Look, we know. One-third of the DYW team is a Valleys girl. She knows what people say and think when they hear the words “South Wales Valleys”. Welcome in the hillside, mines, teenage drinking, unemployment, blah blah. But the world has changed, and so too has the Valleys. Sure, there are enclaves that still remind you that the Valleys were the nation’s coal-black industrial heart. Places like Ebbw Vale and Pontypridd, who rightly shout about their heritage. It was steel from Ebbw Vale that built the rail routes of America. In Pontypridd, the Brown Lennox Chainworks built the anchors for Brunel’s great Victorian steamships.
But the Valleys are, and always have been, about more than that. Fiercely proud of their history and hugely welcoming. You can guarantee a conversation wherever you go in the Valleys. And they’re a serious presence.
A story of revolution and revival
The history of the Valleys is forged in iron, and heated by coal. It was (and still is) an area that gave rise to political activism. Merthyr Tydfil elected the first ever Labour MP (Keir Hardie) to Parliament back in 1900, and it was Tredegar that gave birth to Aneurin Bevan, a founding father of the welfare state. It has been the home of Celtic Christianity. Of Unitarianism, Anglicanism, Methodism and Nonconformists of all flavours. There has been a Jewish community in South Wales since the 11th century.
Today, the Valleys has developed away from its industrial heritage whilst staying true to its core values. What’s there to do? Stargaze on the Brecon Beacons? You can see the mountain range from the Rhigos Mountain.
You could visit Sultan the pit pony in Caerphilly, created to honour the equine mine workers who lived their whole lives underground.
You could visit Cyfarthfa Castle, built by William Crawshay and packed full of artefacts. It also houses an exhibition that covers Merthyr’s history, including the Chartists, trade unionists and suffragettes. The house is surrounded by a beautiful public park.
After all this sightseeing, you’ll probably want something to eat. The Valleys are awash with cracking eateries that more than match the taste experience provided by their city cousins. Check out High Street Social in Treorchy, or Jol’s on the High Street in Merthyr, opened by Jamie O’Leary, former sous chef at Abergavenny’s award-winning The Hardwick.
So with all that, why not have a rethink about visiting? And if you pass through Brynmawr say hiya to my Nan, she’ll make you a lovely cuppa.