Blaenau Gwent is set on the fringe of the Brecon Beacons where the scenic Heads of the Valleys road draws its arcing line across South Wales. Being right on the northern edge of industrial South Wales, there is a rich history of coal mining and iron and steel production. Many monuments and museums invite inquisitive visitors to delve deeper into this engaging past.
The main towns are Abertillery, Brynmawr, Ebbw Vale and Tredegar, and between them are many green spaces where visitors can spend their days rambling, hiking and biking.
Local history and culture
This is a landscape that was once at the forefront of Wales’ industrial past. Whilst the valley bottoms are dotted with coal mining pit wheels, further up the steep valley sides iron ore and limestone quarries are gauged into the rock face. These, now softened, industrial remnants are interspersed with Celtic burial grounds harking back to an even more distant past.
Blaenau Gwent can proudly claim to be the home of the NHS, as Aneurin Bevan was born in Tredegar. He was the MP for Ebbw Vale and he based our treasured health service on the Tredegar Medical Aid Society. Locally, there are trails exploring his local haunts and along the mountainsides where he rehearsed his speeches. In Bedwellty House & Park, you can see artworks and a film about him. Tredegar's new heritage centre, No 10 The Circle, tells the story of how he Tredegarised the UK.
If you head to Parc Arael Griffin, a must-see is the 20m high Guardian of the Valley sculpture. Completed in 2010, it commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1960 Six Bells mining disaster, which sadly claimed the lives of 45 men. Their names are inscribed on plaques on the sandstone base of the sculpture. If you'd like to learn more about the Guardian, the nearby heritage centre in Tŷ Ebbw Fach has more information.
Wales’ oldest picture house, the fabulous Market Hall Cinema in Brynmawr, regularly shows the latest films, exhibitions and even hosted the International Film Festival of Wales in 2022.
Legacies of steel and iron
The production of both iron and steel brought great wealth to industrial South Wales right through to the 19th Century. The legacy of this can be seen today at Bedwellty House & Park, a Regency villa and gardens formerly the residence of the Tredegar ironworks manager. The park also contains the largest block of coal in the world, hewn by ‘Colliar Mawr’ to celebrate the 1851 Great Exhibition.
The Nantyglo Round Towers was the last private castle built in the UK in 1816 by the Nantyglo Ironworks bosses. It was a symbol of strength, as well as offering protection from the potential threat of rioting workers during this tumultuous time. The towers are viewable from the outside.
Remnants of industry can be seen at Sirhowy Ironworks, established in 1778 towards the end of its working life it supplied the Ebbw Vale ironworks with coke. Today it is a scheduled ancient monument where the unique remains of iron furnaces are of great national importance
Several excellent museums bring the region’s stories to life further at Brynmawr and District Museum, The Works Ebbw Vale, Abertillery Museum, Tredegar Local History Museum and Blaina Heritage Action Group Museum.
Get active – walking, cycling and rambling
Blaenau Gwent is a wonderful place to get out in nature with quiet trails leading walkers and cyclists through shady woodlands and valleys, across remote hilltops and around glittering lakes. Golfers can get their steps in at the West Monmouthshire Golf Club, Britain's highest golf course, in Ebbw Vale.
The Ebbw Fach walking trail is a lovely 16km trail linking fourteen nature parks, green spaces and sites of historical importance right the way around the borough of Blaenau Gwent. These include Festival Park Ebbw Vale, Beaufort Hill Ponds and Woodlands and Cwmtillery Lakes.
Blaenau Gwent Council's website has a great list of varied walks to explore the area.
Cefn Golau Cholera Cemetery on a lonely mountainside west of Tredegar is a poignant scene for a contemplative walk. Here over 200 weathered and lichen-covered gravestones stand as a testament to the lives lost in the cholera epidemics of 1832 and 1849.
Near Ebbw Vale, Silent Valley Nature Reserve is another former industrial landscape now reclaimed by nature. Here trails lead through woodlands and flower meadows and there’s a beautiful bluebell display in spring. At Parc Bryn Bach there are family-friendly activities galore, from exciting peddle karts to more serene wildlife trails, and water-based activities on and around the large lake.
There are also a couple of energy-burning options for indoor family fun. EGNI is an indoor activities centre allowing kids (aimed at 5-12 years olds) to channel their inner Ninja - with obstacle courses, NERF and Laser Tag sessions available.
Where to stay in Blaenau Gwent
For a stay in the heart of one of Blaenau Gwent’s most interesting towns, you can’t beat the historic four-star Tredegar Arms Hotel. Renovated in 2019 it has ten luxurious bedrooms, two bars and a restaurant.
Alternatively, there’s the venerable Cambrian Inn right on the town square that has been welcoming weary travellers and thirsty townsfolk for over 200 years.
Eating and drinking in Blaenau Gwent
Afternoon tea is a delight at the Bedwellty House & Park near Tredegar, and it also serves an excellent Sunday roast. Morgan’s Wine Bar in Ebbw Vale is the place to go for weekend cocktails and tasty meals in a lively atmosphere.