Summer with the Community: The 5 Best Things to Do!

Summer always sees the best of the community coming together in the town of Blaenavon and around the World Heritage Sites so here’s a quick guide on what community activities to enjoy for visitors and locals alike.

You can take a walk or hike outside along one of the trails for a beautiful day or visit a museum to learn about your grandparents and what they did. If you’re up for volunteering, there’s so many chances to help! And even if all you want to do is relax, there’s a place just for you.
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You can take a walk or hike outside for a beautiful day or visit a museum to learn about past ancestors and what they did. If you’re up for volunteering, there’s so many chances to help! And even if all you want to do is relax, there’s a place just for you.

Claire & Ian from the Monmouthshire Walking FestivalParty outside!
If you’re looking for something where the whole town is at your side, the Blaenavon World Heritage Festival is the best place for you. Fun pony rides and a great dog show that promises to be great for your kids and for anyone who loves dogs! Even if you are a parent, the show is guaranteed to be absolutely fantastic.

World Heritage Centre © Forgotten Landscapes

World Heritage Centre © Forgotten Landscapes

How did your ancestors live?
But let’s say you really love learning about your ancestors. Your history and heritage are a really important part of who you are, so whatever age you are – child or grandparent – Blaenavon can offer you knowledge about yourself. There is nothing better than learning about where you came from. The Blaenavon World Heritage Centre has lovely exhibitions and talks for everyone!

Beautiful Sunshine Makes for a Lovely Day
One of the best things about Blaenavon is that the location is absolutely beautiful. Whether you’re active or not, there’s a walk for kids or for an adventurous couple. The Mynydd Y Garn-Fawr walk is across open mountain, you’ll be sure to take at least 100 pictures before the day is out.

Volunteers uniting!

Volunteers uniting!

Blaenavon Pride
If your ancestors lived in Blaenavon, the town is the perfect place to go heritage searching, from the museums to the actual monuments. The Big Pit and Ironworks give you an idea of what the era was like, while the Museum will help you find information. So discover your past and learn what it was like back in the day!

Giving Back
Volunteering is a great way to spend a day in summer! Perhaps you want to just spend time outside or learn more about the wildlife? It doesn’t matter – because both are included. Join the Volunteer Rangers and really take the time to give back to the Blaenavon area!

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

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

Discover Garn Lakes at the Blaenavon World Heritage Site

Around the Forgotten Landscapes World Heritage Site there are plenty of places soaked in history to explore and discover.  An important way to find out about these sites is to start off at the Blaenavon World Heritage Centre.

Garn Lakes

Garn Lakes

One place that is worth a visit is Garn Lakes.  The Garn Lakes nature reserve was created on the site of spoil tips as part of the regeneration of the area when mining ceased.  It comprises two large ponds, woodland plantations, meadows and, most recently created a boggy area with reedbeds.  The reserve thus contains a range of habitats that would occur naturally in the area and supports a wide diversity of wildlife.  The Forgotten Landscapes volunteers have been undertaking projects to enhance and to maintain the reserve, in order to maximise its value to human visitors and its other residents.  For the last year, volunteers have been conducting a monthly count of the wildfowl and wading birds on the reserve.  This data is included in the national Wetlands Bird Survey conducted by the British Trust for Ornithology.  Compared with major sites, the numbers at Garn Lakes are small but all these small sites nationally add up to a great deal, providing nesting habitats for some species and winter feeding for many more.  2012 saw the first record of Tufted Duck breeding at Garn Lakes as well as the ubiquitous Mallard.  Snipe, a wading bird of conservation concern on account of its declining numbers, have been recorded regularly and might breed in the reedbed area once the habitat matures.

Hill's Pit at Dawn by Nicholas Beswick ©

Hill’s Pit at Dawn by Nicholas Beswick ©

Garn Lakes are also a good site for many species of small birds, including warblers that visit in the summer.  Rich song from scrubby undergrowth may betray the presence of Blackcap or Whitethroat; wet areas may attract Reed or Sedge Warblers whilst the wistful song of the Willow Warbler may be heard in the woods.  The Forgotten Landscape project has recently installed an artificial Sand Martin bank.  These relatives of the Swallow excavate nest tunnels in sandy banks near water and it is hoped that they will take to ready-made homes at Garn Lakes as they do elsewhere.

Some Remarkable Facts About Wildlife

The Forgotten Landscape project has successfully helped increase a variety of wildlife to the area.  One big success story has been the increase of the native red grouse to the moorlands.

Nicholas Beswick is a volunteer for the project, his role has been to monitor the red grouse and other wild birds in the area.

Here’s a quick insight to red grouse in the area and some facts that you probably never new!

Hill's Pit at Dawn by Nicholas Beswick ©

Hill’s Pit at Dawn by Nicholas Beswick ©

Grouse (correctly, Red Grouse, Lagopus lagopus scotticus)

The Red Grouse is a native game bird, unlike the Pheasant which was introduced by the Romans.  It is found only on heather moorland, with the bulk of the UK’s population in the Scottish highlands.  Our local birds are the most southerly native in Britain (they were introduced on to Dartmoor for game shooting).

Grouse in the Wild

GrouseThe grouse eat heather shoots and therefore flourish only where the moor is well managed.  Under or over grazing results in loss of heather and grouse.  In times past, local landowners employed gamekeepers to manage the moors and to control predators but cannot now afford to do so.  There is, though, still an established shoot which hopes to resume limited shooting if grouse numbers grow to a viable level.

Unlike many other birds, the Red Grouse is resident all year round and can survive the harshest weather on the mountains.  Indeed, some severe weather may be beneficial in killing insect parasites.  They are most easily found in fine weather in early spring when the males will be calling to establish territories and will usually be seen flying off, low over the heather.  They are Woodpigeon size and dark red-brown all over – good views through binoculars will reveal intricate markings and the male has red eyebrows.  They have harsh, barking calls; a typical one is often represented as “Go back!  Go back!  Go back!   Go back!”  The presence of grouse may also be inferred from their characteristic droppings which are often deposited on paths and look rather like small heaps of cigarette ends.

The Forgotten Landscapes Project

The Forgotten Landscapes project hopes to improve management of the moors for the benefit of the grouse and other wildlife.  This includes creating firebreaks to reduce the problem of wildfires, conducting controlled burning of over-mature heather, limiting the encroachment of bracken and encouraging helpful grazing regimes.  Volunteers are monitoring grouse and Skylark numbers to enable assessment of the success of the moorland management.  This will need to be a continuing task for many years as there are no quick fixes.­­­

 

If you would like to be involved in projects similar to this and 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

 

Springtime Things to do at Forgotten Landscapes

With spring finally in the air, April is the perfect time to discover the abundance of wildlife around Blaenavon. With fresh buds on the trees and famous Welsh daffodils in the meadows, local wildlife takes its cue from nature and makes its spectacular reappearance. We take a look at three great activities, perfect for flora and fauna enthusiasts.

Storming around Carn-y-Gorfydd

Spring at Forgotten Landscapes

Spring at Forgotten Landscapes

Enjoy an energetic, 4km circular walk or cycle around Carn-y-Gorfydd, meaning “site of the battle”, will introduce visitors to the great variety of plants and animals in the area. Spring offers the opportunity to ramble or ride through meadows carpeted with violets and oxalis. On the banks you’ll find the intense hues of bluebells, campion and white stichwort. Be careful though! Legend has it that if you pick the white stichwort you’ll bring on a storm.

A great chance to meet the locals.  Along the glacier-carved slopes, you’re sure to come across some of the areas avian residents. Declared a site of Special Scientific Interest, the beech woods and meadows provide the perfect springtime habitat for redstarts, pied flycatchers and green woodpeckers with their memorable, laughing call. Bring your bird watching book and you won’t miss a thing! More information can be found here. 

The Greening of the Garn Lakes

Visitors  enjoying Garn Lake

Visitors enjoying Garn Lake

One of the most remarkable sites around Blaenavon, the Garn Lakes offer visitors the chance to see first-hand the true regenerative ability of nature. Covering 40 acres of lakes and grasslands, the area was once covered in spoil tips and old colliery workings. Thanks to an extensive land reclamation scheme, it was reopened in 1997 as an area offering visitors outstanding views and a host of interesting local residents from the plant and animal world. It’s since been declared a local nature reserve.

Get your binoculars out.

A great starting point for walks around the area, the Garn Lakes is an ornithologists dream. Springtime brings visitors from Africa in the form of the Common Sandpiper and Willow Warbler. Around the lakes you’re also likely to see Tufted Ducks, Skylarks, Snipes, Redshanks and Little Grebes- a must-see for twitchers!

A short walk: Rare fauna on the Coity Tip Trail

A walking along one of Forgotten Landscapes nature trails

A walking along one of Forgotten Landscapes nature trails

A more genteel 1km (15 mins) springtime wander will take you through what might appear to be an unusual place to spot wildlife in this corner of Wales.  As the name suggests, the Coity Tip trail takes you round a former coal tip. Don’t let the history of this former ironstone mine fool you though! With the warmth of spring, visitors will be able to spot common lizards soaking up the rays on the boardwalk. In the UK these cold-blooded reptiles are rare and can only be seen between March and October. Taking your eyes off the boardwalk, you might also see buzzards searching for prey in the skies overhead. These birds are the most successful birds http://www.freepressseries.co.uk/news/pontypool_news/pontypool_news/10322520.Blaenavon_statue_of_rugby_legend_Ken_Jones_unveiled/ prey in Wales, with the abundance of rain providing a plethora of earthworms to eat. If you listen carefully you’re also likely to hear the piping call of the Meadow Pipit, an upland bird, whose ‘parachute’ flight is a common sight in the upland areas of Wales.

A Fun Event & a detailed guide the Coity Tip Trail please see the link click here. 

 

The Rise of Reedbeds – Part Two

AlvinNicholas

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.
Contact: 
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.
Contact: 
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.

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