The goings on in and around Bridgend

Digital Bridgend, The Ogmore Vale Trail

#DigitalBridgend is a new and innovative smartphone application that challenges users to find almost 300 places of historical interest throughout the County of Bridgend. Using augmented reality to find your way around, there are no less than 17 trails to follow, games to play, quizzes and scavenger hunts to unearth the unique heritage of this fascinating part of Wales. This series of blog posts reviews each trail in turn on location. The app is now available on Apple and Android platforms.

Today, we unearth the heritage of the Ogmore Valley, one of the three great valleys that stretch north from the M4 near Bridgend. Once you exit the motorway at Junction 36 (the Designer Outlet in Bridgend), it's straight forward. The signage is excellent, you just select the valley of your choice from the roundabout, and off you go.

DSC06868 R 500

On the Digital Bridgend app, from the homescreen, click on the icon that best depicts the Ogmore Valley, and that's the one in the top left hand side showing a river meandering through scenic hills. Once done, you will then be presented with three trails in this area, select 'the bell' icon which is the trail through the village of Ogmore Vale, about 5 miles north of the M4. The app reveals the significance of the bell during the trail, so more about that later.

Ogmore Valley 1

I'm instructed to head north to the site of the former coal washeries in Ogmore Vale. Easy to find, and a pleasant drive through a wooden valley. Arriving in the village, I'm taken alongside the rugby field, double backing along the valley slightly, until the commentary for this first point of interest eventually triggers as I approach the picnic spot. I'm at the base of the valley floor in a spot that feels quite secluded but you can clearly see despite the scenic setting, that the land all around here was once scarred by heavy industry. There's a timeline on the app at this stage that allows us to select different periods in the mining history of this valley. Given the beauty and greenery today, it's difficult to imagine that this area was once blackened by the coal that the Ogmore Valley was famed for.

Nantmoel Aber Fields 4 R

Having been fully briefed on the significance of this site and the role that the Valley played industrial South Wales, I decide to leave the car near the rugby filed (as there's plenty of room to park) and head off on foot along a community cycle and pedestrian route into the village itself. The next point I'm looking for is 2km away and is actually a former outdoor swimming baths!

As I follow the icon on the screen towards the swimming baths site, I realise that this trail could easily be done by bicycle, the route is great, it's flat, paved and well maintained. The walk takes me across the main road and around the back of the houses that line this typical linear Welsh valley village until I arrive at a point in the heart of Ogmore Vale where the swimming baths once stood.  Should I have stumbled across this place by chance, I probably would not have realised that this was once a focal point for the whole valley during the early 20th Century. The popular baths were actually fed by the mountain stream and the app shows some excellent photographs of how this area once looked in its heyday. The tin structure was actually built over the River Ogmore and the village even hosted diving competitions many years ago. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that these baths only closed in 1998!  The app now launches into a quiz about some of the other leisure activities that would have been enjoyed locally alongside the swimming. You have to complete this before heading off to the next point - the Aber Colliery.

Wp 3-2_2ndabercolliery

For the Aber Colliery, I'm directed towards the site of the fire station on the valley side. You have to follow the footpath behind the station which offers commanding views of the valley and the village below, so is worth the walk just for the vantage points. The commentary and image slideshow of the former colliery 'kicks in' as you walk along the path and you can clearly see where the workings were once located. I learn from the app that Aber was one of the oldest mines in the valley (first sunk as a drift mine in 1865) but sadly the colliery is remembered for yet another local mining tragedy when 5 men lost their lives through an explosion on 1888.

From this point, the app now invites us to explore Cwm y Fuwch, further along the path, up the side of the valley. A pleasant stroll along a footpath that takes us a few hundred metres behind the fire station. The apps tells us that this small tributary valley translated into English actually means 'Valley of the Cow' which is typical of ancient Wales where valleys were once named after animals, perhaps signifying the connection with a Celtic deity. At the site where the commentary starts playing, we learn that there was once possibly an ancient medieval settlement in Cwm Y Fuwch, as there are remains of dry stone walls scattered throughout the area. You can also see the remains of buildings and workings of yet another colliery that was sunk at this site, which quite remarkably used a rope and horse powered tramway to transport the coal down the valley for processing. 

Next, the app takes us back down the valley into the village and a short walk to the former site of the Workman's Hall, on the corner of Commercial Street, which was partly funded by miners donations. Here we are presented with a timeline to explore the various dates in the history of what was once the most iconic and beloved buildings of the Ogmore Valley, the largest of its type in South Wales holding up to a 1000 people at one time. Sadly, we learn that the building was demolished in 1983. Some imagery on the app shows clearly how impressive and significant this building once was for local people. As well as boasting a library, billiards room, a bar and committee rooms, the Hall installed the famous bells in the tower in memory of those who had fallen during the two World Wars.

Completing the timeline, the icon appears on my screen and invites me to follow it to the former railway station site, another short walk away.  At this point, there's a scavenger hunt where the user has to follow the icon to find the various points of interest peppered around the former station. Each point reveals a short history and an image related to the station and its activity. Interesting to learn that the railway linked the valley with Porthcawl on the coast and was also a passenger line, which even offered third class tickets - selling 62,000 of them in 1868! Finishing the Scavenger Hunt, the app now directs us back towards Commercial Street and the site of the famous Gwalia Stores.

Intro -3

We're told that the Gwalia stores was Ogmore's very own department store and the app challenges users to complete a short quiz about the items that were once sold from the stores which included a bakery, grocery, ironmongers and men's outfitters making it the Harrods of the valley, furnished in mahogany, white marble and plate glass.  On Friday nights, following the distribution of miners pay packers, this store became the hub of the valley marking the beginning of the weekend. Sadly, we learn of its closure in 1983 but fortunately, in 1991 it was re-erected at the Museum of Welsh Life in St Fagans. We are now lead further along the community route to discover yet more innovation form this part of the world and the Electric Light and Power Supply Company. Despite relying on candles, oil and coal for power, in 1891, Ogmore Vale became the first place in Wales to see electric streetlights! The plants closed in 1944 with all electricity after that being supplied via the National Grid.

This trail ends following a nice walk along the valley across the blue bridge over the river Ogmore and to the site of the former Penllwyngwent Colliery in what is today an Industrial Estate. This was a drift mine whereby the owners took full advantage of a quirk in the local geology to drive a drift over a thousand metres into the valley, to access a rich vein of high quality coal needed to fuel the blast furnaces and foundries of the region. The mining techniques used here were innovative at the time with huge investments into technology resulting in 100,000 tones of coal being extracted annually at its peak.

Once you complete this trail, it's a fair walk back to the car, which I parked near the rugby pitch, but walking back through the village there's ample opportunity for a quick bite to eat and to experience the natural warmth of the local people in a couple of the village's pubs and cafes. The highlight for me today was discovering the unique stream fed baths and the walk up the 'Valley of the Cow'. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, but allow around 2-3 hours to take it all in. It has been a  fascinating insight into the hidden heritage of Ogmore Vale, the first place in Wales to boast electric street lights!  

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