The goings on in and around Bridgend

Monthly Archives: September 2015

Digital Bridgend, The Blaengarw Trail

#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.

I was really looking forward to this trail, in the stunning and typical Welsh valley setting of Blaengarw. The Garw Valley is a proud place, steeped in history which you can feel all around you. This is real Wales, and the heart of South Wales. Another must visit off the beaten track experience.

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The best place to park for this, is Parc Calon Lan, just follow the road signs to the park once you arrive in Blaengarw. Blaengarw at the head of the Garw Valley, is surrounded by the towering Carn and Werfs maintains which guard this community, once an industrial powerhouse in Wales.

The trail begins at Bwlch Garw which challenges the user to find a number of points of interest through a scavenger hunt that tells the geological story of the landscape in front of us. It was useful to get my bearings at this stage of the trail as there's quite a bit of walking to do, so I'm glad I had decent footwear and outdoor clothing that's for sure.

For the next point in the trail, I had to locate what is known locally as the 'Decorated Mine Shaft'. This was quite difficult to get to but well worth it when you get there. A nice surprise, as I was unaware that this even existed before today, despite having walked through the area on many occasions. Essentially, it's a former entrance to a long abandoned drift mine tucked away in the slopes of the Carn Mountain. The entrance is of course sealed today and a community project has cleverly and sensitively created a colourful mural marking the former entrance. A great place for a stop (and to bring out you flask!) to take in the spectacular view down the valley.

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The app's next instruction was to descend the mountain and find the former 'International Colliery' site located just behind the football field. The commentary triggered as I approached the site and told me how this colliery was once the largest in South Wales covering 700 acres, which is hard to imagine given how well the landscape has recovered from those days. Sadly, like many Welsh mines, this colliery was not without fatal disasters with one explosion on 18th December 1884 killing one miner and severely injuring another two. A poignant reminder of the price of coal.

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I continue to the next point, which is called Parc Calon Lan, a well landscaped and nature haven on a former colliery site. The centre piece of this park is the lake and also the sculptures that commemorate the community's industrial past and the famous Welsh hymn that the park is named after.

The app now leads me on a short walk through the village to find another former colliery site called Glengarw. It's now that the user starts to realise the shear scale and importance of coal locally, and to test our knowledge, the app presents an interesting quiz for us to complete before moving on. Once you've answered all of the questions correctly, some additional commentary plays covering the latter stages of the history of the mine before moving us on to Ocean Colliery.

Ocean colliery located at the picturesque Cwm Nant Hirwas once produced 800 tonnes of coal per day, and due to its purity and quality, the coal was used to power the great liners crossing the Atlantic at the time. Daniel James, writer of Calon Lan actually worked at this colliery, and the last dram of coal was transported out in 1985. Since then, the land has been rejuvenated with the addition of two lakes and effective landscaping.

We now find ourselves searching for Katie Street, and a portrait of Daniel James in Blaengarw Square. The app at this point appropriately bursts into song, playing the instantly recognizable Calon Lan hymn. A scavenger hunt then takes us on a trail through the village uncovering the story of one of the Valley's most famous sons.

The trail concludes at the Blaengarw Workman's Hall where we discover the significance of the colourful mosaic mural on the exterior, and the role that the Hall has played in the history of this proud community. The app cleverly does this through a game, which is a nice way to end a thoroughly enjoyable and insightful half a day. Blaengarw is unmissable, a real life robust Welsh community not without its scars of history as we discovered through today's Digital Bridgend trail.

Digital Bridgend: The Blackmill Trail

#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.

Today's trip saw me take in one of the three valleys north of the M4 in Bridgend, known as the Ogmore Valley. There are three trials to enjoy in this neck of the woods, the first one I was sampling was the Blackmill trail, a village located in the heart of the valley around 8km away from Bridgend.

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The first location that the app was challenging me to find was the former railway station in the village, but first I had to park my car. When you arrive in Blackmill, there's a couple of pubs behind which there is plenty of room to park on the road and a car park that's adjacent to the famous sheep sale site that we'll learn a lot more about later I'm sure. So, car parked with ease, it's off to find the station.

The app leads me on a pleasant short walk around 500m away through the trees along the former railway line, which is now a well used community cycle and walking route. I arrive at the former site of the station where I can clearly see where the platforms once stood. The commentary kicked in for the app, and I learn that Blackmill as a village in 1865 only had 30 people living there, before the railway and industry arrived thereafter. In its heyday, Blackmill saw 5 trains a day and 7 on a Saturday but in 1958, the last passenger train left the station. A nice setting by the side of an ancient woodland, but the next stop for me was to go back towards my car and the site of the Blackmill Sheep Sales.

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During my time working in Bridgend, the Blackmill Sheep Sales is something that I heard people often speak about so was intrigued to find out more. As I arrived at the site, just behind the two pubs, the commentary is once activated as I walk within 20 metres of the icon on my screen, that I've become so used to following on the app. I discover that the Sheep Sale at Blackmill was a massive event, more like a festival with music, dancing and lots of drinking in the nearby pubs no doubt. It's the oldest and probably one of the most famous in South Wales. The app also challenges you to a scavenger hunt at this point, there are three points to find so I'm led all over the site to unearth more information. Really interesting to learn that sheep stealing was rife in the 1700s and a law was passed to help curb the crime, the penalty for which was death! More than a 1000 people were sentenced to death in the UK for sheep stealing in 6 years between 1825-31. Fascinating. Next stop, the Fox and Hounds Pub, around 100 metres away.

I pass my car once again, and arrive at 'the Fox'. Just outside the front door, the commentary plays and tells me that this Georgian building has been a pub since the 18th Century and was the meeting point for the Llangeinor Hunt since 1895, hence the name of the establishment.

Onwards and upwards. There's a short walk up a gentle hill to the next site, which is something I'm ashamed to admit, I didn't know existed in the area (despite having driven through here so many times over the years!)…..the impressive Blackmill Viaduct. This construction is almost hidden from the road but worth a visit as you can walk around the base of some of the 7 dominant pillars that were built to take coal by rail to the new docks in Barry that were developed so that extortionate fees and tolls could be avoided through Cardiff. The line from Nantymoel to Barry was open in 1876 and closed in the 1930s. The viaduct is very much intact today and another example of a great feat of engineering of the industrial era in this part of South Wales.

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Up to this point, I've been able to tap into Blackmill's past on foot but I think I need the car, as the next point, St Tyfodwg Church is around 2km away. So, back to the vehicle, and I head up the Ogmore Fach valley to find this ancient church. When I get there, it's on the main road so not difficult to spot at all. On-street parking is easy too. Once again, the commentary plays on schedule and I'm told the history of the church as I walk around the graveyard and immediately observe some ornate carvings in the walls and a medieval fortress like tower. There is certainly an air of history about this place and I'm not surprised to learn that there was probably a church on this site as early as the 6th Century. A mini scavenger hunt takes me on a walk through the grounds and the church itself and I discover a rare Pilgrim effigy dating back to the 14th Century. Incredible place, and once again, way off the beaten track and somewhere that I would have never have known about if it wasn't for this app.

Returning to the car, I'm directed back down the valley to Blackmill again, and this time to Paran Chapel, just opposite the viaduct. Non conformism was of course dominant in these parts and such was the popularity that this chapel, built in 1825, was extended numerous times in the 19th Century increasing its capacity to 200. Being a Baptist chapel, records show that baptisms took place in the nearby river Ogmore and on some occasions even having to break the ice in the middle of Winter! Great to hear that that this chapel is still used today though, conducting services in Welsh.

I re-park my car behind the pubs once again, and set off on foot to find the last two points of interest on what has thus far been an incredibly interesting journey through the Ogmore Valley. The next point I have to find is an ancient bridge, and I'm told by the app that its quite difficult to find, nevertheless, it points me in the right direction and tells me it's around 600m away. I walk along the former railway route, and realise that I could have taken my bike on this trail as most of the trigger points are minutes from the cycle path. Maybe next time.

The Bridge 'Pont Y Frithau' was a little difficult to find but I got there in the end. The arch dates back to the early 18th Century and was the old crossing of the River Ogmore, and there was probably a wooden construction or a ford here predating the bridge that we can see today. You can view it from the road but carry on along the cycle path and there's a convenient gap in the fence that will take you straight to Pont Y Frithau where you can observe it at close quarters. Just above this bridge, there was once a millstream that ran off the Ogmore to power a water wheel of the mill owned by a certain Ifan Ddu ap Gryffydd Goch, which gave the mill its name, Melin Ifan Ddu (or in English, Ifan's Black Mill). So having discovered how the village was named, we now head off on a short walk up the hill to the final point on the trial - the former Blackmill Isolation Hospital.

Bit of a climb this, and be careful as you have to cross a busy highway and walk up another road where there's no pavement (at least on the side I was walking anyway!). Just before the top of the hill on the corner, the commentary starts outside the former hospital. It is hear that I learn about a dark year for Wales in recent history, the 1962 outbreak of the killer and highly contagious disease smallpox. The app displays a timeline at this point where you can click on each of the dates shown in 1962 to find out more about the outbreak and how this building that we are standing outside was used as an isolation hospital. 19 died in the 1962 epidemic and fortunately, smallpox was eradicated in 1980.

OK, trail completed, back to the car. Very enjoyable, interesting and revealing. I learned a lot more about this part of Wales and visited places that I would otherwise not have known existed. Highly recommended, takes about 2-3 hours max and can be enjoyed by bike too.

Digital Bridgend, Short Trail 3

#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.

One of the things I really like about this app, is its scale. Yes it takes a while to download all the content but you can do that as and when required. The fact that there are 17 trails to pick, some which will take a few hours, and others are short easy strolls around a castle, village or ironworks taking a little over an hour, make this app very flexible to meet the needs of all abilities and interests. Today I'm reviewing the short trails. They may be short and sharp, but they are probably amongst my favourites. So, here's what I encountered…

Bridgend and its Castles: The Coity Castle Trail

Just a couple of miles outside of Bridgend town centre or about half a mile from the junction 36 off the M4, lies one of the most impressive ruins of a Norman Castle outside of West Wales.

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Coity Castle
is another must-visit attraction in these neck of the woods, and with this app, the visit so much more enjoyable providing an excellent view into the castle's past and medieval life at its best (or worse!). There's a place to park your car right outside the gates (which close at 4pm by the way!), by the side of the post office in the village. If not, there are usually plenty of spaces available along the roads outside the castle, so despite a very small official car park, parking should not be an issue at all.

This tour begins right at the castle gates and the West Gatehouse. It takes you through step by step into the heart of the castle grounds where we are told about the castle and the lives of its inhabitants. The app provides a welcome twist from the standard interpretation that you tend to find at castles regarding historical events. This app does include that, but perhaps more interestingly, it provides an understanding and appreciation of life at the castle. One thing in particular I learned (which I probably should have known!) was the connection that castles have with hawks and birds of prey, and their role in hunting. A little walk into the castle grounds, the app presents us with a quiz, about these roles, which you must get right before you can proceed - interestingly, I learn that such was the importance of hunting in Coity that dogs were often looked after better than the servants in this castle.

Further into the grounds, I'm challenged with a scavenger hunt where I'm required to 'mop up' the hexagons that appear on my smartphone screen in order to reveal further interesting facts and figures. I discover that the Keep was actually rebuilt in 1185 after the Welsh uprising in 1183, and that keeps could only be built 10 feet per year due to the mortar that was used. So they often took a lifetime to complete. We are also told that there was once a Great Hall onsite that hosted royalty such as Richard 2nd.

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The app neatly comes to an end once again making a huge impression on the user by leading us to the North East Gatehouse and bridge over the moat. The gatehouse was only built after the siege of this castle by Owain Glyndwr and his armies. Before using this app, I wasn't fully aware of the extent of Owain Glyndwr's movements throughout Wales, but I now know that he certainly left his mark on Bridgend.
This was a short trail on the app but nonetheless it certainly makes this castle come to life. It provides just enough information and an interesting entertaining angle of interpretation. What I really like about this one is that it has taken me to experience an almost perfect ruin (if there is such a thing!), well maintained and never crowded, in fact you could be there alone making it easier to take it all in.

Digital Bridgend, Short Trail No. 2

Industrial Times: The Bedford Park Trail

Another well kept local secret, Bedford Park Ironworks is a little out of the way from the main drag but is one of the best examples of an industrial heritage anywhere in Wales. It's also a well managed park in a beautiful natural setting alongside the route of the former Dyffryn Llynfi Porthcawl Railway that played such a significant role in the industrial success of this area.

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This tour begins just outside the car park, as the app tells me to walk west around 40m to the first point of interest. The commentary 'triggers' and I'm introduced to a gentleman from the past known as John Bedford. Mr Bedford was the business owner who experimented with some unusual ideas (to say the least!) to smelt iron ore in these parts in the late 1700s.

Next point to find is the aforementioned Dyffryn Llynfi Porthcawl Railway (DLPR). I'm guided around 150m along the former route which at this location is now a well maintained cycling and walking route. I came across the DLPR during the Porthcawl trail and the Bridgend trail previously, so it was obviously an important industrial asset at the time, and its great to see it remembered today and put to some other use too.

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John Bedford

The railway was used to transport raw materials to the ironworks in the 1800s and gave it a new lease of life under new ownership of William Bryant. At this stage before we even get to the ironworks site, the app challenges us with a game that shows the importance in getting the raw materials delivered in the process of iron smelting. It's a little bit more difficult this game, you have to tap the screen at the right time to ensure that the iron ore is delivered into the furnace when it should be. Nice graphics, and once again the app teaches us something without even knowing it - by playing a game on our smartphones!

After numerous attempts to beat my highest score, I decide to move on. Pressing the 'continue' button on the app takes me to the first industrial relic - the well preserved calcining kilns. From this point on, the app takes us on a journey throughout this remarkable site starting with an impressive view of the industrial ruin from the top of where the furnace would have been loaded. We are led through the process of iron smelting whilst given a local history lesson, and another game too - the Blast Furnace game. This one I liked more I think (as it was a little easier to complete!) and requires us to tap the screen on our phone to stoke the fires in the blast furnace. Again, it teaches us something - the importance of the right temperature for the smelting to be successful. Probably one of the best features of this app is its variety and its ability to inform and teach through instruction, listening, watching, engagement and play. Really enjoying it.

Anyway, when I get to the bottom of the site, I'm presented with a useful timeline reminding me of the key dates and events that happened in the history of this unique place. There's also a scavenger hunt that takes me back up the hill and eventually back to the car park where the app teaches me about the former brickworks that accompanied the ironworks. Without the app, I wouldn't have known they had even existed at this site. You can learn something new everyday.
The final part of the trail was a very pleasant surprise. Another scavenger hunt challenged me to find a place around 400 metres away, along the former DLPR route in the opposite direction to the ironworks. After a 5 minute walk I arrived at a perfectly preserved junction box, the likes I had only seen previously on model railways. Occasionally, you can be lucky to get a tour of this place but the app provides a very interesting insight into yet another little known historical asset in the county of Bridgend. Loved it. Great trail lasting a little over an hour on foot.

Digital Bridgend, Short Trail No.1

Maesteg and the Llynfi Valley: The Maid of Cefn Ydfa Trail

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Llangynwyd, is a picturesque and ancient village in the Llynfi Valley with at atmosphere like no other. I love this place, it has a church in its centre, neatly placed on a square in the centre of the hamlet, two pubs (one with a thatched roof the other one of the oldest pubs in Wales and home to some ancient Welsh traditions), the largest private graveyard in Europe and an incredible history. The village is one of the few places remaining in Wales that celebrates the New Year, or Calennig, with the Mari Lwyd - a horse's skull draped in a white sheet with flowers. The Maid of Cefn Ydfa Trail starts with the View of Cefn Ydfa Farm in the car park of the Old House Inn (that's the one with the thatched roof). The commentary kicks in and we are told the beginnings of a famous Welsh love story from these parts involving a certain Ann Maddocks who lived on the farm but was orphaned at the age of 2 in 1706. Once again, I don't want to give away the story so will just provide a 'walk through' of the tour around this unique must-visit village in the heart of the Llynfi Valley.

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The other local character in this love story is Will Hopkin, and the next stop on the trail takes you to the site where he once lived - by the side of the churchyard where a plaque marks his formed abode - the Croft and Forge - now covered by the graveyard.

From here, we are taken on a journey following this intriguing and very sad story. We are led into the ancient 6th Century church, passing 'the message tree' where we are informed through the app that the forbidden lovers exchanged notes to each other. The church is significant in this story as Ann was forced to marry another local character who she did not love, and this reluctant union with Anthony Maddocks took place in St Cynwyds Church.

The tour takes us to various points of interest throughout the church and the churchyard, almost every few yards there's something interesting that we're told. There's the graves of the characters in this story and of course, the compelling story itself which unfolds as we walk through these peaceful surroundings.

Eventually, we are guided by the app through the church gates to the memorial cross in the village. This was erected in the name of Ann and her lover, and also dons the names of other local people of historical significance. The app then takes us across the road to 'The Corner House' where apparently Will Hopkin once lived and many believe still does! There have been some 'happenings' in this establishment by all accounts and the staff merely put it down to "Will being about".

The trail then ends appropriately with the excellent Ghost Hunter game. I liked this as it was simple even for me. Just tap the screen where the ghost appears in the pub window. Now I've completed this trail in a beautiful hidden & historic village, it's time to enjoy a drink in one of the pubs. Maybe I'll go to both!

A review of the new #DigitalBridgend App by Andrew Lloyd Hughes