Afon Llwyd, more commonly known as the Eastern Valley, is home to the Blaenavon World Heritage Site and Big Pit National Coal Museum.
The Afon Lwyd (Grey River) was also known as the Torfaen, meaning 'Rock Breaker', showing how forcefully the water rushes down the valley.
Blaenavon (source of the river) sits at the top of the valley. In 2000 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of the complete survival of a 19th-century industrial landscape. This town was one of the places that created the modern world. The Ironworks, where the award-winning BBC television series Coal House was set, is one of the most important surviving monuments from the early part of the industrial revolution. Iron produced here was sold around the world and it is where the Thomas-Gilchrist method to produce phosphorous-free iron was created; in 1887, Andrew Carnegie, famous industrialist, philanthropist, and steel-king of America, paid the huge sum of $250,000 for the rights to use it in the United States. Today you can still marvel at the best-preserved ironworks of its period and imagine what it would have been liked to work here with the new, innovative interpretation.
The walking and cycling routes in and around the town allow you to discover the museums, monuments, quirky little shops, art galleries, and the Blaenafon World Heritage Centre. You can also explore the Industrial Landscape where there are many hidden reminders of how the area looked during the Industrial Revolution.
If you take a ride on the Blaenavon's Heritage Railway, the highest standard gauge railway in Wales you'll enjoy spectacular views and you can hope off at Whistle Halt, 1307 feet above sea level, (call into The Whistle Inn, next to the station, which is famous for its extensive collection of miners’ lamps), or at the new Big Pit Halt - just a short walk from the Museum.
There is so much to see and do in Blaenavon, but no visit would be complete without a thrilling descent into the depths at Big Pit National Coal Muesum, a real coal mine, where you can explore what life was like for the thousands who worked at the coal face, 300 feet underground, in the company of a real miner.
Wending your way south, you pass through the hamlet of Cwmavon, which has several interesting and historic buildings surrounded by some wonderful scenery, and then Abersychan, a former hive of industry, including the fascinating site around the former British ironworks.
Then you come to Pontypool, (Welsh Pont-y-pwl) whose name it is believed is derived from Pont-ap-Hywel (Hywel's Bridge). An early Market Town, Pontypool can claim to be the home of the Welsh iron industry with the first forge set up in 1425; it is claimed that emigrants from Pontypool constructed the first forge in America in 1652.
The former home of the Hanbury family, who developed the iron industry in the town in the sixteenth century, can be seen at beautiful Pontypool Park. The Stables now house Pontypool Museum which has an outstanding display of Japanware, made in the town from the middle of the eighteenth century.
The park was a place of recreation for the Hanburys with a Folly and a Shell Grotto. The rebuilt Folly commands views over no fewer than seven counties on a clear day. The Grotto restored in the 1990s, has an incredible interior, encrusted with shells and gnarled wood with a patterned floor made of animal bones and teeth. Enjoy a walk around the park and explore these brilliant sites.
Cwmbran (Valley of the Crow) at the south of the Afon Lwyd valley is Wales' only new town and is renowned for its extensive undercover commercial centre. Alongside the shops is Llantarnam Grange - a thriving Arts Centre, which hosts top quality exhibitions as well as great childrens activities and a shop filled with quality crafts - perfect reminders of your visit to the Valleys.
Nearby is Greenmeadow Community Farm where the old barns and farmhouse now form a brilliant family attraction with rare and Welsh breed farm animals, a pets corner, nature and woodland trails and much more.
You can also explore Llanyrafon Manor and follow the Monmouthshire, Brecon and Abergavenny Canal that used to take the iron to Newport - now you can walk or cycle along this peaceful green route between Pontypool and Cwmbran.
- Greenmeadow Community Farm
A hands on farming experience for all the family! Greenmeadow Community Farm has been a working farm for over 250 years. Set in over 120 acres, you will find a wide range of pedigree and rare animals which you can come and meet up close. See the daily milking demonstration, take a tractor and trailer ride, feed the animals, explore the woodlands and enjoy the adventure playground.
- Blaenafon Cheddar Company
This specialist cheddar cheese company is based in the World Heritage Site of Blaenavon, South Wales. Producing eight very distinctive cheddars and four varieties of goat's cheese. The cheeses are hand made at the shop in Broad Street, Blaenavon. The Pwll Mawr cheddar is actually matured at the bottom of the mine shaft at Big Pit mining museum and can be bought at their gift shop.
- Blaenafon Community Heritage & Cordell Museum
Experience the heat, noise and danger of blasting iron as well as the way that workers lived right next door to the works, right up until the 1960's.