Helen (heleninwales) wrote,

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How many car parks with steam hammers can there be?

Yesterday G and I went down to Blaenavon in South Wales to meet papersky and her aunt. For once Multimap wasn't very helpful and didn't show any car parks at all, so when I was sorting out meeting arrangements by e-mail, I consulted G who knows the place better than I do. He said there was a car park by the old ironworks with a very distinctive steam hammer in it. I duly e-mailed these directions to papersky.

So we arrived a bit late, but within the time slot agreed to find no papersky. We waited. We wondered whether they could have got lost. Unfortunately neither papersky nor her aunt had a mobile phone, but if they had, the conversation would have gone something like this....

"Hi, where are you? We're waiting in the car park with the giant steam hammer, but there's no sign of you."

"No we're waiting in the car park with the giant steam hammer. Where are you?"

But As papersky didn't have a mobile phone, what actually happened was that she very sensibly left a note on their car and went to explore bookshops while G and I decided that we desperately needed the loo, so went down into the town to look for one and found the other car park with the steam hammer. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth over our mistake at not realising that Blaenavon had adopted the giant steam hammer as a standard piece of car park furniture, we first found the car with the note and subsequently found papersky and her aunt in a bookshop.

Confusion over, we then proceeded to have a really good day, first briefly exploring bookshops and having a cup of tea in a café that actually offered a choice of hot chocolate. If I seemed less than totally excited by the bookshops, it was because having visited Hay last week and having bought enough books to bring my To Read pile back up to the maximum permitted 44 books, I was bookshopped out.

Next we investigated the old iron works (made famous by Alexander Cordell's book The Rape of the Fair Country. Then hunger drove us up to the café in the Big Pit (coal mine now open as a tourist attraction), where we had a meal before not really seeing much of the mine as it is all being re-furbished and touristified.

Stack Square, the cottages built for the most important workmen at the ironworks. It got its name from the tall stack built right in the middle of the square which vented hot furnace gases. The mound in the foreground is all that now remains of the stack.

Unfortunately, we seemed to have caught the Big Pit in a moment of transition. When G and I went there years ago, it hadn't been open to the public for very long. All the surface buildings had been left more or less as they were when the miners walked out after their last ever shift. You could walk through the lamp rooms, changing rooms and showers and peer into the sick bay. It was wonderfully atmospheric, stuck half way up a Welsh mountain, lost in the mist for half the year. Yesterday the place was mostly a building site. In a year or so, it will probably be a bright new interpretive centre, the sort of thing designed to attract and appeal to tourists, but I very much fear that what I loved so much will be lost. Perhaps G and I saw it at it's best, with all the old buildings intact, just as they were when it was a working mine, and the guides who took us round on the underground tour actually worked there digging out coal.

The view from the top of the Beacons, heading north.

After saying farewell to papersky and her aunt, we then wended our way home via a very devious route which took us further to the west than the one I normally use, over the Brecon Beacons, past the Roman Gold mines at Dolaucothi and finally to Aberystwyth, where we had something to eat, and thence home.


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