As part of the See Wales Tour, we visited the Big Pit National Coal Museum in Blaenavon in South Wales and I must say it was one of the best visitor experiences I’ve had in my life. Let me show you around!
Big Pit is one of the top attractions in Wales, as it is one of the few mining museums where you can actually go down in the pit cage and visit the places where generations of coal miners worked.
Big Pit National Coal Museum
Big Pit used to be a working coal mine and is now one of Britain’s leading mining museums. From a multi-media tour of a modern coal mine, to exhibitions telling about the daily life of the workers and even the option to go 300 feet (about 90 meters) down into the pit.
The Museum is set in a eye-catching industrial landscape, which was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000. Big Pit also lies on the European Route of Industrial Heritage. This route comprises of 850 sites across 32 countries and is a great way to find out more about the diverse industrial history across the continent.
While the pit itself was actually closed on the day we visited (yes, you wouldn’t believe it, but out of all days in the year, the one where a group of travel writers came along to document the experience, everybody was on strike…), we still had access to the surface exhibitions and displays that are housed in the original buildings.
We even got our ‘own’ miner (Wayne) to takes us on a tour and tell us everything about his life in one of the toughest and most complicated jobs in the world.
Exploring The Pit
There was a great mix of history of mining with the modern techniques on show
Wayne talking about working underground
The actual shaft to get into the mine. When standing in front of it… I was secretly a bit relieved I didn’t have to go down into the dark.
Some of the old photos in the museum were just incredible!
This thing is THE life-saver of the miners when bad gasses got on the loose. Breathing through this filter, they would have just 1 hour to get into the fresh air before bad things happened.
Yes, it’s true: they did used to take canaries into the mine to tell if the air was still good. Poor birds!
Pit Head Baths Exhibition
The lives of the miners changed when the bath house was erected, although their wives still had to go through the ordeal of washing their clothes at home.
They must have been the most loving, hard-working ladies ever and it was interesting to see a section of the museum dedicated to them.
The section on the miners’ wives. It’s a hard-knock life!
Going Deeper Underground
While we didn’t get to do the underground tour, there was an interactive exhibition which well made up for that. With a digital miner (they have everything these days!), we were shown exactly what happens underground and what different techniques for mining were used.
Check the explosives in the wall in the back!
Almost like a Transformers-movie
That monster-machine on the left literally scrapes of an entire wall of coal
They also have sort of chainsaw-like tool for mining… better than the axes they use to pick coal with!
Some shafts are so narrow and low that you wonder how the miners even got around in them without going bat crazy…
I really, really enjoyed this museum as it was such a unique place and important part of the history of Wales. While we didn’t really have enough time to go through all of it, I still got a good grasp of what life in a mine must have been like and I found it really impressive to hear Wayne talk about his work, that he obviously loved, even though it’s bloody dangerous. I can totally recommend visiting the site one day if you get the chance, as you get a peek into a world that is probably very different to the one you’re used to at home. Oh, and did I mention that the whole site can be accessed… FOR FREE?!
Tour Company: See Wales Tours
Name of the Tour: Mines & Mountains (1 Day)
Departures: Every Tuesday & Friday
Start: National Museum Cardiff, 09:00
Finish: Cardiff City Center, 17:30
Price: Adult £48.00, Child £28.00 (5-15yrs)
Name of Attraction: Big Pit National Coal Museum
Address: Blaenafon, Torfaen, NP4 9XP
Opening Times: 09.30 – 17:00 daily, last admission 16:00. Underground tours 10:00 – 15.30
Entree: FREE (Yes, you read that right!), car park charge £3 per car per day
Disclaimer: I went on this tour on invitation of VisitWales & See Wales Tours as part of the Traverse Travel Blogging Conference. All photos and opinions are 100% my own.
This post is also available in: Dutch