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Big Pit

Posted by Sas on August 20, 2014


One of the great things about having family and friends come to visit me in Wales is that I get to go to all the places that I usually wouldn’t find time for. So, when my dad told me that he’d never been down a mine, I saw it as a great opportunity to spend a perfectly nice (and very rare) hot, sunny day underground.

DSC_0321Big Pit, in the beautiful surroundings of Blaenavon in South Wales, was once a working coal mine and is now a fantastic museum that not only teaches you about the history of the area but also gives you a glimpse of what it was like for miners working underground throughout the ages. Like all the national museums in Wales, Big Pit is completely free of charge, although it costs £3 to use the car park and there are opportunities to make a donation should you choose to.

We began our day with a descent into the old colliery, 90m underground. This was a new experience for me. Although I have visited mines before, they were all drift mines in the north of England that you walk into. Never before had I travelled down in a lift. There was no conning myself into believing that we weren’t that deep this time, that rickety old lift reminds you just how far under the surface you really are. Before entering the lift you have to be kitted out with a genuine miner’s helmet (complete with lamp) and a safety belt should anything go wrong whilst you’re underground.

Unfortunately, safety rules at the mine mean that you’re not allowed to take a camera down with you. In fact, DSC_0329you’re not allowed to take anything that has a battery so watches, phones and other electricals have to be left on the surface. Although the mine has been cleared of all dangerous gases nowadays, they don’t want to take any chances.

If you are at all scared of entering the pit, I assure you that the worst part is the lift journey down. You’re crammed in like sardines, and you start to envy the canaries because at least they have a bit of personal space in their little cages. It’s all part of the experience, though, and this is how the miners commuted to work every day.

All the guides at the pit are ex-miners, and our guide Andrew was incredibly entertaining and informative as he led us around the labyrinth of underground tunnels. Originally from North Wales, Andrew is from a mining family who moved to the south for work. Hearing what it is like to work beneath the earth’s surface from a real miner is fascinating, and Andrew was also able to help us experience what it would have been like for his ancestors. He told us about the young boys, sons of miners, whose job it was to open and close the fire doors as the carts full of coal rolled through. Unpaid, working purely for the hope that one day they would too be given a paying job in the mine, the boys would sit in the darkness waiting for the rumble of the carts to come along. Only the lucky ones, whose families were wealthy enough to afford one, would be given a candle. Andrew told us all to turn off our headlamps, and we were in complete darkness. I can only imagine what those young boys went through, sat in such a lonely atmosphere for hours on end.

DSC_0323It’s not only humans that worked under the ground. The canaries, once used to test for dangerous gases in the mines, now have a happier existence above ground in another part of the museum. We also got to see the underground stables where the pit ponies lived whilst they were at work. Walking along the stalls and reading the names of the ponies still chalked onto a small blackboard next to each one is a stark reminder of the sacrifices that other species have made for us at our command.

Above ground, original buildings from the pit head continue the experience. The locker room features individual stories of people who worked at the mine, not just the miners but also support staff such as those who ran the canteen. The canteen is also still there by the way, and not only sells traditional Welsh treats but also offers the most amazing view of the valley and is well worth the climb up the steps to reach it. You can even walk through the shower block where the men would wash away all the dirt and coal dust.

Halfway back down the hill, between the bath house/canteen and the pit shaft, is DSC_0337the mining galleries. Probably the most modern part of your visit, this multimedia experience is a must to learn about mining techniques through the ages.

I am so glad that I made the time to visit Big Pit. If you do manage to find your way there some day, you should also visit the other Blaenavon World Heritage attractions such as the ironworks, steam railway and the canal, not to mention the town of Blaenavon itself. DSC_0338Faced with the loss of their main income, the locals here have refused to just sit on their backsides and complain. Like a lot of communities in similar situations here in Wales, they have created a new industry and in the process jobs for their town. They have transformed Blaenavon into a tourist attraction that is a must for visitors to South Wales, and I cannot wait to return.

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Plant-Based Pause No 33: Make a Pledge

Posted by Sas on August 19, 2014

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘In fact, if one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty, but where a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and, once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people.’ – Ruth Harrison


It’s easy for us to make promises to ourselves and then come up with lots of excuses why we can’t keep them. It’s harder to break those promises if you’ve told someone else that you’re going to do it.

In 2013 I pledged to reduce the packaging waste that I produce. More specifically, I promised to use fewer take-out cups. I invested in re-usable cups and began taking my flask to work. Over the course of the year, I threw only about 5 cups into the bin. Considering I was previously buying a take-put coffee almost everyday at work, this was a huge reduction. As a bonus, it’s also saved me a lot of money. This year, I’ve continued to reduce my waste and I’ve also vowed to be more ethical with my choices when donating to charity. This may sound harsh, but after learning that a lot of charities here in the UK waste money on unnecessary animal testing that provides absolutely no benefit to their cause I realised I’m better donating my money elsewhere. Besides, promoting the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle does more to help people in the long term.

By telling people around me about my pledges, I’m constantly reminded to keep on track. Believe me, people will soon let you know if you make a slip-up.

There are lots of on-line resources to help you make a pledge. Plate to Planet is a great site where you can pledge to go meat free. They’ll even email you to check how you’re getting on. Meat Free Mondays, promoted by the McCartney family, is for those who aren’t ready to go completely plant-based just yet. By pledging to not eat meat for just one day a week, you can make a huge difference to your health and the planet.

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Travel theme: Horizons

Posted by Sas on August 16, 2014

Ailsa’s travel theme this week is Horizons (click here to see more entries).

Horizons are very important to me. They help to stop me feeling claustrophobic. When I can see the horizon, I know there is somewhere else I can venture to, an escape with new adventures to experience. Coastal horizons are my particular favourite. I grew up by the sea, and looking out over open water with no other land in sight calms me and reminds me of home.

I’ve seen quite a few horizons during my travels, from the beautiful to the extreme.


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Posted by Sas on August 15, 2014


A slight cheat for this week’s challenge I know, but I couldn’t resist using this shot of some street art I saw on a shop’s shutters in London last summer. Besides, I’m no good at taking photos of actual silhouettes.

Click here to see more entries.

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Green Gathering 2014

Posted by Sas on August 13, 2014


I’m not sure whether I’m crazy, stupid or just adventurous but for some reason I thought it would be a good idea to take my two godchildren (aged 9 and 3) camping to the Green Gathering festival at Piercefield Park, Chepstow. On my own.

View of the Severn Bridge from the festival

View of the Severn Bridge from the festival

The Green Gathering is four days of fantastic fun and learning for like minded people who are interested in environmental awareness to get together. The whole festival is run off-grid (which makes for some interesting sourcing of energy) and is particularly aimed at children and families. Under 11s even get their tickets completely free. My godchildren have been begging me to take them camping again all winter, and after a bit of effort I managed to convince them that camping in sub zero January temperatures in the UK is no fun at all and we should wait for the festival instead. I also thought that, as I would have to take them on my own this year, a family focused environment with lots of other children and parents around such as the Green Gathering would make it slightly easier for me. Besides, I wanted to go to the festival anyway and seeing as I didn’t have to pay for the kids’ tickets it seemed a win-win situation for us all.

I was entertained, educated and captivated by every aspect of the Green Gathering, so I can only imagined how itDSC_0426
looked through a child’s eyes. Every inch of the site was packed with offerings of music, arts and crafts, theatre, games, workshops, campaigns and much, much more. I’m sure there are stalls and tents that I didn’t even find during my time there. Although I assume there is some organisation to the event, the festival has the feel of being randomly thrown together. It’s like stumbling across a magical place where fantastic, talented people from all walks of life have suddenly decided to come together and pitch tents to display their wares and talents. Stalls selling recycled clothes and notebooks sat alongside the teenagers’ tent (strictly no adults allowed), a sauna and shower tent and food stands selling some of the best vegan, gluten-free food I have ever tasted.

DSC_0420The site is roughly divided into areas, which not only makes it easier to find what you’re looking for but also maintains the peace. A friend of mine who also visited Green Gathering this year told me about a similar festival he’d attended that hadn’t put quite so much thought into their planning. A stall offering chain-saw wood carving had been set-up between his mum’s disco tent and a relaxation tent. Cue some annoyed disco dancers who couldn’t hear what they were listening to and patrons of the relaxation tent coming out more stressed than when they went in. Thankfully, we had none of those problems at Green Gathering. Village Hill, the central area of the site, offered food stands, clothing and goods stalls and cafes and restaurants to chill out in. Right next door, the kids had their own area DSC_0402complete with vintage fairground rides, trampolines, cargo nets, climbing frames, theatre tent with dress-up, slack-lining and circus skills workshops. A couple of the crew had also set up a construction area and were asking children to help build a ‘pallet palace’. On the Thursday, they began with a huge pile of wooden pallets, saws, hammers and nails and by Sunday afternoon they had created and decorated a fun fort and play area they could all enjoy. The fairground rides and trampolines were good value for money too. Each one was priced at £1.50 per ride, or you could purchase a weekend ticket for £15 that gave you unlimited access. I was even more delighted to discover that the price for the weekend ticket reduces every day, so when I bought them on the Friday morning it only cost me £12 per child. A bargain for something that kept both children entertained for the whole weekend.

Traditional Victorian swing boats. I used to love these too when I was a kid!

Traditional Victorian swing boats. I used to love these too when I was a kid!


One of the crew gets a free workout operating the carousel

One of the crew gets a free workout operating the carousel

The fairy glade

The fairy glade

Just off from the children’s area was the fairy glade, a magical place where you could learn about nature and maybe even spot a few mystical creatures. The Healing field was suitably situated away from all the action and offered therapies from head massage to reflexology and sessions in yoga and tai chi. The Campaigns Field was a must for information junkies like me. I loved the eclectic mix of tents in this field, where a charity helping traveller communities in Cornwall sat between a vegan sailing school and the women’s tent. I thought it really symbolised the coming together of all the different people who enjoy the festival. A walk through the craft area was difficult to do at any great speed because you were constantly distracted by opportunities to try wood carving, basket weaving and stone masonry to name but a few. Children aren’t patronised at Green Gathering either. If they want to try one of the crafts, they get to do it with the same tools as the adults would.


Possibly the most carbon neutral paramedics I have ever seen

Possibly the most carbon neutral paramedics I have ever seen

I could go on and on about all the attractions there are to experience at the Green Gathering, there was literally amazing events popping up all over the place. The only downside to festival for me, apart from having to cope with a three-year-old having hourly tantrums, was getting on to and off the site. Moving all our camping gear was not as easy and organised as the festival organisers made it sound on their website and it was a big effort, especially on my own with two children. Having said that, once we were on site we had a great time and I would definitely return armed with the information I have from this year to help me. In fact, my godchildren have already asked me if we can book for next year.

Everyone loves bubbles

Everyone loves bubbles

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Travel theme: Endearing

Posted by Sas on August 12, 2014

Ailsa’s travel theme this week is Endearing. And, as she aptly demonstrates on her post, possibly the most endearing beings on the planet are animals.

Click here to see more entries from this week’s travel theme.

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Plant-Based Pause No 32: Don’t Go Anywhere Without Your Re-usable Waterbottle

Posted by Sas on August 12, 2014

In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.

‘Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.’ – Alexander Graham Bell

Water Bottle

Very early on in my plant-based lifestyle, I visited a nutritional therapist. Not particularly to help me with the plant-based part of my diet, but because I knew I had at least one food allergy that I couldn’t pinpoint. One of the many great pieces of advice she gave me was to drink at least 2 litres of water per day. I’d already been told this before, but for some reason when Arwen told me it seemed to stick. She also told me to wait 30 minutes in between drinking and eating to avoid heartburn. As I’d suffered with heartburn most of my life, this bit of information was greatly received.

Since then, I’ve stuck to Arwen’s advice and I now drink plenty of water everyday. However, the environmentalist in me hates wasting plastic unnecessarily. So, disposable water bottles and the horrible little plastic cups stacked up next to our dispenser at work are out of the question. Instead, I found my new best friend.

Nowadays, I carry my re-useable water bottle with me virtually everywhere. It comes to the gym with me, it sits on my desk at work everyday and it usually finds itself caked in mud and bugs in the community garden at the weekend.

In my office, I unfortunately sit right next to the fridge, water dispenser and the coffee machine. Every day I sit there and listen to the clunk-clunk-clunk noise of people repeatedly throwing disposable plastic cups into the bin. I hate that noise, because I know that every time I hear it another piece of plastic has been used for barely more than a few seconds yet it will take years to decompose, if at all. If every colleague in my office uses two of these cups each per day on average, by buying a re-usable bottle we could save over 100 cups each per year. And that’s not including all the disposable plastic bottles that they buy from the vending machine.

I appreciate that a 1 litre water bottle isn’t the most convenient thing to carry with you in a nightclub or down the shops, but my advice is to invest in one and keep it with you whenever you can.


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Posted by Sas on August 10, 2014

No way! This week’s photo challenge is all about texture. I love taking photos of textures. I think it’s a habit that I picked up from my cousin. We used to go on holiday together a lot when we were children, and whilst the rest of us were taking photos of the local tourist attractions Hannah would be facing the other way shooting close-ups of rock faces and walls.

Here are a few I dug out from my collection:

Click here to see lots more textures.

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Travel theme: Simplify

Posted by Sas on August 6, 2014

Ailsa’s travel theme this week is Simplify (click here to see more entries).

Simplifying life for me is going camping. No electricity, no gadgets, no hustle and bustle. Just me, the tent and in recent years my godchildren too. Here are a few of my favourite camping spots from previous trips.


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Posted by Sas on August 5, 2014


I know it’s an obvious choice, and loads of other people have probably thought of it too, but the word zigzag immediately makes me think of the famous Lombard Street in San Francisco. The residential road winds back and forth to combat the steep hill that it sits on. It’s fun to look at, but I don’t think I’d like to drive it with a hangover!

Click here to see more entries from this week’s photo challenge.

Posted in Photo Challenges, Places I've Been | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »


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