The goings on in and around Bridgend

Digital Bridgend, Tondu Ironworks

#Digital Bridgend 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.

This week's trail on the Digital Bridgend app was taking me just off the M4, slightly north to the village of Tondu. The 'Tondu and Parc Slip' Trail is part of the 'Industrial Times' theme on the app and does require you to do a fair bit of walking, around 2-3 miles and allowing 2 to 2½ hours to complete. So, walking boots, wet weather gear and a little snack wouldn't go a miss!

Tondu 7

I actually decided to start this trail with breakfast and coffee in the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet, Bridgend. It doesn't matter where you start any of these adventures as the app always tells you how far away you are from any of the starting points, but it is useful to be near wifi in case you need to download additional content first. The Designer Outlet, just off junction 36 is ideal as there is free WiFi almost everywhere. 

Anyway, having opened the app, selected the 'industrial times' hub, I then chose the 'Tondu and Parc Slip' Trail. Immediately I'm told to download additional content which my phone agrees to, and off we go! The first place for me to find is 2km away in a northwards direction, so I return to the car, and head for Tondu Station.
Tondu station if I'm honest, was initially a little difficult to find, and when you get there, don't be disappointed that there is only one platform, and you are unable to access it. The best place to head for is the Bridge, which is precisely where the commentary is activated on the app. Despite its size, this station was pretty significant in the growth of industry in the valleys as we are told. In front of us is the well preserved and impressive signal box, reminding me of the ones I remember in Hornby railway sets growing up. There's not many of these signal boxes left these days so it's worth popping along just to see this.

Once the commentary finishes, there's a little game to complete that is fortunately very simple and it neatly demonstrates the significance of this little station during the industrial times in the valleys. Playing the game, you have to change the signals to make sure that the trains keep flowing through the busy Tondu Junction without colliding. Next step, is the Tondu ironworks, which the app instructs me is around 500m away, so a short walk.

Tondu 4

I decide to leave the car at Tondu Station car park and head off for the Ironworks. The car is probably best left here for the duration for the trail, so make sure you have everything you need before heading off.   The Ironworks is just across the road and up a slight hill passing a small housing estate on the right hand side. In front of you will be a gate at the end of the road which marks the entrance to Parc Tondu and the impressive former Ironworks. Continue through the gate following the icon on your screen until you get within 20m of where you should be of course, for the app to tell you all about this special place. At this point, you should now be able to see one of the best preserved Victorian ironworks found anywhere in Wales. It's amazing to think that this little known gem is just minutes from the M4 and to me, is a must see for anyone interested in industrial heritage and history.

The app at Tondu challenges the user to find a number of points of interest throughout the grounds (however, do remember that you are unable to enter the compound of the Ironworks itself which is currently inaccessible as it can be quite dangerous, but is best viewed from the park surrounding the buildings). There is a wealth of content to unlock here as there are scavenger hunts and a timeline too that reveal the details about all the ironmasters that were once responsible for the production and overall operation of this remarkable site. As you walk around, finding the hot spots on the app, you discover the story of iron locally, how the site operated and the significance of the features and buildings that you can see in front of you. I think the app at this site alone is an excellent educational resource for local schools for example to enjoy and to understand so much more about their local history.

Tondu 3

The next stop on the app is not too far away (around 500m according to my screen!). I'm told to head towards Tondu Methodist Church, back out through the entrance, down the small hill and turning right towards the church. I discover through the excellent commentary once again that the church was built by the owners of the ironworks for their workers, who also built schools too, as they placed a huge emphasis on employee welfare and social wellbeing - so the Victorian masters in this part of the world were arguably not always as bad as we are sometimes lead to believe! The church itself today is definitely worth a peek inside just to see the vibrant detail in the stained glass window and the original pipe organ that is still in working order!

The next part of this trail, I think was the most enjoyable, yet the most demanding. It's not a difficult walk but it is quite lengthy through a beautiful woodland setting on a well maintained cycle and walking path through the trees.  As a visitor, unless I was using this app, I would probably not have encountered this lovely walk, so I'm so glad that the trail takes us along this route to find the next point which is called Park Terrace.

Tondu 1

The app takes me from the Methodist Church and along the cycle path which is approximately a mile and a half walk to Parc Slip. The icon on the screen which we follow to show us the direction and distance to the next trigger point, is an excellent and clever feature on this app, however, Park Terrace is along the way somewhere and a little difficult to find at first. Fortunately though, each point you have to find is supported by textual directions that can help you find the exact location that you need to unlock the information.  Using the text on this occasion, I was reassured that I was on the right track as along the main path, but to find Park Terrace, you have to head off to the right, up a small tributary pathway that takes you past some allotments until you can see some houses to your right. Once you get to these houses, it's well worth the journey as on arrival, it's not that difficult to imagine how these listed terraced houses would have been during the Industrial Revolution. They have been restored to their former glory and if it wasn't for the cars outside the houses these days, you'd be forgiven for thinking that you had turned the clock back.  These houses were built by the ironworks owners for their staff, and today they must be some of the most pleasant and sort after places to live locally. So glad I came here, as I wasn't expecting this 'hidden street' and it does feel quite secluded!  I also learn from the app about the former Tondu Mansion nearby that was once the living quarters for the Ironmaster and his family, and interestingly, later became in 1947, Britain's first hospital for injured or sick colliery horses. Sadly, the building is no longer in existence today.

Leaving Park Terrace behind, the app directs me to retrace my footsteps, back down the path, passed the allotments to the main drag once again, and onwards to find what's known as Parc Slip. The walk through the woodland gets even more impressive over well build and maintained boardwalks until eventually arriving at a road, which you must cross carefully towards the Parc Slip Visitor Centre. Outside the centre, the app guides you towards a former coal truck (or 'dram') which is the next point of interest on the trail. It is here that the app commentary reveals that this site, despite its tranquillity and scenic beauty as a nature reserve today, was once a 300 acre hectic coal mine. It was also sad to learn at this point that Parc Slip was the site of one of Wales' many mining disasters killing 112 men and boys who once worked the coal seam in this very location. It is perhaps fitting today that the former mine has been transformed into a peaceful wildlife haven almost as a mark of respect for those who lost their lives.

Despite this sad end to the trail and a poignant reminder of the price that many members of the local community had paid for their endeavours, this trail is one of the best I have encountered on the Digital Bridgend app to date. It's a 'must do' for both locals and visitors, and once again unearths little known places to visit and the unique history of a very special place in Wales. Highly recommended.

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