Whistle Road to Pentre Piod
A long energetic stretch up and over the Coity Mountain
Start: Whistle Inn, Blaenavon
Finish: Pentre Piod
Parking: Whistle Road Car Park
Approximate Distance: 15 kms / 9 miles
Time Allowance: 4 - 5 hours
The Whistle Inn has a fantastic collection of miner’s lamps and also warranted a mention by Alexander Cordell. Above the Whistle Inn, on the slopes of the Coity Mountain and also over towards Waunavon, there were often brutal bare knuckle fights held away from the prying eyes of the authorities. These long and gruelling fights were a way for some to subsidise their often poor wages, the large “purses” for winning outweighing the risk of sustaining a handicap or death from a devastating blow.
Waun Mary Gunter Farm dates back to the 17th century. Mary was a member of one of the influential catholic landowning families of old Monmouthshire who continued to follow the catholic faith after the reformation. Secret services were held in a hidden chapel at Gunter Mansion in Abergavenny. A priest regularly hidden by the Gunters’ was later executed at Usk in 1678.
You will pass by the Big Pit, which was so called because of its elliptical shaft sunk in the 1860’s which allowed for two drams of coal to be lifted to the surface side by side. As Big Pit is one of the National Galleries and Museums of Wales, entry is free so if you don’t have time for an underground tour you can still visit its shop, cafes and toilets.
The houses at Forgeside are built in “rows”. These are a fine example of purpose built workers houses, though now only rows C to E are left. The old forge building is a redbrick structure that was erected in the 1920’s and housed the machinery required for the forgeside complex to produce its own electricity. The Forgeside Ironworks were constructed in the early 1860’s to replace those in Garnddyrus and Blaenavon town as the land was “Freehold” so the Blaenavon Company did not need to pay ground rent to the Lords of Abergavenny. The site was also on more open ground, which at last allowed for expansion and it was also close to the “new” LNWR line that ran from Brynmawr, through Pontypool and onto Newport. The new site had blast and puddling furnaces, rolling mills and a new tyre mill that produced wheels for rail stock. By the 1880’s, the works were hailed as the most modern and advanced ironworks in the world. By 1938, however, it had become so expensive to import raw materials, the works were closed. But the tradition of forging and rolling in the area does not end there as Doncaster’s took over the old tyre mill and press shops in the 1950’s and started forging and rolling alloy rings. Doncaster rings were used to build the jet engines that propelled the Concord aeroplanes. A sample of their rings has been incorporated into a sculpture and seating area at the Varteg Road end of the community. At the corner of C Row and Forge Road to your left and up a little drive, through the railings you can see Coity House (also known as White House), built in the 1860’s by the Blaenavon Iron and Steel Company for their works manager. Up until 1990 it was then used by Doncaster’s as a general administration building. Vacant now, it is a grade II listed building.
On the Coity Mountain is the “Dog Stone”, an Iron memorial to Carlo “A celebrated Setter, the property of H M Kennard Esq. of Crumlin Hall, accidentally shot August 12th 1864”. Mr Kennard was on a shooting party organised by the Blaenavon Company when his beloved dog was killed. He ordered the dog be buried where it fell and had the memorial cast in the ironworks before it was hauled up the mountain by ponies and erected over the grave. Two other Kennard dogs, “Billy” and “Bones” have stone markers, found in the grounds of Ty Mawr, Blaenafon.
Graig Ddu Farm is now some stone ruins. This farm was also once a pub and allegedly a pack horse station. This may be a good place to stop if you have brought refreshments as it has good views of Abersychan and plenty of stone to sit on. (Abersychan comes from the welsh Aber=confluence and sych=dry. This is because the Cwmsychan brook would run dry in the summer, or even disappear underground to reappear further down the valley).
Look out across the valley at Abersychan below you and you will see an impressive Viaduct crossing a small valley. The engineer John Gardiner built this in the 1870’s to carry the LNWR railway line that went from Brynmawr to Blaenafon linking with the GWR railway at Pontypool. (This is the line you crossed by the Whistle Inn). In 1912 the lines were opened to passenger services as well as for mineral trains, making it easier for miners and other workers to travel up and down the valley. This service ceased in 1941 and the last mineral train left Blaenavon's Big Pit in 1981. The track was taken up but the line is now part of a leisure and cycle route that extends the length of Torfaen.
Turn to look down the valley below to the site of the Abersychan Iron Works (also known as the British). These works opened in the 1820’s and by 1830 the works were in full operation, consisting of six blast furnaces, puddling furnaces, forges, rolling mills and collieries supplying all the coal required by the works. Initially, the finished iron bars and rails would have been hauled by horse drawn trams down the valley to the canal at Pontnewynydd; latterly the Ebbw Vale Company installed a railroad that connected the works with the “new” mineral line. The introduction of steel rails in 1869 led to the collapse of many ironworks and in 1876, the Abersychan/British works were closed and dismantled.
Download a copy of the Torfaen Trail - Figure of 8 Leaflet which includes the Whistle Road to Pentre Piod walk here.
Last Modified: 02/01/2019
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