Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The Industrial Landscape of South Wales

This morning I went out with the walking group and we took the same route across the Castle Meadows to the Garden Centre that my son and I followed on my birthday. The ponies were still there with their foals

- but almost hidden under the trees, probably trying to keep cool as the weather has turned very sultry in the past few days.

Some of our walking group are literally 'walking their way back to health' and others are considerably older than I am so at that point we took a turning down a pretty lane that would bring us back in a circle to the Meadows again - and the Coffee Shop! However, on my birthday, no such allowances for age and infirmity were afforded me and my son and I toiled on up the side of the Blorenge to the Brecon & Monmouth Canal at Llanfoist Wharf - with me doing most of the 'toiling'!

(I took this photos this morning when I spotted a couple of wild poppies surviving in the clay soil!)

In fact this print is of one of my pastel paintings of Goytre Wharf, the next stop along the Canal from Llanfoist -

I rarely use so much green in my landscape paintings but it seemed to be the only way to convey the refreshingly cool shade under the trees on such a hot afternoon and it turned out to be one of my favourite paintings - the original now sold to a man who works on the waterways.

When I first moved here, it came as a surprise to me to find a canal in this part of the world. I had always associated canals with the industrial areas of The Midlands and the North of England and from everything I've posted so far about Abergavenny and its mountains and meadows, you'll very probably have formed the impression, as I did, that it's a rural area. The economy of the constituency of Monmouthshire is described online as 'agriculture and tourism'. But if you go just over the brow of the Blorenge, which I can see clearly enough from my windows to watch the hanglgliders and microlites descending, you find yourself in an area so well known in the past for its industry that it has become a World  Heritage Site on a par with the Taj Mahal!

As you drive up the steep side of the Blorenge, through the village of Llanfoist to former coal-mining town of Blaenavon, negotiating the treacherous hairpin bend known as The Fiddlers Elbow, you can see, if you dare to glance out of the car window, the remains of the lime quarries that provided an essential ingredient of the iron and steel industry. The lime was taken down the mountainside by tram and then onwards by canal. I heard from an old farmer whose family had lived by the canal for generations that at one time, the barges also transported timber used for pitprops for the mines in the South Wales coalfield, and also, during World War One, for use in the trenches.

All that industrial activity ceased long ago and the canal is now a tourist attraction for pleasure boats and there are some beautiful walks and cycle routes along the towpath.

Another relic of the bygone industrial age remains when you reach the carpark at the top of the hill. As well as the stunning views of Sugarloaf in the distance, there is a pond which was built to provide a water supply for the lime kilns.

Nowadays it's a good place to sail model boats and a focal point of walks in the area.

But it's when you continue on into the little Victorian-built town of Blaenavon that the industrial heritage of the area becomes clear.

The Big Pit at Blaenavon is now a major tourist attraction - you can go down into the mine, though my first attempt to take some friends and their grandchildren down, failed because there had been a thunderstorm just before we arrived and it had knocked out the electrics! More than 300 tourists were underground when the power failed so the lifts weren't working! Fortunately there is an emergency escape route, but the decision had been taken to suspend the underground tours for the rest of the day.

There is plenty to see on the surface though,  including the miners' bath houses (with soundtrack!) and a virtual tour of the mine, complete with sounds of the explosions. All a little too realistic for the six-year old who was clutching my hand! We did manage to go underground on our second visit, which I didn't entirely enjoy but I'm glad to have done it.

A couple of years ago, the BBC made a wonderful series of programmes, called The Coal House, about the lives of the miners in which three families lived as mining family in 1927 for a month, with no 'mod cons' as we know them, and the series was made at Blaenavon. One of the boys I was teaching at the time, was in the crowd of local residents who greeted the families as they emerged into present day living at the end of the month. It was compelling viewing and little Rhodri became well-known for his 'I don't like piggies!' Sadly, I haven't been able to find the relevant hilarious video clip - maybe the celebrity status it was causing was too much to handle for one so young?

The interesting thing was that, when the families met up a few months later for a follow-up programme, they all agreed that, although life was hard, often unimaginably gruelling, they were happier than in their 'real' lives because of the sense of community that we seem to have lost nowadays.

As landscapes go, I generally prefer 'working' landscapes to the more 'park-like' ones but that usually means farms and so on. The pastel painting from which I made this print goes just that little bit further....

If all this industry isn't to your taste, you can come back to the 'meadows' by watching this video clip of Iolo, a very popular Welsh TV wildlife presenter, in the orchid meadows of neighbouring Monmouth!


Country Mouse Studio said...

What a beautiful area, I feel like I've had a mini-vacation. I can't get the video it states that it's not available in my area, whatever that means.
I love your landscapes, very nice

Ulla Hennig said...

Thanks for sharing this information about the region where you are living. And thanks for the video - I could watch it without problems. But I know the problem - it once happened to me, living in Germany, too.
We had a similar series in the German TV about a familiy living in the 19th century in a mansion house, with servants and all. The people who acted as servants (kitchen maid and housemaid) were happy to return to the life of the 21st century.

Jean said...

I love learning more about your area. Your photos and wonderful paintings are "eye candy"!

DancingFire said...

Absolutely beautiful!

JudyAdamsonArtandDesign said...

Thank you all for your kind comments - it's great to be able to share some of my 'riches' with others.

Mary Anne Cary said...

I love seeing the country side where you live, are the horses and ponies wild? Beautiful nature shots, and nice paintings!

JudyAdamsonArtandDesign said...

Hi Mary Anne - we do have wild ponies on the mountains, but I suspect the ones I photographed weren't wild because they were rather near the village of Llanfoist and the main road up onto the mountain. The wild ones are usually extremely shy and difficult to photograph.