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Abertillery and the area

Photo of the Cwmtillery Lakes, with a bridge overlooked by the black arches.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 National Coal Museum for the more adventurous.

The town retains many Victorian features including the 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 was also home to another renowned Welsh artist, Roger Cecil, whose works were often inspired by the local environment.

Photo of the Six Bells Guardian statue.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.

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 13th Century.

Parc Nant y Waun, a local nature reserve incorporating 22 hectares of grassland, mires and reservoirs, together with Beaufort Hill Woodlands and Ponds, is the start of Ebbw Fach Trail, an 8-mile environment and heritage walking and cycling route which wends its way south.

At Nantyglo, 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.

Photo of the Minehead Wheel that is based in Abertillery.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 is the Cwmcelyn Pond and Woodlands where there are excellent walks and fishing.

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, within which is the Environmental Resource Centre where you can learn 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.

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.

Photo of a river stream called the Brook.Newbridge is where boxing legend Joe Calzaghe was raised and home to the art deco Newbridge Institute and Memorial Hall, which has been restored after a long campaign.

Cwmcarn Forest 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. If biking isn't your thing, then the Forest is great for walking with numerous trails including some to Twmbarlwm, a Celtic hill fort that features heavily in local folk legends, and commands spectacular views south over the Gwent Lowlands and the Bristol Channel.

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.