Wonders of the Valleys: Spoil to Spectacular

Transforming the Industrial Past to a Nature Reserve and Preserving and Incredible History  


A trail along iconic coal spoil of South Wales

When travelling across the south Wales valleys one of the most distinct sights throughout are sparsley vegetated mounds jutting out from hilltops. These mounds, or coal spoils, are slowly being transformed from former wastelands into fantastic habitat…

Hills upon hills. Why are they there?

Are these early forms of man-made ski slopes that date back to the ice age…?

Well, not quite. The real answer is that there were over 450 collieries producing 57 million tonnes of coal in the early 19th century. Each mine had tunnels that needed to be dug out for underground mining; therefore there was an awful lot of waste spoil that had to go somewhere. This waste was unceremoniously scattered around the hills near to the mines, eventually growing to become mounts known as “coal spoils”.

Coal spoils

Coal spoils

So why are they important and what is their historic significance?

Coal spoils around Forgotten Landscapes and the Blaenavon World Heritage Site have only recently started to become recognised as places of historic and natural importance. There are few places in the UK that boast these coal spoils. Each spoil is a piece of evidence dating back to it’s own period of industrial history. In the eyes of an industrial archeologist, the coal spoils of the World Heritage Site and Forgotten Landscapes are of great significance.

Map of Coity Trail Tip

Map of Coity Trail Tip

Preserving and enjoying history and nature…

Coal spoils typically provide a very thin layer of poor quality soil, which which limits the rate at which plants can get established.  Coal spoil provides important and unique habitats for wildlife because of its limited plant cover.  Rare, slow growing colonizing plant species such as lichens and liverworts thrive in these conditions as do reptiles and insects which benefit from the warmth generated by the sun heating the areas of bare ground.  Forgotten Landscapers key activity for the coal spoils site relates to erosion repair and upgrading a wildlife trail at Coity Tip in the grounds of Big Pit mining museum.

Coity tip trail

Coity tip trail there to be enjoyed by everyone!

These days the spoils are one of the region’s top attractions. The Forgotten Landscapes team has now established a series of trails allowing visitors to enjoy a peaceful walk up and around them. One great example of this is the Coity Tip Trail, which is a short walk around an old waste tip from the Coity Pit, ironstone mine sunk during the 1840s. Whilst it may seem to be an unusual place to go for a walk, visitors get to learn how spoil heaps formed and why they are now regarded as an important element of our industrial heritage.  The trail guide also points out many of the rare and interesting plants and animals that make their homes on these seemingly inhospitable features.  And, of course, from the summit there are the fantastic views across the iconic Blaenavon World Heritage Site and Forgotten.
Coity Tip Trail is a great place to visit before or after a trip to the Big Pit National Coal Museum, the trail offers wonderful views of the area and in the summer months views with plenty of flowers.

To find out more click here.  To discover the map click here.



Forgotten Landscapes Favourite Five Festival Walks

DSC_0018Here’s a festival that really offers something quite unique and different compared to other walking  festivals.

It’s a celebration of discovery where the expert guides take participants out around Forgotten Landscapes on the specific themed walks that are a little bit interesting.

The walking festival is a perfect way of understanding what is going on around Forgotten Landscapes.  It gives participants a chance to understand the wonderful history of Wales, with walks that follow old miners routes and various heritage trails.

With walks costing just £3 each, it’s a great feel good weekly activity.  So here are our top five picks that we think will be great.

The Blorenge by Visit Wales ©

The Blorenge by Visit Wales ©

A walk to learn a thing or two….
Discover the Ironscape , on Saturday 6th April, 11.00am – 2.00pm
6.4km / 4 miles / Moderate

This a unique opportunity to discover the archaeology in the landscape and find out how all the raw materials were supplied to the Blaenavon Ironworks.  The walk is led by the well known Blaenau-Gwent County Borough Council Heritage Officer Frank Olding, and popular local historian and author John Van Laun.

Discover more about places around you…
The Blorenge Rocks, on Monday 8th April, 10.30am – 4.00pm, 11.3km / 7 miles / Moderate

This is a lovely walk that offers incredible sights as well as some interesting information.  Join curator Tom Sharpe of the National Museum of Wales for a fascinating walk exploring the scenery and geological history of the Blorenge landscape.

Achievements of the past…
upland10Human Endeavours, on Wednesday 10th April, 10.00am – 1.00pm, 6.5km / 4 miles / Moderate
Step back in time and walk past the hidden gems of the landscape that are the evidence of great human endeavour and industry. See the best surviving example of a late eighteenth century ironworks in Britain, taking in old tram roads, pits and ironstone scourings. Led by Torfaen ‘Walk for Health’ walk leaders.

Spectacular walks with a hint of history…
Cwm Ffrwd Heritage Trail, on Tuesday 9th April, 10.00am – 3.00pm , 12.9km / 8 miles / Moderate
Take in spectacular views as you explore the Nant Ffrwd valley and visit the Dog Stone memorial via Coity Mountain. Learn about the history and hear humorous stories of past residents of the area with your guides the World Heritage Site Volunteer Rangers.

Guided walks 1More than just a walk….
Moorland Magic, on Friday 12th April, 2.00pm – 4.00pm,  6km / 3 miles / Moderate

Take a tour of the beautiful heather moorland near Blaenavon and find out what is being done to protect it for the future. Led by the Forgotten Landscapes Partnership Commons Officer. Meet: Fox Hunter Car Park, SO 263107



MORE INFORMATION ON THE FESTIVAL: Please remember that booking is essential and that all walks have a charge of £3 which should be paid at the time of booking.

Booking is essential and there is a small cost of £3 to help cover the running costs of the festival, which is organised by volunteers. Please pay in advance when booking by phone or in person at the Blaenavon World Heritage Centre (01495 742333).


The Rise of Reedbeds – Part Two


Here’s an interview with ALVIN NICHOLAS, who’s the Commons Officer at the UNESCO heritage site of Forgotten Landscapes and the famous author of Supernatural Wales.  Alvin will also be leading a walk at the Blaenavon Walking Festival.
In this interview Alvin gives us a wonderful insight into how Forgotten Landscapes is helping to save wildlife and nature with reedbeds.

Can you tell us what reedbeds are all about at Forgotten Landscapes?
Reedbeds are being introduced to Forgotten Landscapes to help change the natural environment, encourage wildlife, protect the land and habitat.
When the project started two years ago we had to come up with ideas on how we could best create new habitats and encourage wildlife to increase in the area.  Due to the type of terrain and wetlands over the Forgotten Landscape area, we felt one of the best things to do was to build up reedbeds in certain areas.

Phragmites reeds on project site

Phragmites reeds on project site

How are reedbeds beneficial to people?
The reedbeds offer all sorts of benefits to people.  Firstly, they help to preserve nature and the environment.  They create a whole new biodiversity for the area and will hopefully bring back extinct species to Forgotten Landscapes.  They also make the area cleaner, especially when you consider the waste that was created from the past industrial era.  Mine and coal spoil water now runs through the reedbeds and are naturally cleaned up through a series of biological filters.  They therefore clean up the environment, help the eco system and improve the quality of life for people living in the area.

2011-11-05 Reed Bed Planting 002What’s the basic concept and idea behind putting in a reed bed in a landscape like South Wales?

Reedbeds are quite scarce in the UK, but offer huge opportunities to the natural environment.  Conservationists believe there are huge benefits to wildlife.  Reedbeds can be a stepping stone for wildlife that are looking to migrate north due to the change in climate/ global warming, they act as special areas of protection to vulnerable wildlife.  The other important role of reed beds is that they help make the environment a nicer place for the communities near by.

Did you have many other alternative choices for conservation ideas? If so what were they?
We had a few other ideas, such as re-wetting the bogs to make a vaster wildlife area, however the scale was a bit too ambitious as it would have been a slower process.

What will happen to the reed beds in ten years time?
In ten years time we hope to see the reed bed areas buzzing with life, some of the reeds have already grown as high as seven foot tall, so hopefully we can see them fully established in the landscape.  We hope to have covered two hectare2011-11-05  Reed Bed Planting 007s of area with reed beds. The last time this was done was for the Gwent Wetlands.  So far this project has seen volunteers planting over 20,000 reeds.  The community has come together to really improve the environment for themselves, future generations and the wildlife around.  It has given the volunteers and people from the area a real sense of ownership and pride of the area where they come from.

Are Forgotten Landscape reed beds unique in anyway?
Yes, they are very unique for the fact they involve three different types of landscapes.  The levels of landscapes range from an old agricultural areas, to industrial wasteland but are now being reclaimed by nature.  The land is now being developed for the future; reed beds are part of this conservation project.

How can visitors make the most out of the reed beds?
Visitors can get involved by volunteering and joining to help make a difference.  They can enjoy walks around the reed beds, knowing that they are surrounded by natural beauty and clean air.  Some new developments have also been constructed for visitors to understand the wildlife and everything that is going on.  A new wildlife “hide screen” has been constructed for bird watchers wanting to view the wildlife without disturbing it and there are also plenty of walks as well.

Why are reed beds suited for the Forgotten Landscape environment?
The Forgotten Landscape is perfect for the reed beds as it is a fairly wet and boggy area, which makes it ideal for these plants.  The area also has a fair altitude, which is key for attracting unique species on the nature side of things.

Wildlife at Forgotten Landscapes

Wildlife at Forgotten Landscapes

What wildlife do you hope will become part of the habitat?
We hope to see plenty of invertebrates, amphibians, mammals and breeding birds such as Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler coming to the area.  There is also an opportunity to encourage water voles to come back to the area as well.

How can visitors and volunteers get involved?
There are two ways to get involved with the reed bed project.  People can sign up as volunteers to help monitor the wildlife activities, or they can help plant and more reeds.

This project is all about the community that the people live in, what has been so special about this project is that it is the actions of local people that has made the big difference.  We want to make the community proud of where they live, respect the environment around them and help improve the lives of others.

To learn more about volunteering contact Forgotten Landscapes today.
Sarah Lewis, Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer
E-mail: sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk   Telephone: 01495 742335

Reedbed Wetlands: Stepping Stones to Survival of Wildlife

If you’ve been roaming around the moorlands, the valleys surrounding Bleanavon or other UNESCO listed areas ofForgotten Landscapes you might have seen a rise in reedbed wetlands.  So why has there been rise of these reedbeds in the area? 

Phragmites reeds on project site

Phragmites reeds on project site

Well, over the past two years volunteers have been working hard to plant reeds in various areas of wetlands with a hope of saving wildlife, building a larger natural habitat and improving the landscape all over Forgotten Landscapes.

Reed Bed Planting

Volunteers enjoy reed bed planting

It might not look that inviting, but as our planet warms up, the boggy wetland that visitors see around Forgotten Landscapes may hold the key to the future survival of the birds, mammals and insects that like to make their home amongst the reeds.

Whilst people are able to modify their homes to counter the effects of climate change, plants and animals are forced to move. Species that require cooler conditions are moving northwards. The reedbed wetland that has been created here will provide a sanctuary, a ‘stepping stone’ to help them relocate over time.

It’s difficult to imagine that this was once a desolate wasteland, the legacy of Blaenavon’s industrial past.

Blaenavon World Heritage Site volunteers have helped to create a new landscape – one that is being managed for the future!

To learn more about volunteering contact Forgotten Landscapes today.
Sarah Lewis, Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer
E-mail: sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk   Telephone: 01495 742335

The People Behind Forgotten Landscapes…

Behind the Forgotten Landscapes there is an invaluable team of workers, who are pushing the project on.  Each team member plays a different role to ensure that the project is successfully implemented. Whether it’s educating people, building a more environmentally friendly area or changing the landscapes for the future.  

So to give you a better understanding what the different people at Forgotten Landscapes here’s a quick insight for you…

Sarah Lewis

Sarah Lewis

Name: Sarah Lewis 

Job Title: Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer

What the role involves:
Developing a trained volunteer workforce to be involved as many aspects of the project work as possible.  Supporting the newly formed constituted community group from this volunteer workforce who will continue to input into the WHS/FLP management plan. 

Why is Forgotten Landscapes important to you:

The beautiful landscapes of Forgotten Landscape

The beautiful landscapes of Forgotten Landscape

The Forgotten Landscapes Partnership Scheme is a unique blending of projects which have achieved a huge amount of varied improvements to the area on different levels, whether involving local people as volunteers, managing the commons by working with local farmers, giving the chance for school groups to learn about the landscape etc.  The area has so much to offer any visitor both in terms of natural and industrial heritage.

To learn more about volunteering contact Forgotten Landscapes today.
Sarah Lewis, Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer
E-mail: sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk   Telephone: 01495 742335

Clydach Ironworks

Here’s a spotlight on Clydach Ironworks. We’ll take a look at the importance of the Ironworks during the Industrial Revolution, and will see what local volunteer projects are doing to help maintain the site. 

Clydach Ironworks is now a great visitor attraction ©

Clydach Ironworks is now a great visitor attraction ©

A bit of history: Clydach Ironworks was first established in 1793, close to sources of iron ore, coal and limestone. Coal, in the form of coke, had only just replaced charcoal as the best source of fuel for blast furnaces and the Ironworks remained in reduction for around 65 years. Over 1,350 people were employed in 1841, two-thirds of whom were winning iron ore and coal higher up in the valley. Limestone was also quarried locally and was used as a flux (a cleaning agent) in the smelting process.

Raw materials and finished iron were transported both to and from the Ironworks via a series of railroads, tram roads and inclines. The picture shows what remains of the two blast furnaces that produced ‘Grey forge iron’; these were fed from the charging houses above. On the far side of the charging house were the coke ovens where coal was burnt to make coke for the furnaces.

An Interview: Learn more about Dry Stone Walling

This week we’re focusing on dry stone walling at Forgotten Landscapes.  There are over ten kilometers of walls in need of a bit of work in the area, so we thought we’d get a little bit of an insight from someone currently involved with the project. 

Mike and volunteers working together

Mike and volunteers working together

So here’s an interview with Martin Rathbone who manages and trains volunteers… 

What’s your role at Forgotten Landscapes?
I teach and instruct volunteers and groups on how to build dry stonewalls.  I’m also a fully qualified and professional dry stonemason.

Why is dry stone walling so important to Forgotten Landscapes?
When Forgotten Landscapes first started up, a commissioned consultant raised the issue that dry stonewalling was an essential part of the area.  The walls form some of the most distinctive parts of the area’s landscapes, and are a huge part of British Heritage.

What do volunteers get from doing this?
This is a wonderful opportunity to contribute to keeping some of Britain’s most distinctive landmarks preserved and making a difference for other people.

There’s also a big sense of achievement, because the voluntary course itself can be a challenge.  Participants will learn a new skill and gain a qualification as well.  There are taster days where volunteers go along for the day, then anyone interested in doing more will go on to do training all the way through to Christmas over a series of dates.

Volunteers helping to preserve the beautiful landscapes

Volunteers helping to preserve the beautiful landscapes

What do you think is unique about Forgotten Landscapes
All the principles stay the same throughout the British Isles, the only thing that is unique to Blaenavon is the type of stone.  Some areas will use smaller stones, but here at Forgotten Landscapes we tend to have bigger pieces.  The rocks and stones have been in the same place for centuries and would have originally come from nearby quarries and rocks picked up from ploughing fields.

How much work needs to be done in the area?
A lot! The project needs more work.  We already have a good number of volunteers, but we are still looking for more.  The original plan was to try and get 10 km of wall complete.  We want to save the landscape, with the help from the public.

How old are the walls?
The walls date back to around 1850, when the Enclosures Act was formed.  The aim of the act was to take land off three main landowners and give out parcels of land to tenant farmers.  The walls are a great representation of fairness in society.  It was something that created more opportunities to the people of South Wales.

To learn more about volunteering contact Forgotten Landscapes today.
Contact: Sarah Lewis, Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer
E-mail: sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk   Telephone: 01495 742335





Gain a Brand New Skill and Give Dry Stone Walling a Try.


2012-05-29 P1030212Are you looking to meet new people while learning a brand new skill? We’re looking for volunteers to help us repair damaged walls throughout the World Heritage Site. We’ll give you all the training you’ll need to take to the countryside surrounding Blaenavon and make sure the area remains an important home for unique wildlife species such as the Red Grouse.

A taster day for volunteers last year

A taster day for volunteers last year

Since the project began, the volunteers have made approximately 2.7km of high priority commons boundaries stock-proof. This means more farmers are able to graze over a wider area, which in turn means better habitat management and improved conditions for wildlife. The walls are also heritage features in their own right, and it could cost hundreds of thousands of pounds if we were to bring in a contractor to help with their upkeep.



If you are interested in volunteering, please contact:

Sarah Lewis - Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer

E-mail: sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk   Telephone: 01495 742335


Enjoy a Special Pint on St David’s Day at Rhymney Brewery!

On this, the Welshest of days were celebrating the Welshest of breweries. From its early days during the Industrial evolution to the current brewery and interactive visitor experience, we look at the success of the Rhymney Brewery through the years.

The history of Rhymney Brewery

Inside Rhymney Brewery

Inside Rhymney Brewery

The history of Rhymney Brewery is closely linked to the great days of the South Wales iron industry. Needless to say, all the heavy lifting and hot blast furnaces gave men a terrible thirst, and thanks to the outbreaks of cholera, it was far safer to drink beer in the mid nineteenth century than it was to drink water (it is said that even Merthyr’s Mormons drank beer during this period).

The brewery first began operating in 1839 at the hands of manager Andrew Buchan, and by 1878 Rhymney Brewery and Co was delivering some 12,500 barrels a year to its 29 tied houses, as well as other public houses. In 1902 they introduced the King’s Ale, which became known as the ‘Wine of the Valleys’, and which added to the long list of ales that also included Empire, Empire Special, Cream Stout and Family Stout. The famous Hobby Horse trademark of the little man on the barrel was designed by a keen sportsman, and was such a familiar sight around the Valleys that people began to refer to the Buchan Estate as ‘Where the Hobby Horse roams’.

In 1936 Rhymney Brewery took over the Taff Vale Brewery from Merthyr, and by 1939 the Buchan Estate numbered some 262 hotels and inns, which was the vast majority in Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire. It was then in 1951 that Buchan began an association with Whitbread and Co, and once the brewery was taken over by Whitbread it eventually closed its doors on April 27th 1978.

The Rhymney Brewery experience

The Rhymney Brewery Experience

The Rhymney Brewery Experience

Today, the brewery that carries on the spirit of the famous Rhymney Brewery brand, has been relocated from Merthyr to Blaenavon (to be precise, the Gilchrist Thomas Industrial Estate next to the Big Pit) in the hope of greatly expanding its total beer production. In order to bring people in and educate them on how the ales are brewed, the brewery has been partnered with an interactive visitor experience.

There’s a viewing platform that allows visitors to watch the brewing process, plus you can watch the testing that goes on in the lab. Not only that, there’s the chance to see and touch the raw ingredients, smell the various ales in specially-designed smelling boxes, and watch short films on the brewery’s history right the way back to the 1800s. After all that visitors can sit back, relax and enjoy a pint of delicious local ale in the bar area, able to appreciate the taste even more knowing how the drink is brewed, and how it has been enjoyed in the Valleys for hundreds of years.

More information

The Rhymney Brewery Visitor Experience is open seven days a week, 11.30-5.30. Entrance costs £2.50 per person. For more information, visit www.rhymneybreweryltd.com

Baabraa enjoying a great day out at the Rhymney Breweries visitor centre

Baabraa enjoying a great day out at the Rhymney Breweries visitor centre


Our Proud History – The Workers Self-Funded Blaenavon Workmen’s Hall

One of the most impressive buildings in the town of Blaenavon is the Workmen’s Hall. Built in 1895, what is so impressive is that it was funded by the Workmen’s Institute. The group collected and saved a weekly deduction of a halfpenny from all the members’ wages.

Blaenavon Workmen’s Hall, built in 1895

Blaenavon Workmen’s Hall, built in 1895

Built for the people by the people, the hall’s beautiful Victorian architecture stands out as something truly unique and special to the town of Blaenavon.

When the building opened the ground floor housed a library, newspaper room, magazine room, recreation room, billiard room and committee rooms. The room above was used for concerts, bazaars and political meetings. The Hall was the focal point of the community, providing a library, games, entertainment and recreational activities for decades.


The Workmens Hall Today

The Workmens Hall Today


Today, the Blaenavon Workmen’s Hall still provides for the community with a cinema, concert space and snooker & table tennis facilities. It is also the home for many groups and societies, and hosts both conferences and meetings.

It really does show the power of communities and what can be achieved when people come together and pull their weight to help improve the local area.

For more information on the hall’s facilities click here.