Distance: 28.4 miles (round-trip)
Travel Time: 5 - 6 hours
Ride Level: Advanced
This is a circular route based upon traffic-free paths created by Sustrans from repurposed rail lines. Ideally, I would suggest following the route in a clockwise direction simply because it's easier. Most notably the eight mile ride down from Blaenavon to Pontypool is brilliant and then too you avoid two steep climbs at Llanhilleth and Swffrydd. The following description starts and ends in Llanhilleth.
There are train stations at Llanhilleth, Pontypool, and nearby Newbridge. Car parks and various facilities are readily available along the route (except where noted...). Be prepared for changing weather conditions and varied riding surfaces. Hybrid or mountain bikes would probably be best suited, but any bike with tyre widths of 32c would also be fine.
|(Note: a larger interactive map can be found at the bottom of this article.)|
The ride begins on NCN Route 465 just outside the train station passing first through a quiet neighbourhood and then along a quiet road throguh an industrial estate for approximately two miles to next village of Aberbeeg. The path then becomes traffic-free after passing directly under the main road and takes you into the woods along an abandoned train platform. This section follows the Ebbw Fach River approximately one mile up to Six Bells.
Six Bells & The Guardian
This grand monument is hidden through the trees as you cycle up the first mile or so. But as you get closer, the trees clear, the valley opens, and the sculpture quietly dominates the skyline. It is a powerful tribute to the lives sacrificed for the coal industry. I highly recommend walking up behind the sculpture to fully appreciate the view. Read the explanation panel with the eery poem by Welsh Poet Laureate; Gillian Clark to get the full impact.
There is a wonderful visitors centre with a small cafe and heritage room located across from the car park. The presentation of how this terrible tragedy affected the small community is bone-chilling. Read more at: Guardian of the Valleys. Sculpture created by Sebastien Boyesen.
Abertillery & Blaina
Following the path a short distance out of Six Bells you re-enter the road at Abertillery. (Show particular caution as the route passes through the car park of Tescos'.) You'll then follow a narrow road several blocks through a small neighbourhood and enter the traffic-free path again at Abertillery Park.
Here you'll be right down along the river in places... deep in the heart of the valley. The irony of closing the coal mines and steel works; leaving tens of thousands without any notion on how to provide for their families and devastating the Welsh economy... is that nature has quietly reclaimed the valleys with a breath-taking vengeance.
The museum holds a collection of local objects which tell the fascinating history of the town of Blaenavon and its residence from the early days of the industrial revolution through to the modern day inscription as a World Heritage Site. The museum holds and displays numerous items relating to the community from local industrial archaeological, historic photographs, furniture, coins and military uniforms.
The museum also has on display some personal effects of the famous writer Alexander Cordell which were acquired following his death in 1997. Cordell was one of Wale’s most prolific writers who took his inspiration for much of his writing around the people and places in South Wales, in particular Blaenavon. The town and the surrounding area was the setting for his most famous novel Rape of the Fair Country through which he immortalised the people who lived and worked in the area during the Industrial Revolution.
Nantyglo, Round Towers, & Brynmawr
Coming out of the woods you enter a dual-use cycle path through Blaina and Nantyglo. Honestly, this is the least scenic part of the ride as it follows along side the A467. But soon enough you'll be away and up to see the Round Towers at Nantyglo.
Leaving Nantyglo you'll travel several blocks through a housing estate on a quiet street to Parc Nant y Waun where you'll rejoin the traffic-free cycle path. This last section winds around several lovely lakes to merge with NCN Route 46. Here you'll head east through Brymawr and up around the big mountain you can't stop looking at...
You will pass through the centre of Brynmawr where there are plenty of places to take a break and have some lunch. You've come half way now. Pat yourself on the back... there's just a tiny bit of climbing left and then it's all down hill! Two attractions of note; Wales oldest operating movie theatre is Market Hall Cinema just above the bus station, and if you enjoy a bit of urban art mixed with modern architecture, the Dunlop Symtex Factory is worth a gander.
As you leave town, you'll snake through several small housing estates, cross a footbridge over the A467, and finally enter the traffic-free cycle path again. Follow NCN Route 46 a short distance and then turn right at the fork onto NCN Route 492.
Climbing around the mountain from Brynmawr one feels as if you have completely left civilization. It's not so long since you were deep in the Ebbw Fach Valley... now you're on top, crossing over and heading down the Avon Lwyd.
Far off in the distance you can see The Skirrid. If you look closely, you can even see the towns of Crickhowell and Abergavenny!
Once covered in spoil from colliery workings, Garn Lakes Nature Reserve covers 40 hectares with lakes and grasslands which have been transformed through an extensive land reclamation scheme. Opened in 1997, it is part of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site and sits just above Big Pit and the town of Blaenavon.
Blaenavon, Big Pit, and Blaenavon & Pontypool Historic Railway
You can't miss Big Pit and the heritage railway as you cycle down from Garn Lakes for the path follows right beside the rail line. However, if you want to go into Blaenavon proper, you'll need to turn left at the road crossing between the Rhymney Brewery and the entrance to Big Pit.
I'm not going to begin to summerize what many folks have already put together regarding Balenavon. The Blaenavon World Heritage Site is vast and consists of many interesting places to visit - each can take a few hours to fully explore. If you're planning on making this ride in a single day, I'd recommend checking out their website so that you can choose one to visit. (Of course, this means you'll need to plan another trip to come back!)
Located at the gateway to the South Wales Valleys, partly within the Brecon Beacons National Park, the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape is a testament to the human endeavour of miners and ironworkers of the past.
Set in 33 square kilometres, the attractions, events, activities and landscape make a perfect destination for a day out. The main attractions such as Big Pit National Coal Museum, Blaenavon Ironworks, the World Heritage Centre and Blaenavon Heritage Railway are all just a few minutes’ drive or walk from each other. Indeed, there are so many brilliant attractions that you need to spend more than a day here to enjoy everything – so plan a weekend if you can!
In 2000, UNESCO inscribed the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape as a World Heritage Site, for the part the area played as the world’s major producer of iron and coal in the 19th Century. Today you can see remains of all of the necessary elements needed for the iron and coal industry, including a coal mine, furnaces, quarries, railway systems, ironworkers’ cottages, churches, chapels, a school and a workmen’s hall. All set in a landscape that is favoured by walkers, cyclists and mountain bikers. Enjoy your visit – whenever you come!
And, once you've fully explored Blaenavon World Heritage Site why not discover more about Wales, the first industrial nation, by following the South Wales Route of Industrial Heritage, part of a Europe wide route.
Just like a postcard from the past, a restored steam train pulls out of the Blaenavon High Level Station during a weekend railway gala.
From Blaenavon to Pontypool you'll continue down NCN Route 492 and it's a blast. This section is eight miles, down hill, traffic-free, and interupted by only two road crossings near the bottom. Once you get to Pontypool, you'll snake your way past several small intersections, under a subway (note the tile mural for Japanware on the far side) and then a short walk up some stairs by Tesco's (another one!), but a good place to take a comfort break and grab a snack.
Heading away from Tesco's along the raised cycle path (still NCN 492)you'll turn right at the first junction and cross above the roadway & roundabout. Again, you'll need to walk your bike down a short set of stairs to enter the cycle path along side the rugby pitch. You're now joining NCN Route 466 which will take you back to Llanhilleth.
Still waiting in Varteg... sculpture on an abandoned platform quietly remembers.
Swffryd, Hafodyrynys, and back to the start...
It's been a long day, eh? You've come quite a way now. There's just a couple of short sections to get you back to the start in Llanhilleth. First you've got a three mile ride along NCN Route 466; a fairly quiet road with a few short climbs. Then a very busy road crossing the A472 (note: use extreme caution! The often cars travel well over 50 mph...).
Follow the traffic-free cycle path on the other side of the road up to Hafodyrynys where you'll enter a quiet road leading through a small housing estate and then into Swffryd. The road is very narrow and gets quite steep as you travel through the sleepy back streets to rejoin the traffic-free cycle path overlooking the Ebbw Valley. It's quite a view across to Crumlin.
Follow the path down the hill into Llanhilleth. Rejoin NCN Route 465 at the cull-de-sac and follow the road as it winds around the side of the mountain and back down one more hill to the train station at Llanhilleth.
Congratulations... You've done it!
|ROUTE COLOUR KEY:||Traffic-free||Shared Use||Quiet Road||Steep Hill|
|Cordell Country Heritage Tour|
|ROUTE METRICS: Circular Route (clockwise - recommended)|
|Location:||Llanhilleth to Blaenavon to Pontypool to Llanhilleth|
|Distance:||28.4 mi. (round-trip)||
Click image below to view a printable map...
|Approx. Time:||5 - 6 hrs.|
|Elevation:||+1703 ft. / -1703 ft.|
Alexander Cordell - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_CordellRape of the Fair Country - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_of_the_Fair_Country
Guardian of the Valleys - http://www.blaenau-gwent.gov.uk/leisure/14674.asp
Garn Lakes - http://www.visitblaenavon.co.uk/en/VisitBlaenavon/ThingsToDo/GarnLakes.aspx
Big Pit: National Coal Museum - http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/bigpit/
Blaenavon World Heritage Site - http://www.visitblaenavon.co.uk/en/Homepage.aspx
Blaenavon Ironworks - http://www.visitblaenavon.co.uk/en/VisitBlaenavon/ThingsToDo/BlaenavonIronworks
Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway - http://www.pontypool-and-blaenavon.co.uk/
Round Towers at Nantyglo - http://www.brynmawrhistoricalsociety.org.uk/nantyglo-round-towers/4588667861