most evocative heritage venues in the world, paying tribute to the sweat and grind of miners through a blacksmith’s forge, a miners’ canteen and an explosive magazine. You’ll be able to imagine hard-hatters using the lockers and shower rooms, kept intact at a place which has won multiple awards and, amazingly, is free of charge.
Another must-see is the Workmen’s Hall, an imposing stone building which has acted as a lively focal point for the local community since 1895. It’s also well worth visiting the World Heritage Centre, where a programme of events throughout the year includes revolving interactive exhibitions and arts and crafts activities for the kids.
In fact, Blaenavon is a great bet in any season, from the first flowers of spring to summer days following the Iron Mountain Trail and the annual Winter Wonderland in December, when the Heritage Railway – moving at the highest altitude of any preserved domestic railway, led by a dedicated team of enthusiasts – runs a Santa Special service.
Sun kissed or frosty, great adventures await the visitor.