A Special Hike: From an Industrial Past to Nature & Wildlife…

This is a journey that goes through past human industrial endeavours and follows the return of nature to the area.  The aim of this blog is for it to act as a simple guideline for an interesting walk that explains the area in two ways: Past history and nature…

Each part of this walk goes past a piece of landscape that played a significant role in the areas history. What might look like a natural pond or a stack of rocks, is often a relic that was used to contribute to an industrial machine in a rural open landscape. 

Start at Garn Lakes, Keeper’s Pond and the Blorenge Mountain – TAKE A MAP!

discover the transformation of Garn Lakes

discover the transformation of Garn Lakes

This is a route that starts in an area renovated and reclaimed for nature.  The journey starts from Garn lakes (Garn-yr-Erw), via keeper’s pond and onto the Blorenge Mountain.  It’s a walk that wonderfully defines the success of the Forgotten Landscapes project, which has contributed to success of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site.

The best place to start from is Whistle road car park next to Garn Lakes, which are lakes transformed over the past couple of decades.  In the 1990’s the lakes were part of a recreation scheme that transformed the area from a dirty coal polluted wasteland into clean lakes.

Wildlife around the World Heritage Site

Wildlife around the World Heritage Site

The lakes are surrounded by tip spoils, which are relics of Blaenavon’s industrial past.  The area is now a local nature reserve, which covers 40 hectares of lakes and grassland.  Now a days it’s easy to spot the wonderful variety of wildlife around.  In the area there are plenty of birds both native and some that have migrated from Africa such as; Tufted Ducks, Skylarks, Snipes, Redshanks and Little Grebes. It’s a spot that has started to become a birdwatchers paradise!

The lakes and spoils are a wonderful example of the work undertaken by volunteers who have successfully helped reinvigorate an all abandoned industrial area.

There are a number of walks that start from Garn Lakes, but for an example of when history and nature come together this is the perfect walk that defines it very well.

The Walk…

Leave the car park and go across the main road, then follow the track in the same direction for about 350 metres until you get to the Dyne- Steel Incline.

Around the Blorenge

Around the Blorenge

The Dyne-Steel Incline is an area that was once an old tram road and Iron Mountain Trail used for transporting materials during the industrial boom years.  It goes along a series of streams that may have emerged as a result of the recreational scheme to clean up wastewater.  Follow the trail along in a north-easterly direction, part of the walk goes past the site of ‘Winding House’.   Keep walking and the path then heads south of Pwll-Du Quarry.  The quarry is another fine relic of past human endeavors in the area, where material was extracted.  After the quarry the path goes above Balance Pond, the pond was used to store water for a “counter balance lift” that raised and lowered trams to the quarry.

Eventually the route will head in a southerly direction towards the B4246.  Cross the road and keepers pond (Pen-fford goch pond) is directly over the road.  The pond was built in the early 19th century to provide water for Garnddyrys Forge.

For some of the best views at the Bleanavon World Heritage Site head to the trig point on top of Blorenge Mounain.  From keepers pond head south along the B4246 until the “Foxhunter Car Park” appear, take a left and head towards the car park.  From the car park be sure to stop by the Foxhunter Memorial where the famous racehorse is buried.  Then embark north towards the trig point on top of Blorenge Mountain.  Once at the top, soak of the glorious views of the valleys towards the south and the Black Mountains to the North.  Keep your eyes open for red grouse and enjoy the nature and wildlife of the area.

Views of the Black Mountains from the Blorenge

Views of the Black Mountains from the Blorenge

This is a walk that offers a wonderful insight to the lands of south Wales, that were once alive with industrial activity which has now ceased.  In the past rumbles of machinery and mechanic would have been heard from afar, but now nature is back and the whistles of birds and the winds of the mountains have taken over once again.

Thoughts From Blaenavon World Heritage Site Volunteers

The Forgotten Landscapes Project at the Blaenavon World Heritage Site has been transformed to protect the heritage of the area, build new habitats and encourage wildlife.  A huge reason why this transformation and protection of the area has come about?

The Volunteers 

To showcase the project’s success with volunteers we thought we’d ask a few people who have been involved with wildlife monitoring, conservation and community engagement to tell us their thoughts!

Volunteers have been key to the projects success

Volunteers have been key to the projects success © Forgotten Landscapes

We interviewed: 
Heidi Scourfield, from Blaenavon who is involved with monitoring of the reed bed sites and is also a committee member for the project.
Julian Morgan. County ecologist.  Julian has a very personal story, as becoming a volunteer as the Blaenavon World Heritage Site helped change his life.
Nicholas Beswick, who has volunteered for Wildlife Monitoring.

1. How long have you been volunteering with the Forgotten Landscapes project?

Heidi Scourfield: “My partner and I signed up two and half years ago.”
Julian Morgan: “I signed for the project around 18 months ago, after I picked up a Forgotten Landscapes leaflet in Pontypool that was looking for volunteers.”
Nicholas Beswick: “I started volunteering at the project around two years ago”

2. Why did you get involved?

The conservation team having fun

The conservation team having fun © Forgotten Landscapes

Heidi: “As I live locally I wanted to help the area more to try and make a difference.  The project itself seemed very interesting and an excellent way to learn about the surroundings of where I live.”
Julian: “I had recently been made redundant, so I decided it was time to change my career and do something that would be more enjoyable to my life.  So I started looking for new opportunities which I thought would be more beneficial to my interests and where I could learn new skills.  In the area where I’m from it can sometimes be difficult so find such things, so when I saw the advert I applied and became a volunteer.  Since becoming a volunteer my life has changed for the better.  I have a new a job that is very similar to my volunteer job, I’ve met some incredible people and learnt plenty of new skills along the way.”
Nicholas: “As I had previous experience working for the National Trust working on bird surveys, I thought it would be good to contribute my experience to the project”

3. What do you find is the most appealing thing about the project?

Phragmites reeds on project site

Phragmites reeds on project site © Forgotten Landscapes

Heidi: “Being out and about has made volunteering a very appealing part of getting involved in the project.  I really enjoy being out in the open air, because the surrounding area of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site is stunning.”
Julian: “The preservation and conservation aspect of the project is a wonderful thing.  I love being around wildlife and nature, it’s a great feeling to be outside in the open air.  It’s been great to learn new things in terms of conservations.  As a result of the Forgotten Landscapes Project I’ve developed new skills which has helped me find new employment opportunities.  I’ve also bought my own skills to the project which has helped other people learn.  Without the project my life would be completely different, it has certainly had an impact on my own person experiences.”
Nicholas: “It’s an exciting project, which showcases a unique industrial heritage, which was an area of wasteland that has been turned into a more attractive place and transformed for wildlife”

4. Have you seen any changes to the area since the volunteer project started?

Beautiful Scenery in Blaenavon © Forgotten Landscapes

Beautiful Scenery in Blaenavon © Forgotten Landscapes

Heidi: “There have been a few changes over the last few years.  The one change, which I think, has had the most important and influential impact on the area is educating the local people.  More people in the community are now more aware of the great history that surrounds the area.  The lectures that take place at the Bleanavon World Heritage Centre have helped”
Julian: “From my own personal point of view in the eyes of a conservationist, I’ve noticed some big changes around Garn Lakes as a result of work from volunteers of the Forgotten Landscapes Project.  There has been a slow increase of wildlife as a result of activities like the laying of reed beds.”
Nicholas: “The work around Garn Lakes has been significant, before the area has no wildlife value, but has now changed dramatically”

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Volunteers Hard at work! © Forgotten Landscapes

5. Where’s your favourite place to walk in the World Heritage Site?
Heidi: “The old rail line just past the cemetery on Varteg Hill, there’s an old cycle track and rail line.  Along the line you can see the Blaenavon Heritage Railway where there a historic steam trains.  There is a long stretch of forest towards Ponty and if you walk in the opposite direction you will end up at Garn Lakes.”
Julian: “The Blorenge is always a special place to visit, the scenary is beautiful and it’s also nice to see the changes to the area which the project has influenced.”
Nicholas: “The are a number of walks, such as heading up the North Ridge of the Garn Lake area.  There are areas where Red Grouse can be spotted.  It’s also nice to see the positive changed to the area.  Half a century ago the ridge was subjected to open cast mining, so it’s an interesting walk, but might not be for everyone.

6. Where’s your favourite spot to visit?
Heidi:
“It’s hard to say I enjoy it all…”
Julian: “I enjoy all of the areas, there is something different in ever place around the Bleanavon World Heritage site, whether it’s history or nature.”
Nicholas: “I find the hill pit part of the World Heritage Site fascinating.  It’s an iconic part of one of the earliest eras of the industrial revolution, the chimney was carefully constructed without the use of mortar, which makes it even more impressive.”

7. What do you think is the most important part of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site? 

Plenty of iconic sites

Plenty of iconic sites © Forgotten Landscapes

Heidi: “I think the most stand out place in the town would have to be the Iron Works.”
Julian: “The most iconic place has to be the Blaenavon Iron Works.  They’re historic and hugely significant to the area.”
Nicholas: “It’s good to see the local people actively engaged and appreciated by the community”.

8. Could you sum up your experience with the Forgotten Landscape project in one sentence?
Heidi: “It’s been an extremely enjoyable experience.  It’s got more people outside and active within the community.  It’s been wonderful meeting likeminded people and a good social experience.”
Julian: “An extremely enjoyable experience, that gets people outdoors, brings like minded people together, which has helped build confidence in people and the community.”
Nicholas: “It’s something that’s been a bit different, something that’s limited in scope, something that needs to be maintained by sustainably and public authority support.”

9.  Would you recommend volunteering to other people?
Heidi:
“Yes, it gets people out and about!”
Julian: “Yes, it gets people out and encourages them try new things.”
Nicholas: “Definitely, it’s something that is very rewarding.  People can see tangible changes, they can help to make a difference to the area, improve their skills and build the self-confidence.”

Top 5 Things for Dads to Explore in Blaenavon

Known for its incredible heritage and beautiful Welsh landscape, Blaenavon is as Dad-friendly as you can get! There is no shortage for cycling or walking trails, and history buffs will be in heaven upon seeing the World Heritage Centre and Blaenavon Ironworks.

History at your fingertips 

World Heritage Centre © Forgotten Landscapes

World Heritage Centre © Forgotten Landscapes

History takes on a new form at the Blaenavon World Heritage Centre for the most dedicated of history buffs. Interactive touch screens and specialized exhibitions are a great fit for any father looking to learn something. A gift shop ensures you will remember you visit, and a cafe makes sure that your dad will not go hungry!

Cyclist on the path © Forgotten Landscapes

Cyclist on the path © Forgotten Landscapes

 

Cycling: Get on that bike!

For exploring the countryside, the Torfaen Leisure Route is a moderate cycling trail that anyone can complete. It’s also perfect for walkers and horse-riding and a family-friendly trail for a bit of fresh air. Fathers will find sites abound, as the trail passes the Garn Lakes, the Monmouthshire Canal and many other beautiful local sites. The ride is around 18 miles, perfect for a relaxing day out with dad!

Workmen's Hall © Forgotten Landscapes

Workmen’s Hall © Forgotten Landscapes

The Ironworks: Flex your shoveling muscles. 

For those more interested in history, Blaenavon Ironworks is a more suitable location. Built in 1789, the ironworks have some of the best preserved furnaces in the world. There are also a variety of tours and historical reconstructions that will wow your dad into speechlessness.

Taking a Walk around Blaenavon © Forgotten Landscapes

Taking a Walk around Blaenavon © Forgotten Landscapes

Loop your way around Blaenavon and Abergavenny

On the other hand, a walk outside the town and around the country can be more appealing to those dads with a taste for nature. The Iron Mountain Trail is a beautiful walk that winds around Blaenavon and Abergavenny, showing off some of the landscape’s best features. The trail is around 7 miles long and loops in a circle, so that anyone can see the awe-inspiring valleys, ponds, and Tabletop Mountains.

Beautiful Scenery in Blaenavon © Forgotten Landscapes

Beautiful Scenery in Blaenavon © Forgotten Landscapes

Eating and Sightseeing on Train: The Perfect Combination

But your father might be more eclectic. No problem, one of the coolest things that Blaenavon offers is the Heritage Railway. For a fairly inexpensive price, you can ride on the highest altitude railway in England and Wales to see the sights without much work. Many of the trains have a buffet to refresh yourself with during the journey, and pass gorgeous sites you will remember for a lifetime.

 Upcoming Events:

The Hidden Landscape of Forgeside: Exhibiting from May 1st to July 26th

The Education in Blaenavon: Exhibiting from May 1st to June 30th

Archaeological Dig: Join in from June 12th to June 16th

Archaeology Site Tours: Check out what they’ve uncovered from June 15th to June 16th

World Heritage Day Celebration: Party at Blaenavon on June 29th

The Big JUNE Dig!

Dr Amelia PannettJune offers another exciting month with Forgotten Landscapes project at the Blaenavon World Heritage Site.  There will be one of the biggest archaeology digs taking place this year.  So we thought we’d have a quick chat with Dr Amelia Pannet who is leading the dig and find out what the community archaeology dig is all about.

Hill Pits Workday

Hill Pits Workday

 
The Community Archaeology Dig  on 12th – 16th June and is overseen by Dr Amelia Pannett MIFA, who’s the Project Manager for Archaeology Wales Ltd.

 

 

1. What is your role as part of the Community Archeology Dig?

Church and Archaeology sites 189The community archaeology dig forms part of a course that I (in my role as Project Manager at Archaeology Wales) am running for Forgotten Landscape Project (FLP). The course aims to train volunteers in the skills they need to run their own research project and how to monitor sites within the WHS to ensure their long-term preservation. For the dig itself, my colleague Sian and I will be training the volunteers in all aspects of excavation, recording and surveying.

2. How and when did you begin teaming up with the Forgotten Landscapes project?

I first started working with the FLP volunteers in early 2012 when we were compiling a Conservation Management Plan for the site of Hill Pits. This involved recording the different features of the site as they survive, looking at possibilities for future work and monitoring the features to ensure they do not deteriorate in the future. This initial work leads on to a programme of small-scale clearance at the site, revealing the footprint of part of the cottages associated with the mine, making it easier for visitors to understand.

3. Why is the Blaenavon area of such archeological importance?

Church and Archaeology sites 193Blaenavon is unique! The landscape contains a huge number of sites relating to all aspects of the industrial use of the area – from the very early scourings to extract coal to the modern workings at Big Pit. Aside from the industrial sites, for which Blaenavon is best known, there is a lot of pre-industrial archaeology, ranging from prehistoric burial cairns to the small hill farms that existed in the landscape before mining and ironworking came to the area, allowing us to see the evolution of the use of the landscape. The preservation of sites is also significant – although most are in a ruinous condition, a large number of post-medieval and industrial sites are still recognisable as houses or mine workings, which is fantastic for visitors who can visualise how people would have lived and worked in the landscape.

4. Could you briefly outline exactly what you’re working towards in June?

We are investigating the site of four ruined cottages and their associated outbuildings, fields and water supply. The cottages sit within one of the main areas of early mining in the landscape and date to at least 1820. We want to learn more about the development of the site – how did the occupants of the houses live and work the surrounding land, what did they have to do to ensure a fresh water supply and where are they likely to have worked. Our research so far has involved looking at old maps and documents and we have also started a survey of the site, producing a drawn and photographic record of its current state of preservation. This information will allow us to put together a series of research questions that we will then aim to answer through the excavation of a small number of trenches.

For more information see below or visit Blaenavon Visitor Centre:
Forgotten Landscapes Dig

Catch a Falling Star at Blaenavon, World Heritage Site

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Here’s a wonderful event happening on Friday 10th, so why not roll up to the “Whistle Inn” near Blaenavon to discover the stars and explore the galaxy, using a portable planetarium which will be focused on interesting phenomena in the … Continue reading

Wonders of the Valleys: Spoil to Spectacular

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

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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.

 

 

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.

FRESH AIR, OPEN COUNTRYSIDE, A CHALLENGE, A WONDERFUL SENSE OF ACHIEVEMENT, GAIN A NEW SKILL… Want all these things? Well here is something for you!

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

 

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.