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Visit Southern Wales Blog

Archive for tag: Valleys

Downhill Drama

New mountain bike for Christmas? Then you'll obviously want to hurtle down a mountain at full speed to try it out won't you?

Luckily for you, we've got the Mynydd at Cwmcarn Forest near Caerphilly. A fearsome downhill track that fully tests the most experienced riders (and scares the rest of us).

Taking the steep drops, tight turns and huge jumps at break-neck speeds seems to be impossible. Yet they do and that is why this is considered to be one to the best tracks in the country by mountain biking enthusiasts.  It has been rated as a Black track, which means it is officially classed as severe and should only be tackled by experienced riders.

You daren't take your eyes off the track, which is a shame as the views from the top are stunning.

The Mountain Biking Wales website describes it as"a track which offers steep technical sections, a very fast open section near the bottom, jumps, drops, berms, infact probably one of the biggest berms you'll ever see, as well as some doubles and even a massive gap jump if you want to try it."

Guarding the Valleys

GuardianWe got the chance to visit the Guardian Mining Memorial this week.

Towering above the village of Six Bells, in the heart of the Valleys, the Guardian stands as a monument to the mining industry that once dominated this landscape and commemorates the lives lost in the 1960 Six Bells Colliery disaster.

Despite visiting several times in the past, the monument never fails to impress.  And this time we were lucky to get a guided tour of local expert Meg Gurney.

She has a wealth of knowledge on the Guardian - the process of building it, the history of the Six Bells site and the mining industry locally.  She also told us some poignant stories of those who perished in the disaster and those who had lucky escapes.  Hearing these stories added so much more to the visit.

If you're visiting, be sure to call in to Tŷ Ebbw Fach. The former coaching inn has been transformed into an information centre about Guardian, whilst also providing light snacks and refreshments in its excellent coffee shop.

For more information on the Guardian or Tŷ Ebbw Fach click on the links below.
Guardian
Tŷ Ebbw Fach

Wonderful Welsh Whisky

PenderynDid you know Wales produces its own whisky? It might not be as well known as its Scottish or Irish counterparts, but that is changing.

Penderyn Whisky (which takes its name from the village in the Brecon Beacons National Park where the distillery is based) started production in 2000 and the first bottle was released on St David's Day in 2004. It was the first whisky to be (legally!) produced in Wales since the 19th century. The distillery is situated on a natural spring and it uses this water, to produce the whisky.

The visitor centre opened in 2008 and gives visitors a tour explaining how the distilling process works. Even better, at the end of the tour you get the chance to sample the whisky (or vodka, gin or cream liquor that they also produce).

And if you're really into your whisky, why not try the Penderyn Distillery Master Class tour. This includes a detailed tour of the distillery, an in-depth look at how the whisky is made and also an expert tasting session.

For more details take a look at their website - www.welsh-whisky.co.uk

Iechyd da!

Happy New Year

Llancaiach GhostToday is Calan Gaeaf in Wales.  Translated into English, this means the start of winter and is an ancient celebration to mark the Celtic New Year. 

These days the more modern celebration of Halloween is more widely celebrated although this has its roots in the Calan Gaeaf celebrations.

One place you should visit today is Llancaiach Fawr, a 16th century manor house and, reportedly, the most haunted house in Wales.  Many sightings and strange goings on have been reported in almost every room of the house. Ghosts are believed to include a former housekeeper named Mattie and that of an unidentified young boy. 

Llanciach Fawr is marking Halloween with a spooky ghost tour where visitors can see if any spirits are coming out to play.  Take a look for yourself on the Ghost Cam, if you dare.

Aside from the ghost tours, Llancaiach Fawr itself is a great day out.  Visitors can step back in time to 1645 and the time of the Civil War.

The house is decorated in the style of the era and visitors get the chance to meet the mansion's servants who will tell you of what life was like at that time.   Servants you might come across include the maids, the cooks and the groom. And if you're lucky you might even get the chance to meet Colonel Pritchard, the master of the house himself.

Take a look at their website for more details.

Best of Bedwellty

Bedwellty HouseTredegar is a small town with a big history.

At the centre of the town is the beautiful Bedwellty Park.  The 26 acre park dates from the 19th century when it was created for the Master of the local iron works, Samuel Homfray.

The parkland is full of interesting features such as cascades, a bandstand and an ice house.  It also boasts the biggest single lump of coal ever mined.

The park's centre piece though is Bedwellty House.  Once home to Homfray, the house has a remarkable history.  As well as being a residence, the house also became the headquarters of Tredegar Town Council.

And it was in this council chamber that a young Aneurin Bevan took his first steps into politics, before he went on to become the local MP and founder of the NHS.  Visitors can take a look inside this historic room and watch a short film as well as browse through a number of other exhibitions.

Bedwelty House and Park is open all year round to the public.

Visitors to the house and park can relax and unwind in the Orchid House tearoom where they can sample a range of homemade specialities, including produce grown in its very own kitchen garden.

For more information please visit the website

The King of Castles

With its towering turrets and sprawling water defences, Caerphilly Castle dominates the town of Caerphilly.

It's actually the second biggest castle in the UK behind Windsor.  It has been there since the late 13th century when Gilbert de Clare decided he needed to keep the rebellious locals at bay.

They're much more welcoming to visitors these days.  They've even built a bridge over the moat to stop you getting your feet wet on the way in.To find out more about this impressive castle, take a look at the video or visit the website.

Hidden Gems: Guardian

GuardianYou'll know all about our castles, museums and other well-known attractions by now.  But aside from all those, there are a plethora of hidden gems lurking throughout the region, each with their own story and ability to make any trip to Wales a memorable one.

The Guardian Memorial

It's been compared to the Angel of the North, and it's easy to see why.

Towering above the village of Six Bells, in the heart of the Valleys, the Guardian stands as a monument to the mining industry that once dominated this landscape.

It stands on the site of the former Six Bells Colliery, not that you'll know it, given how you are now surrounded by meadows and wildlife.  The inscriptions on the base of the statue commemorates the lives lost at the 1960 Six Bells disaster.

Nearby, Ty Ebbw Fach houses a small exhibition on the statue as well as a café, making it an ideal places for a refreshment stop.

For more information, please visit the website

Discover Rhondda Cynon Taf

Lluest-wen ReservoirNestled at the heart of the Southern Wales is perhaps the most famous valley in the world. Once upon a time, the Rhondda Valley produced the coal that powered the world.

How times change, the pits and heaps have long gone to be replaced by glorious countryside and great mountain top views.

There are still reminders of the area's past, not least at the Rhondda Heritage Park, where in the company of an ex miner you embark on an Underground Experience Tour. Find out what life was like for the men (and indeed boys) who worked in the mines.

Up above the valley, the views from the mountain tops are spectacular. There are many walks and routes to follow, not least from the Dare Valley Country Park. Who knows, they might lead to historic sites or hidden waterfalls.

The valley actually stretches all the way up to the Brecon Beacons.  And it is here, in the foothills of the mountains that you will find the tiny village of Penderyn, home to the only whisky distillery in Wales.

They started production here in 2000 and the first bottle was released on St David's Day in 2004. It was the first whisky to be (legally!) produced in Wales since the 19th century. The distillery is situated on a natural spring and it uses this water, to produce the whisky.

The visitor centre opened in 2008 and gives visitors a tour explaining how the distilling process works. Even better, at the end of the tour you get the chance to sample the whisky (or vodka, gin or cream liquor that they also produce).

For more information on this region of Southern Wales, please visit the website.

History and Handlebars

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Caerphilly is all about the castle.

To be fair, covering 120,000 m2 Caerphilly Castle does tend to dominate the town.  It was built by Norman invaders but it was an attack during the 17th century that left the castle with its most striking feature - a leaning tower, which at 10 degrees has more of a tilt than its more famous counterpart in Pisa.

When you've finished exploring it there is a lot more to do in this corner of Southern Wales.  A journey of 8 miles and almost 400 years brings you to Llancaiach Fawr Manor and the year 1645.  You'll meet the servants of the manor who are busy looking after the house for the master, Colonel Pritchard.   They'll regale you with tales of what life is like for them amidst the turmoil of the civil war which rages around them.

What you need with so much history in an area is a museum to bring it all together.  Well, luckily for Caerphilly there's the Winding House.  As the name suggests, the building housed the winding mechanism for the local colliery (in fact you can still see the engine in action on special days throughout the year).  Today the museum is home exhibitions and artefacts charting the area's past.

Back in the 21st century and over in the next valley is Cwmcarn Forest's Mynydd, quite possibly the biggest, hardest, most technical downhill mountain biking track in the country.  It also has terrific views over South Wales, not that you'll be able to take them in as you hurtle down the side of the mountain.  There are also a number of other tracks at the centre if you're not quite up to the big one or if you're after something a little more sedate you can enjoy the beautiful 7 mile long forest drive.

To find our more about Caerphilly, please visit the website

Gwent Gems

GuardianBlaenau Gwent…or head of the Gwent valleys if you want to know what it means.  Being at the top of these valleys, it comes as no surprise that the area has a number of lofty claims to fame.

It has the highest town in Wales - Brynmawr, standing at 380 metres above sea level.  It is also home to the highest golf course in Wales, with the West Mon course standing at 457 metres.  It also has one of the tallest sculptures in Wales - Six Bell's Guardian memorial towering 20 metres over the village below.

As well as all these giant geographical landmarks, it also an area that celebrates political giants.  Tredegar was the home town to Aneurin Bevan, founder of the NHS.  In fact, the place where he first cut his teeth in politics, Bedwellty House is now open to the public.  Together with the surrounding parkland, it is now one of the most popular attractions in the area.

Other attractions in the area include the Festival Park shopping village and Parc Bryn Bach, a acres of green space, morrland and lake - ideal for all sort of outdoor pursuits.

Click the links to take a look at what else Blaenau Gwent and the surrounding Valleys can offer.