Choo-Choo. All aboard Blaenavon steam train to the Big Pit. Wales

Coal mines and steam trains play a significant role in Welsh (and English) history so what better way to teach our kids than a trip on a steam train and a visit to an old pit.

We were staying in Gloucester and Wales in May so took the opportunity to visit on a beautifully sunny day – a rarity in British climates.

(I am foolishly now blogging about this four months later from memory!)

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Ticket sign at Furnace Sidings station

Driving over the moor

Staying in Llangynidr near Crickhowell meant we were able to drive up and over the winding roads of the moors. If you haven’t had this opportunity I can recommend it!

The single carriage road twists around hectares of green grass and brown bracken and you can spot wild ponies and grazing sheep not to mention the spectacular view over the Brecon Beacons valley.

Talk about fortunate because we were able to also see newly born foals. Their facial features are different to other horses I’ve seen/ridden as their bodies and faces are much shorter and their foreheads higher. This results in bulging eyes and an unusual looking nose.

 

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Wild ponies on the top of the moor

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Wild moor ponies and foals

Heritage Railway Experience

Just a short drive over the Welsh hills and down into the valley, lies the Heritage Railway Experience which links the station of Whistle Inn to Blaenavon where Big Pit is located.

You can also drive to Big Pit and not go on the railway which costs:

Adult Day Rover £9.00
Child Day Rover £5.00
Family Day Rover £23.00
Concessions £8.00
The train is operated on weekends between Easter and the beginning of September, selected Wednesdays during July and August and then certain days in October and December. Check the website for the timetables.
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Furnace Sidings signage

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Furnace Sidings

The main station and where we bought our tickets is Furnace Sidings. The car park is massive (not sure how many cars they’re expecting) and there’s a tea room as well as a kids’ corner with some toys.

The station is quaint in a miniature sort of way – even though it isn’t miniature but I can imagine it being perfect on a board. They have retained wonderful attention to detail and there’s many pieces of 1900’s railway artifact to see and photograph.

From here the 3½ miles of track can also take you to Coed Avon and Blaenavon (High Level) where the Heritage Town and Ironworks are located (we didn’t get a chance to do this latter stage of the tour).

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Furnace Sidings station

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Artifact

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Art

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Waiting!

Part of the anticipation comes from the waiting, although we only had about 15 minutes to wait. Excitement levels were pretty high.

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Waiting station side

Watching the train arrive

The train arrives into the station with much gusto (smoke and tooting its whistle) where we watched it from the railway bridge.

So much excitement from our younger duo who had never seen a steam train before let alone ridden on one. They ran down the bridge steps in eager anticipation of boarding the train but instead were rewarded with a visit to see the engine, meet the drivers and watch the train being refilled with water.

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Watching the train arrive

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Train arriving

It turns around

The train is turned around before re-attaching to the carriages and setting off with passengers inside.

 

Seeing the engine

The kids were allowed to mount the engine and have a look at the gauges and dials and fire and everything else they could possibly look at or touch.

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Seeing the engine

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The kids looking in

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The fire

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Coal

Refilling the water

Watching the train being refilled with water rose lots of discussions about the use of steam and how it revolutionised our way of life. We even had conversations about geo-thermal heating in Iceland!

Lots of learning to be done.

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watching the train being refilled with water

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Refilling the train with water

More photos of the train

I adore how much care and attention has been taken in restoring these trains and I couldn’t help but snap all the little details that have lovingly remained.

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Train

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Light on the side of train

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Train side

 

Boarding the train

The train’s interior remains as it would have been years ago with wooden floors and panelling, wooden tables and chairs and some upholstered benches.  Attention to detail is phenomenal.

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Boarding the train

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Train interior

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Wood and blue unholestery

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More blue

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Train interior

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Switches

 Finding somewhere to sit

Can you believe that we had an entire carriage to ourselves? We made the 11am train and I suppose most people were having their lunch but for us lazy risers we’d only just had breakfast.

There was much fun to be had in choosing where to sit and then frequently swapping chairs to compare comfortability and view.

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Sitting on an upholstered bench

 

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Changing seats

Whistle Inn

Whistle Inn Halt is the northern limit of the line and is named after the adjacent pub which we didn’t stop in.  The station is pretty small and we didn’t spend long there. We didn’t want to alight so instead we took photos and swapped seats!

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Whistle Inn

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Whistle Inn

 

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We arrived into Blaenavon about 20 minutes after we’d left the station of Furnace Sidings. Big Pit is a very short walk from the train station but the hill is steep.

Entrance to the pit is free but a donation is appreciated. All of the staff there are volunteers and up-keep on the pit is regularly needed.

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Waiting

Waiting for the next group to be taken down into the pit took about 15 minutes but felt like an eternity of being back in school with wooden backed chairs!

There’s lots to read and learn though and all are accompanied with photos of the pit as a working mine.

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Classroom like room shows its age

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Reading and waiting

Descending into the depths

After suiting and lamping up we were herded into a open lift and dropped into the darkness below!

Our group size was about 15-20 people and ranged from young babies to Grandmas.

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Getting ready to go down the pit

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All suited and lamped up

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Lamps for going down below

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Looking very excited to be going deep under ground

Walking the pit

No photos from this section of the trip in case there were gas pockets down below but let me tell you how COLD AND WINDY it was down there. We foolishly didn’t take our coats and only had thin layers on. I would really recommend taking jumpers and extra layers as we were down in the pit for at least 40 minutes.

We were given a guided tour by an ex-pit miner which was really informative and fun for the kids. They learned about the depths of mines, how long shifts lasted, kids working in the mines, pit ponies, explosions, what to do in an emergency, how to ring the bell, different gases and lots more.

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The view from outside

Taking the train back

Going down the coal pit was a great opportunity for our kids to have a look at British history but the highlight was the train and having another chance to ride it.

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Waiting for the train at Big Pit

 

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One of the operators in our carriage

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An enormous wooden table in the carriage

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The view from the carriage

 

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Big Pit Coal Mine and Blaenavon Steam Train