We woke up to the rain absolutely bouncing down on the roof, but by the time I had got up and dressed ready to walk TJ it thankfully had stopped!
We drove the short journey to Blaenavon where there is ‘The Big Pit: The National Coal Museum'
We arrived just as they were opening for the first underground tour of the day. We didn't think twice about passing up this opportunity to travel underground and get an idea of what life was actually like for the men who worked in the coal mines.
I say men, but initially when the mines opened, women and young children used to work alongside the men. There were laws passed eventually that prevented women and children under the age of 10 from working in these awful conditions. Initially payment was made to workers in tokens, which could only be used in shops owned by the mining companies!
Horses were used underground.....they went down the pits when they were 4 years old.....they came back up 10 years later! 10 years in the darkness! When they did come back up it was to be ‘retired'.
The tour took us down 90 metres under the ground in the actual lifts that were used for the miners and into the mines that were worked until the 1980s.
Luckily we were all equipped with hard hats and lanterns as most of the tunnels were incredibly low, I hit my head on two occasions....I gave a thought on how many injuries there must have been before there was any safety equipment. It might be obvious, but it was completely pitch black down there...we were all instructed to switch off our headlamps and you literally could not see your hand in front of your face.
Being brought up in the south wales valleys, I learned a lot about the mines in school. When I lived there the pits were still operational, I could see the trains fully loaded with carriages of coal from my bedroom window, I would count all the carriages.... sometimes as many as 50!
That railway line is no longer there now, and all the pits are closed. The valleys are looking a lot greener and lusher than I remember, but maybe that is because over 30 years have passed.
One thing that was very evident from our tour, and something they didn’t tell you about in school, was the sense of pride, camaraderie and family amongst the miners. The tour guide was previously a miner as were many of the others..... and he spoke with such passion, it was easy to see how completely distraught they must have all been when the mines closed....despite the awful conditions they endured.
This tour is free, entry to the Big Pit visitor centre is free! This is how it should be for people to learn about their heritage, to make sure the stories are told to youngsters who have no memories of the mines ever being open and to keep that Welsh pride and spirit alive!