I left south Wales about fifteen years ago and more or less managed not to go back. Now however, here I am, on top of a mountain with some snow still clinging, herds of Welsh mountain sheep and some ponies. In March it snowed and I rued the day I thought I could live here again. It’s mid-April and raining, although the temperatures during the day are now climbing to above 10 degrees Celsius. I should count myself lucky!
I am in Bute Town, Rhymney, staying in a house that was built between in the early 1800s for the ironworkers at the Union iron works in Rhymney. It is a bleak place and one wonders about the reasons the master of the ironworks had when they decided to build these houses in such a place, as they are at the mercy of the elements. The three-storey house I am staying in once had a cellar which housed a family of between 8 and 10 people, and the house probably housed two or three other families too. The land on which the houses were built belonged to the Marquis of Bute, and a railway line connected this Bute Town to the district of Cardiff of the same name in the docklands. Iron could be shipped to other countries easily because of this link. Now the houses are listed buildings.
I can’t begin to think how the people who migrated here to work in the ironworks must have felt in the bleak, windy winters here when they had to walk to work. The iron master lived immediately next to the ironworks in what is now the Rhymney Hotel, which is open for meals and guests.
There is a lake here which is good to walk around, but which, I am told, is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, although they don’t spread malaria or Dengue fever as they can in Pakistan, they can still be a nuisance.
The whole area is so much nicer in summer and one of the best places to visit is the market town of Abergavenny. There is also a market in nearby Merthyr Tydfil, (famous for Cyfartha castle and being the hub of the iron industry in the early 19th century) which is held on Tuesdays.
The whole area is one which was in its heyday during the Industrial Revolution, and Blaenavon’s Big Pit is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Unfortunately, like all industrial sites, this area has suffered a downturn and although no one could say that the locals are in as dire straits as those who live in the Afghani Colony in Islamabad, Pakistan, the area is very depressed both economically and socially.
There are places to stay close to lakes which have been created over the remains of iron workings and tips, and it is not all gloom and doom here. Much of the land has been reclaimed with little remaining of the industrial landscape. The poet Idris Davies came from Rhymney and is one of its most famous sons.
The one thing you can be assured of if you venture to this neck of the woods is a warm welcome, and it should be said that Bute Town does have a pub – “The Windsor Arms” – which has been in existence almost since the beginning of the hamlet in the early 19th century; built so that the workers in the iron works could slake their thirst. This is located at the end of Middle Row, but is only open after 7 pm every evening. It is reputed to have a good selection of well-cooked food. I keep meaning to sample it, but so far it has been so cold in the evenings that I have rarely ventured out – and you have to book a table to eat there!
You can, of course eat at other establishments in nearby Merthyr Tydfil at most times of the day or night.