The Ebbw Valleys have many walks, lakes and ponds.
Adjacent to the town is Parc Nant y Waun, a local nature reserve incorporating 22 hectares of grassland, mires and reservoirs, which together with the nearby Beaufort Hill Woodlands and Ponds, is the start of the newly-created Ebbw Fach Trail, an 8-mile environment and heritage walking and cycling route which wends its way south along the valley.
At Nantyglo, just to the south of Brynmawr, the route skirts past the historic roundhouses built by local ironmaster, Crawshay Bailey. This area was the scene of much early political unrest leading to the ill-fated Chartist march on Newport in November 1839 and Crawshay Bailey had the castellated roundhouses built for protection and refuge in the case of insurrection by his workers. Overlooking Nantyglo on its western slopes is the West Monmouthshire Golf Course, officially the highest Golf Club in Great Britain, whose 14th tee stands at over 1500 feet above sea level with spectacular views over the adjoining valleys and north over the Brecon Beacons.
Further down the valley, Blaina (Blaenau) has a very proud cultural history. The birthplace of three renowned opera singers, Arthur Fear, Parry Jones, and Mostyn Thomas, the town’s reading and literary institute is now home to the Blaina Heritage Museum. Just to the east overlooking the town and accessible from the Ebbw Fach Trail is the Cwmcelyn Pond and Woodlands where there are excellent walks and fishing.
Abertillery (Abertyleri) is the main town of the Ebbw Fach valley set amongst some glorious countryside, including the beautiful, serene upper Tyleri Valley. Cwmtillery Lakes are now a local nature reserve with fishing and wonderful heritage and nature trails including a mountain top trek over to Big Pit at Blaenafon for the more adventurous.
The town’s Victorian commercial centre is undergoing regeneration and the historic Metropole Theatre (now known as The Met) - now a cultural and conference centre, sharing the building with the fascinating Abertillery Museum complete with its Valleys’ Italian café, whilst St Michael’s Church houses a spectacular series of large works, based on the passion story, by renowned local artist, John Selway. The town is also home to another renowned Welsh artist, Roger Cecil, whose works have often inspired by the local environment.
Just south of the town at the site of the former Six Bells Colliery, the new imposing 20-metre high ‘Guardian’ statue by Sebastien Boyesen commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1960 Six Bells mining disaster in which 45 men and boys lost their lives, and is already becoming a must-see in The Valleys.
The Ebbw Fach river eventually joins the Ebbw Fawr at Aberbeeg, formerly the site of a major railway junction and brewery, to form the Ebbw itself. Llanhilleth is the first major settlement south on the Ebbw with a wonderfully restored Institute, a prestigious Grade II listed building which has a thriving arts scene, next to the village’s railway station. High above the village on the hilltop is the wonderfully atmospheric ancient church of St Illtyd, the oldest standing building in the area built in the 13thCentury.
The top of the parallel Ebbw Fawr valley is dominated by the town of Ebbw Vale (Glynebwy), one of the historic homes of Welsh steelmaking and the site of The Works, the biggest regeneration project in Wales, the extent of which just has to be seen. Within The Works is the Environmental Resource Centre where you can learn more about the fascinating ecology of the site.
The General Offices of the former steel works is now the Gwent Archives. Nearby, Festival Park on the site of the former Garden Festival offers excellent value branded outlet shopping complete with the longest slide in the UK and wonderful views of Silent Valley Nature Reserve, which has a special area for scientific research.
South past Cwm, birthplace of Victor Spinetti, the Ebbw Fawr valley becomes narrow and thickly wooded, towards its meeting with the Ebbw Fach.
From Aberbeeg, the Ebbw flows through Llanhilleth before reaching the village of Crumlin. Nowadays, you will have to look high to the hillsides for the traces of what once made Crumlin famous. On Whit Monday June 1st, 1857, a magnificent, graceful and beautiful steel viaduct spanning the valley was opened, which was hailed as ‘one of the most significant examples of technological achievement during the industrial revolution’. Until 1966, it remained the least expensive bridge for its size ever constructed, and at 62 metres high, was the highest railway viaduct in the British Isles and third highest in the world. Just prior to its demolition in 1966, the viaduct was used as a location for the film Arabesque, starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren. Today, only the abutments remain as the sole reminders of what was ‘one of the most technologically important bridges ever to have been built'.
Newbridge is where boxing legend Joe Calzaghe was raised and home to the art deco Newbridge Institute and Memorial Hall, which after a long campaign is in the final stages of restoration.
Cwmcarn offers some of the finest mountain biking in the UK, with a renowned all-weather single-track and serious downhill action, aided by the CwmDown uplift bike service. The Forest Drive offers a more leisurely way of enjoying the wonderful scenery with pretty picnic stops and wonderful walks, including one to Twmbarlwm, a Celtic hill fort that features heavily in local folk legends, which commands spectacular views south over the Gwent Lowlands and the Bristol Channel across to the English coastline.
The peaceful rural outlook of villages and towns in the south of the valley, such as Abercarn, Cross Keys and Risca, nowadays hide the fact that they were the scenes of some of the worst-ever mining disasters in the UK in the 19th century including that at the Prince of Wales Colliery in 1878, which claimed 259 lives.
Great views over these can be obtained from Mynydd y Lan and Mynydd Machen, where the skyline of Cardiff can be glimpsed.
- Ty Ebbw Fach
Ty Ebbw Fach is the newly opened visitor centre at Six Bells servicing Guardian, Parc Arrael Griffin and The Ebbw Fach Trail.
The building has meeting space, tourist information and a bistro providing delicious refreshments to locals and visitors. There is also interpretation room to inform visitors about the history of the area, the Six Bells mining disaster of 1960, Guardian - the miners memorial and the Ebbw Fach Trail.
- Nantyglo Roundhouses
The Nantyglo Roundhouse complex is a unique relic of the Industrial Revolution. It was built around 1816 by Joseph and Crawshay Bailey, the Ironmasters of the Nantyglo Ironworks, as a defended refuge against armed revolt by their workforce.