There are two things Wales are famous for, sheep (cultural warning, sheep jokes offend the locals!!! Ian!!!!!) and coal. Our traditional coal industry is now long gone after the Margaret Thatcher era closed all the coal pits in Wales. However, I could not let Ian come all this way and not visit the Big Pit Coal Museum in Blaenavon, which is just down the road from where I was born.
The Big Pit is fun for children and big children. The highlight of the museum is to actually descend into the depths of the mine, donned with a miner’s helmet. You do a guided tour through the old mine tunnels, using only your helmet torch to light the way. As I stooped through the tunnels, I soon discover why you need to wear a helmet.
Even me, at a meagre 5”7, kept banging my head on the low roofs.
Our guide, “The Kid”, was a local Welshman who once made his living as a Big Pit miner. The guide’s stories gives you a glimpse on what working down the mines was like. The Kid was quite a character and you could never tell whether he was being serious or not. However, as Ian says:
“Why let the truth get in the way of a good story!”
I am slightly claustrophobic, but I found the Big Pit fine. It is worth noting in the unlikely event of something happening you can actually walk out of the mine. There was only one part where I felt a wee bit panicky. To control the air ventilation in the mine they open and close doors. At one section you are in a pretty confined space, enclosed between two doors. Back in the olden days, children use to work down the mines and to save their candles these poor souls would sit in pitch blackness. To understand what it may have been liked for these children, we all switched off our torches to be swallowed into complete darkness. It was only dark for a few seconds, so a few deep breathes and I was ok.
After the tour we wandered around the grounds, but even though we were prepared for Winter, with layers and layers of clothes, it was still bloody freezing. It even started snowing. The old canteen was a perfect place to warm up with a hot chocolate and enjoy the view down the valley.
The last part of our visit was the old bath house, which has now been converted to a museum to learn about the history of coal and the Big Pit.
Info: The Big Pit is located in Blaenavon. It is free to visit, but check with their web site as opening times are seasonal. Please note cameras are not allowed down the actual pit as they can cause an explosion.