13 Apr Wandering through Wales, Part 2

Time to revisit the magic of Wales.

Time to revisit the magic of Wales.

Ready to resume the trip through Wales?

Having regained the energy lost exploring castles and the Caerleon Amphitheatre, it’s time to hit the road and explore the wilderness, both above and below ground. You’re off to Brecon Beacon National Park, the Big Pit National Coal Museum (located inside the mines themselves), and finally, Tintern Abbey, a gorgeous palate cleanser after the claustrophobic tunnels below the earth.

Known for its rolling plains and scattered collections of waterfalls, Brecon Beacon National Park will have you mesmerized as you blaze along the trail. Appropriately, Brecon Beacons takes it’s name from the fires formerly lit atop the mountain range’s peaks to warn villages and cities of invading enemies. This scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King visualizes the process perfectly.

Driving through the National Park, you’ll find flocks of mountain sheep dotting the plains, as well as a few mountain ponies; proof that these lands are still as wild as in the past, preserved from industrialization. The Black Forest (Fforest Fawr in Welsh) sprawls across the path you’ll follow, and Black Mountain looms to the West. After braving the forest, you’ll briefly get a comforting view of the fields and pastures once again. Relish these plains because soon, you’ll be deep within them.

It’s time to hit the mines. Upon arriving at Big Pit National Coal Museum, you’ll receive some training in proper safety techniques and don a helmet (equipped with a flashlight) and safety belt, with the addition of a rebreather, to ensure absolute safety. Then, you’ll descend into the bowels of Blaenavon, maneuvering the same passages that children were expected to excavate and mine. While you’ll learn a bit about coal and the mining process, the emphasis is placed upon these children, whose abuse during the Industrial Revolution spurred the creation of child labor laws. While it may seem like the distant past, a mere century has passed since children as old as nine years old were forced by financial pressure to endure these abysmal conditions. And nine was the legal minimum age: parents frequently lied about the ages of their children in order to earn more money. Sometimes, children as young as six years old were sent into the mines.

Child labor travesties such as these still exist, and gaining a perspective on the issue is a step, however big or small, toward their abolishment. Luckily, your stay in the mines is significantly shorter than the average child’s workday (~12 hours, give or take a few more for good measure). Once you resurface, the sun will never have felt so comforting. And rest assured, you won’t feel like this.

Finally, after your illuminating descent, you’ll end your journey in repose, admiring the grandeur of Tintern Abbey. Originally built in 1136 and restructured several times, the abbey was dissolved in 1536, when its valuables were seized and sent to the royal Treasury and any precious metals, such as lead, were removed from the structure. Then, the abbey was abandoned, left to weather the elements alone. The results are stunning: the entire abbey lacks any semblance of a roof, grass covers the floors, and ivy once covered the walls. You’ll be able to wander the ruins, or quietly enjoy the majesty that inspired dozens of artists, including Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Ginsberg (for you beats).

After your millennia-spanning tour of Welsh life, it’s time to return to modernity. Understandably, you’ll be exhausted, though clearly not to the point of the mining children, whose hardships won’t soon be forgotten. A good nights sleep is in order, to let the memories settle. While it’s important to remember what you’ve learned, applying this knowledge remains the pertinent task: it’s what did you learn vs. what can you learn, and the auxiliary verb makes all the difference.

Michael Radke



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