Big Pit is situated in Blaenafon and is classed as a working mine and allows visitors a chance to experience a real life mine. Entry is free, although parking is £3.00 for the day. Mum and I arrived a little before 12pm and it was about 4pm when we finally left.
The buildings there are as they were when the mine was used for mining coal, now the former miners working there take groups down underground and tell them about life in the mines both in the recent past and much further back. That's right, you don't just learn about the mine from a tour guide who never did it; your tour guide has worked underground and what's more, the tour takes place 90 meters underground!
The first thing that happens when you arrive for your underground tour is that you're kitted out in hard hat (very useful, there are some very low ceilings underground and I'm only 5' 2"!) with a head light and (though they don't tell you what it is at the time) a canister containing enough oxygen for an hour. Once we were underground our guide told me that canisters like the ones we were carrying had saved his life underground twice! Luckily there are no photos of me in my underground gear, though I'm sure I looked very fetching.
As it's a working mine, even though it isn't mining coal any more, there are some rules you must follow before you are allowed down the pit. There are no batteries allowed underground which includes mobile phones, cameras and watches. I was a little bit miffed at having to divest myself of my Fitbit, especially has I must've walked a good three or four thousand steps, at least, under there. But I suppose I'd rather not blow myself or any of the party up either, so I was willing to make that small sacrifice.
You travel down the mineshaft in a proper lift, controlled by a massive wheel and engine room (we did go for a wander around the engine room when we came back up from the pit). It was fascinating walking around under the ground. The thing that stuck with me most of all was when we were talking about what life would've been like for children in a mine over a hundred years ago. The tour guide had us all turn off our head lamps and hold a finger six inches from our faces, then he turned off his head lamp and you couldn't see a thing. He explained that the children who worked in the mines could have spent hours in darkness so thick they couldn't even see a few inches away.
We also saw the places where the pit ponies would have been stabled and learned about how safety procedures changed as rules and regulations were brought into effect. It was fascinating.
The mine is situated partway up the side of the hill so when we were back above ground Mum and I strolled up the hill to the canteen before exploring the former showers. They have an exhibition there which shows what life was like for the families of the miners, how their equipment changed over time, great mining disasters in Wales as well as the mine's medical room.
It was a really fascinating trip out and one which I'd definitely recommend for anyone who will be visiting the area; as long as you don't mind the dark and small spaces.