Welsh Journals

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Institute. As Chris Barber notes on page 11, the landscape 'provides a unique outdoor classroom', where visitors can absorb two hundred years of history from their unique surroundings. How inspiring to know that we have such an important site at the head of one of our very own valleys! And equally inspiring is the quality of Exploring Blaenavon's illustrations. The book is packed with them, numerous colour photographs, maps and engravings, and, best of all, the exquisitely detailed drawings by Michael Blackmore. The artist deserves to have his name on the front cover beneath Chris Barber's, for it is Blackmore's pictures above all that make this book such a pleasure to browse. He provides us with a wonderful array of vivid portraits, delicate landscapes, finely drawn buildings, and town sconces, many of them peopled with figures and animals that look ready to step off the page. It is invidious to pick a favourite, but have a look at the two feisty working girls on page 29, who earned seven shillings for a week of 12-hour shifts breaking up ironstone with heavy picks. Particularly notable is a striking colour spread (pages 50-1) depicting the fully operational ironworks in stunning and convincing detail. Exploring Blaenavon does not provide a comprehensive history of the area, but it tells you the basics of what you need to understand the landscape. Time to get your boots on, readers! For the main body of Exploring Blaenavon is a series of six walks. They average four or five miles, and take the walker on a series of inviting routes 'following the iron from Blaenavon to Llanfoist', 'Forgeside, Big Pit and Garn-yr-erw', 'Cam y Defaid and Elgam Hill', 'Around the Blorenge Mountain Summit Plateau', 'Varteg, Cwmavon and Capel Newydd', and 'Llanfoist and Govilon'. Clear and helpful instructions are given in bold text, and one feels confidence that each walk has indeed been tried and tested by a knowledgeable guide. Returning from the Blorenge, for example, we are sensibly advised to sample the refreshments at the Crown Inn, and then given the kind of unpretentious information that is always good to have: the history of the pub from 1784 to its purchase by the present owners, Jim and Jenny Rowlinson, for £ 13,000 in 1982. The history and significance of buildings and places that are passed on the way are explained and illustrated in succinct detail in the accompanying text, and we are introduced to a range of fascinating individuals and families who made their mark on their surroundings. The walks are interspersed with several short essays, including 'Vanished Blaenavon', 'and 'Pwll-Du, the forgotten village'. Two chronologies provide useful background to the themes discussed. One covers the Development and Demise of Ironmaking in the area (pages 53-4); the other Blaenavon Town (pages 127-8). Take note of those page numbers, for they bring me to my one complaint about this book: it is much to be regretted that Chris Barber has not given us an index. You read something once a moving piece on the employment of women and children, say, or the fascinating history of Pwll-Du tunnel and then you have the devil of a job finding it again, a deficiency that I