miner-sculptureFrom eastern Carmarthenshire to western Monmouthshire, and from the vale of Glamorgan to Swansea Bay, the Valleys of South Wales are steeped in cultural history and the industrial heritage of Wales. They also provide a wealth of activities and things to see, including walking and climbing, mountain biking and sightseeing.

They cover a large area of South Wales, ideal for self-catering holiday cottage accommodation, and for days of exploration and relaxation.

The Industrial Past

Industrialisation transformed the pastures and wooded valleys of South Wales. With the dramatic growth of first iron works and then coal mining in the 19th century came the development of towns and villages. When the iron industry declined, coal mining took over, reaching its peak in the early years of the 20th century.

The Blackwood Miners’ Institute, in Blackwood, Caerphilly is a hub for arts and entertainment in the area. It hosts various theatrical and musical events and exhibitions throughout the year, and while remaining a dynamic heart of the community. Also in Caerphilly you’ll find the Senghenydd Mining Memorial, opened in 2013 to commemorate all welsh mining disasters. There is a ceramic memorial wall and a dramatic bronze sculpture – “The Rescue” by Les Johnson – set in beautifully landscaped memorial gardens.

The Rhondda Heritage Park is the site of the first deep coal mine in the Rhondda Valleys, at the former Lewis Merthyr Colliery. The park offers full underground tours and the visitor centre has an indoor reconstruction of a period village street. There is also a contemporary art gallery and café.

Activities and Exploration

At the world heritage site of Blaenavon visitors can combine walking with visiting an intriguing range of historic sites, from prehistoric remains to industrial heritage. Blaenavon covers 33 square kilometres, and the walks cover mountainous terrain and picturesque landscapes of reclaimed industrial sites. Blaenavon town has rows of old miners’ cottages and the imposing Workingman’s Hall juxtaposed with specialist shops and independent cafés. You can also visit the Big Pit National Coal Museum and the historical iron works at Blaenavon.

There are some 400 kilometres of off-road tracks to explore throughout The Valleys, many with gentle gradients that make them family-friendly. Two of the most famous routes are the Taff Trail and the Trevithick Trail. The Taff Trail stretches between Brecon and Cardiff, whereas the Trevithick Trail follows the route taken by the first steam locomotive to pull a load by rail, back in 1804.

Other activities in The Valleys include kayaking, climbing and archery, and mountain biking, of course.

The Valleys could have been made for mountain biking, so suited is the terrain here. Key routes include the Twrch Trail in Cwmcarn Forest, Darren Fawr mountain bike trails, and BikePark Wales in Merthyr Tydfil.

The South Wales Valleys present visitors with a wide choice of activities, suitable for different ages. They resonate with the industrial past but also have a great feeling of reclaimed and natural beauty combined.