Blaenavon – Thursday June 28, 2007

Today we visited the Big Pit Coal mine and Iron Works in Blaenavon. We visited the mine first and the underground tour was guided by a former miner named ‘Bill’ with an unmistakable Welsh accent. We had to wear hard hats along with a heavy belt which carried a battery for the torch (or flashlight as they are called in North America). It must have been a special battery since we had to surrender all our other electronic gear such as cell phones, watches and cameras while underground due to the risk of sparks that could cause an explosion.
Bill took us 300 feet underground using an elevator and it was definitely not a place for claustrophobic people. It was damp, cramped, and dark. Bill gave an example of how dark it would be in case of a cave in by turning out the lights for a brief time and it was pitch black. You couldn’t even see your hands if you held them in front of your face. Sure glad I’m not a miner, that is one job I would hate. After the tour Bill brought us back to the surface and we retrieved our electronic gear after we got off the elevator.
Across the valley from the Big Pit Mine was the former Blaenavon Iron Works which was our next destination. The iron works began operation about 1780 and it was the largest iron foundry in the world at that time. When we arrived and got to the site you could look across and see the Big Pit Mine buildings about a mile away.
The foundry furnaces were cut right into the hillside and there was a stone tower at the rear of the cutting to load and unload the coal and ore that fed the furnaces. There was also a set of buildings called “The Stack” named after the huge smoke stack in the middle of the complex. These buildings had accommodations for skilled workers, managers and their families. The rooms were shockingly small, most being perhaps 10 x 10 feet where the entire family slept. It was quite the interesting place to see where the dawn of the industrial revolution started.
When we left Blaenavon, we had to take a road that crossed a set of hills to get to Abergavenny, then on to Broadley Farm. The view from the road was spectacular. I stopped at a safe place along the way so that Lois could jump out and take some pictures. We also stopped at Govilon to see the canal. It had a number of very long narrow boats which obviously made it easier for the boats to pass on the narrow canal as well as fit side by side in the locks. The front of these boats look like the front of a tug boat and most of the boats length was taken up by an enclosed cabin. At the back, they had two seats on either side where the helmsman could steer the boat using a tiller. It was a scenic and quaint little canal. Along the sides of the canal were walking trails and we wondered if they were used by horses to pull the boats before the arrival of internal combustion. We walked along one side of the canal, crossed on a nearby road bridge and walked back on the other. After exploring the canal we headed back to Broadley Farm.

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