Hobbits & World Heritage
Descend a coal mine and visit sites that inspired Tolkien
£54 PER PERSON
(Based on 2 people, price is reduced with more people. Full pricing info is on our Booking and Prices page)
INCLUDES PICNIC LUNCH
Duration: 10am - 6pm
Number of places: 2-6 (or more if using your vehicle)
DISTANCE: Around 2 miles, includes a one mile waterfall walk and a 50 min underground mine tour
The themes of this tour combine two things which may surprise many visitors to the Brecon Beacons National Park. The first is that as well being a place of natural beauty, the southern fringe of the park is also one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution; the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape UNESCO World Heritage Site lies partly within in the National Park. The second theme is that several fictional places in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings appear to have been inspired by the National Park because the author J R R Tolkien is believed to have stayed in the area. The tour includes an underground tour in the Big Pit coal mine, the Blaenavon Ironworks, the site of ironworks in Merthyr Tydfil (once the world's biggest), cracking views of Pen-y-Fan (the highest mountain in southern Britain), a waterfall walk, the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, views of the house Tolkien may have stayed in, the town of Crickhowell (believed to beCrickhollow in The Lord of the Rings) and views of the Sugarloaf.
Lime kilns at Llangattock
The main waterfall at Blaen-y-Glyn
Pen-y-Fan the highest mountain in southern Britain viewed from the road near the Neudd Resevoir
The grave of Robert Thompson Crawshay in the graveyard at Vaynor Church with the inscription "God Forgive Me"
Pont-y-Cafnau, situated in the Cyfartfa Ironworks site,the oldest surviving iron railway bridge in the world
Blaenavon Ironworks in the Blaenavon World Heritage Site
E.P. Martin, my great-great- grandfather and former General Manager of the Blaenavon and later the Dowlais Ironworks.
The Big Pit, National Coal Museum, Blaenavon
Crickhowell - We pass through this beautiful market town that sits under Table Mountain, home of the Iron Age fort Crug Hywel. It is this fort that gives the town its name. As we pass through, we view its Norman Castle and pass over its 18th century bridge which is the longest stone bridge in Wales. J R R Tolkien visited the town in the early 1900s whilst staying in nearby Talybont-on-Usk and it is believed that 'Crickhollow' in his books is named after Crickhowell.
Llangattock - Here we have our first view of the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, or simply the 'Mon and Brec'. This canal which looks so idyllic and rural now was built to feed industry. Coal, iron and limestone was quarried and mined from the mountains above and brought by tramway to the canal, where it was transported by barge down to the coast at Newport.
Craig y Cilau Nature Reserve - This beautiful site is one of Wales' most outstanding botanical sites, famous for its exceptional variety of alpine plants and trees. However, it is no untouched wilderness, as it is a former limestone quarry. The limestone was hauled by horse-drawn tramway either to the ironworks at Brynmawr or to the Mon and Brec canal at Llangattock.
Mynydd Llangynidr - We drive on up the Llangynidr mountain to another limestone quarry and a fantastic viewpoint over the southern Black Mountains and Llangorse Lake, the largest natural lake in Wales. This mountain is also the site of the Chartist's cave. We descend the mountain to the village of Llangynidr which has four working canal locks. We continue following the canal, seeing it disappear into and then reappear from the Ashford Tunnel, before we arrive at the village of Talybont.
Talybont - Here we stop at Overton Wharf and see impressive limekilns and the terminus of the now disappeared Brinore tramroad which used to bring limestone from Trefil quarry and coal from Tredegar to the canal. When drive up the mountain side to a site where we get amazing views of the Brecon Beacons and Talybont Resevoir. We also get views of Buckland Hall. It was here that J R R Tolkien stayed in early 1900s, and it gives its name to 'Buckland' in the 'Hobbit'. When we return to the centre of Talybont we see two disused bridges where the now-dismantled Brecon and Methry railways used to pass over the road and the canal. We then cross over the canal ourselves, on a lift bridge, turn and start ascending the beautiful Talybont Valley that contains the Talybont Reservoir and the dismantled railway line. Talybont Reservoir is man-made, like all reservoirs, but it looks incredibly peaceful and 'natural'; at the northern end of the reservoir, where the river Caerfanell flows into it, is an important feeding ground for geese and herons.
Blaen-y-Glyn waterfalls - Here we park up and take a half hour walk along the banks of the river Caerfanell to a series of charming waterfalls. After this, we return to the car and continue up a very steep road right in the very heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park. We pass the now-reopened Torpantau station, which is the terminus for the Brecon Mountain Railway and reach a place near the Neuadd reservoir for a close-up view of the main Brecon Beacons peaks. After this we continue down the Taff Fechan Valley past Pentwyn and Pontsticill Reservoirs, through the village of Pontsticill, to arrive at the village of Vaynor.
Vaynor - This village was historically part of Brecknockshire but became part of Merthyr Tydfil in 1974 due to boundary changes. The church in Vaynor was built in 874 or 714 but was burnt down in the battle of Maesvaynor in 1291. The replacement church became dilapidated by 1867 and was replaced by the Crawshay family in 1870. In the churchyard we see the grave of the 'Iron King of Wales', Robert Thompson Crawshay. The ten ton stone slab is famously engraved with the words 'God Forgive me', possibly inscribed because he felt guilty for closing the Cyfarthfa Works, thus making hundreds of families destitute.
Methyr Tydfil - We then leave the National Park and descend into Merthyr Tydfil which was once Wales' biggest town. It was once home to four separate ironworks, two of which, Cyfarthfa and Dowlais, were at one point the largest ironworks in the world. Merthyr is also the place where the world's first ever steam train journey took place in 1804, and is home to the world's oldest surviving iron railway bridge. As we enter Merthyr we pass the impressive Cefn Coed viaduct, which is the third largest in Wales. It was built to bring the Brecon and Merthyr railway into the town whilst avoiding Crawshay land. We then stop at the ruined blast furnaces of Cyfarthfa ironworks. It is an eerie, run-down place and it is sad to think that this forgotten site, now thoroughly uncelebrated, was once the biggest ironworks in the world. It is also thought that Merthyr might have been the inspiration for Tolkien's 'Mordor'.
Pont-y-Cafnau - Sometimes called the Bridge of Troughs, Pont-y-Cafnau is the world's oldest surviving iron railway bridge, dating to 1793 and with a length of 47ft (14.2m). It is also part of the Cyfarthfa ironworks site.
Cyfarthfa Castle - We make a quick stop here at this impressive building, a castellated mansion dating to the 1820s. It was once the home of the Crawshays, situated so that they could look down on their ironworks below. It has been owned by the local council since 1908.
Trevithick Monument - We pause at this monument that commemorates the world's first ever steam train journey on 21st February 1804. The memorial to Richard Trevithick, the inventor and builder of the locomotive which undertook that journey, was erected in 1933.
Dowlais ironworks - Sadly there is very little left to see at the Dowlais works except a large engine house and the last ingot to be produced at the Works. When Dowlais was built it overtook Carfarthfa to become the world's largest ironworks, My own great-great-grandfather, Edward Pritchard Martin, was, for a time, general manager of these works. We then leave Merthyr Tydfil and for 10 minutes speed along the recently improved Heads of the Valleys road, that more or less forms the southern boundary of the national park. As we pass along this road we see Tredegar which is the other terminus of the Brinore tramroad. We pass the road's highest point (417m) and then reenter the National Park at the Clydach Gorge.
Clydach Gorge and Iron Works - The Clydach Gorge was one of the first areas in the region to be industrialised but still retains spectacular natural beauty. The original charcoal-fuelled furnace at Llanelly, now disappeared, was built in the sixteenth century and the Clydach ironworks were built in 1793. The ironworks have their own special bridge, Smart's Bridge, a cast iron bridge built in 1824 to allow a tramway to pass over it. After visiting the ironworks, we head up the gorge, passing limestone workings and kilns and enter the Blaenavon World Heritage Site.
Blaenavon Ironworks - These works, the showpiece of the World Heritage Site, began life in 1787 and were crucially important in the discovery of how to make steel from cheap, high sulphur-containing iron ore. This discovery was made by Sidney Gilchrist Thomas and his cousin Percy Gilchrist using a Bessemer converter. The men were assisted by my own great-great-grandfather Edward Pritchard Martin who was manager of the Blaenavon Ironworks at that time. This discovery was a catalyst for the Industrial Revolution which spread out around the world.
Big Pit National Coal Museum - This mine is also part of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site and was a working coal mine from 1880 to 1980. This is an excellent place to visit and we can join an optional underground tour with former miners, or simply explore the site which is packed with information about what it was like to be a Welsh miner.
Garnddyrys Forge - Our last stop is at the ruins of Garnddyrys Forge high up on the side of the Blorenge Mountain in part of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site, that is also within the National park. Here cast iron from the Blaenavon Ironworks was made into wrought iron and was then transported by tramroad to the Brecon & Monmouthshire Canal below. The site also has excellent views of the Sugarloaf and Black Mountains. There is a suggestion that the Sugarloaf inspired the Lonely Mountain in J R R Tolkien's writings. After our visit here, it will be time to return you to Abergavenny station or your Brecon Beacons accommodation.