#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.
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.
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.
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.