Rhondda known throughout the world for its history and culture. Take a trip up the longest high street in the world.
The two Rhondda Valleys, Rhondda Fawr and Rhondda Fach, often called just The Rhondda, are probably the most well-known of the South Wales Valleys. In 1807, a poet observed 'such scenes of untouched nature as the imagination would find it difficult to surpass'.
However, this changed enormously by the mid 19th century as a result of intensive mining for the area’s 'black gold', which transformed the landscape into a scarred, industrial one. Nowadays, the mines and most of the scars have disappeared and first-time visitors are often taken aback by the sheer beauty of the area with the villages and towns closely enveloped by steep-sided forest and heather clad hills.
The last deep mine in the Rhondda was Maerdy, situated at the head of the smaller Rhondda Fach valley. In the mid-twentieth century, Maerdy was seen as a radical hotbed, earning it the sobriquet, Little Moscow, during the desperate times of the depression. From Maerdy, an attractive route takes you north-east over the mountain to the Cynon Valley with some fantastic views.
A little further down the Rhondda Fach valley is Ferndale. The town is best known as the birthplace of one of Wales’ finest-ever actors, Sir Stanley Baker, whose ashes were scattered from Llanwonno Forest overlooking the town.
The vibrant character of these tight-knit towns and villages crammed into the valley floor is in many ways reflected by the wealth of characters they have spawned. Jimmy Wilde, ‘the Ghost With A Hammer In His Hand’, considered by many to be the greatest-ever flyweight boxer, grew up in Tylorstown (Pendyrus), which is home to one of the valleys’ oldest male-voice choirs - Pendyrus Male Voice Choir, whilst further down the valley, Stanleytown produced one of Britain’s best known and talented comedians, Paul Whitehouse.
Situated at 1,100 feet above sea level, Penrhys overlooks the two Rhondda valleys. Until the late 16th century, it was one of the holiest sites for Christian pilgrims in Wales and the statue of Our Lady of Penrhys, near the medieval holy well, dominates the skyline which marks the site of an ancient chapel. Close by, the Rhondda Golf Club, with its holes named after collieries that once operated in the locality, enjoys its elevated position with wonderful panoramic views over the surrounding countryside.
Treorchy is the next town down the valley along what is sometimes described as 'the longest High Street in the world' as village merges with village. Dominating the centre of the town is the Parc and Dare Theatre, which hosts the brass band that bears its name as well as the famous Treorchy Male Choir. The A4061 road out of Treorchy leads over the Bwlch y Clawdd Pass woth spectacular views. To the south is Llanilltud Faerdref, where Wales’ only ever sports car company, Gilbern was founded in the late 1950's by the unlikely combination of a master butcher, Giles Smith and a German engineer, expert in glass-fibre mouldings, Bernard Friese. The company ceased production in 1973 but its surviving cars are highly sought after.
Pentre is home to St Peter’s Church often called the 'Cathedral of the Rhondda', the largest religious building in either of the Rhondda valleys. In May 1924 at Ton Pentre, huge crowds turned out to see the Duke of York, later King George VI, played a round of golf against Frank Hodges M.P. on what had been until recently a bare patch of mountainside. Today the ‘course’ built by local miners has reverted to countryside. Ton Pentre is home to Cory Band, the reigning European Champions.
Tonypandy is famous for the fierce riots that took place in 1910 in and around the mines of the Cambrian Combine which led to the establishment of a miners’ minimum wage in 1912. The Grade-II listed old Glamorgan Colliery Powerhouse at Llwynypia was a hub of the riots and ambitious plans are in place to restore the landmark building. One of Britain’s most famous boxers ever, Tommy Farr, 'the Tonypandy Terror', who was controversially defeated in a world title fight by Joe Louis in New York, was born at Clydach Vale.
Porth, meaning ‘gate’ in English, is regarded as the gateway to the Rhondda where the Rhondda Fach joins the larger Rhondda Fawr. This area was where the initial industrialisation of the Rhondda valleys occurred with the first deep coal mine sunk at Dinas. The Rhondda Heritage Park based at the former Lewis Merthyr Colliery, Trehafod just to the south of Porth is one of the top heritage and cultural visitor attractions in south Wales.
Running along the southern bank of the river Rhondda close by, Barry Sidings is an attractive country park with a visitor centre which is the start of a short walk that takes you up into the forestry overlooking the area.
- Rhondda Heritage Park
Based at the former Lewis Merthyr Colliery, Rhondda Heritage Park is a living testament to the mining communities of the World famous Rhondda Valleys. The park offers a fascinating insight into the rich culture and character of the Rhondda Valleys in a unique, entertaining and educational environment for all ages.