The river Rhymney forms the traditional border between the former counties of Monmouthshire and Glamorganshire.
Butetown just to the north of the town of Rhymney at the head of the valley is a fascinating example of an early model village. Originally called New Town (Drenewydd), it was built on land owned by the Marquess of Bute to house workers for the nearby ironworks.
The town of Rhymney itself has a proud Welsh language tradition. In addition to the ironworks and coal mines that founded and developed the town, it was well-known for its brewery with its distinctive hobby horse symbol. It is also known to many outside Wales because of folk singer Pete Seeger's song ‘The Bells of Rhymney’, based on a poem by celebrated poet, Idris Davies, who was born in the town.
In New Tredegar, the spectacular steam Elliot Colliery Winding Engine, the only one of its kind remaining in south Wales, has been preserved and you can relive the history of coal in the area and experience the engine in its full working glory. It is now at the hub of the county museum, Winding House.
The town of Bargoed is currently undergoing substantial and dramatic redevelopment and nearby is Aberbargoed Grasslands National Nature Reserve, home to a variety of rare species of butterflies and plants.
The beautiful Darran Valley which stretches north-west from Bargoed up past Deri to the village of Fochriw, is home to Parc Cwm Darran, a tranquil country park with wonderful walks and cycle routes along its lakeside paths, shady woodlands and sunny meadows.
Multi-award winning Llancaiach Fawr, near the village of Nelson high above the valley, is one of the Valleys’ must-see attractions. The imaginatively restored Tudor manor house takes visitors back to the turmoil of the time of the Civil War. Reputed to be haunted, the manor has ghost tours and even its own Ghostcam. Near to the centre of Nelson, you can find the historic handball court, the last remaining outdoor one in the UK, where competitions that attract international entrants have been held for over a hundred years.
At nearby Gelligaer the remains of its roman fort are clearly visible. Reclaimed from former colliery land, Parc Penallta has spectacular views over the surrounding area with number of waymarked trails that guide you through it and you won’t be able to miss ‘Sultan’ the pit pony, the UK’s largest figurative earth sculpture. The Celtic Trail cycle route passes through Parc Penallta and to the east crosses the highly-impressive Hengoed Viaduct which spans the valley, reaching the wonderful ‘Wheel of Drams' artwork, an eight-metre high sculpture.
Ystrad Mynach, which seems hard to pronounce at first sight for non-Welsh visitors, is a bustling little town with a number of vibrant and imaginative pieces of public artwork, whose railway station was used for one of Ronnie Barker's Porridge episodes.
As the river Rhymney flows south past Llanbradach, the verdant valley widens until it reaches Caerphilly, which gives its name to the famous crumbly cheese that originated in the area. Unsurprisingly the town’s summer festival is known as "The Big Cheese"! The centre of the town is dominated by the magnificent Caerphilly Castle, the largest in Wales and second largest in Britain. With its huge moat and famous leaning south-east tower, the fortress is one of the great medieval castles of western Europe built by the Normans to suppress the Welsh. Caerphilly was the birthplace of the man, once voted as the funniest-ever Briton, the incomparable Tommy Cooper.
The town is overlooked by what is locally known as Caerphilly Mountain, with bracing walks and wonderful vistas over the basin below.
The small Aber Valley runs north of Caerphilly to the settlement of Senghenydd, which was the scene of Britain's worst ever mining disaster in 1913 when 439 men lost their lives following an explosion at the Universal Colliery. The Welsh National Mining Memorial was erected on the site of the colliery on the 100th anniverary of the disaster.
Flowing past Caerphilly, the river Rhymney meanders initially north-east towards Bedwas before heading south through Machen towards the Severn Estuary through glorious, lush rolling countryside. Lower Machen is a rural idyll of just nineteen houses with a beautiful small church, blessed with a perfect acoustic, that hosts its renowned annual summer classical music festival.
- Gelligaer Roman Fort
It is amazing that for over 40 years Gelligaer, a community in the heart of the south Wales Valleys, was a cornerstone of the Roman military network that controlled the region. Here, high on a ridge between the Taff and Rhymney valleys stood an impressive stone fort, a key site in keeping the peace with the local Silure.
- Llancaiach Fawr Manor
Llancaiach Fawr is a Grade One listed Manor House that has been restored and furnished according to its appearance during 1645. Visitors will now encounter live role-playing interpreters portraying the household staff during the time of the Civil War. The interpreters are historical experts trained in "first-person" interpretation techniques, and help to tell the story from the aspects of people living during that time.
- Parc Cwm Darran
Parc Cwm Darran, a peaceful country park tucked away from it all in the Daran Valley, two miles north of Bargoed. The visitor centre, open during the summer months has a coffee shop, exhibition area and information point. There are picnic benches and BBQ facilities throughout the park together with an adventurs plaground for children.