Few industries are as synonymous with a nation as mining is to Wales. The Big Pit in Blaenavon is testament to the importance of the "black gold", so abundant in this part of the world, to Welsh life and heritage.
Though closed in 1979, Big Pit is Wales' oldest mine, and the main attraction now is a 50 minute underground tour of the unused mine shafts.
The guide, Des Harris, 62, from Markham, has been working down mines since the age of 15 and has a fair bit of experience under his belt.
View Larger Map He talks not just about the history of mining, but modern day techniques which ensure maximum efficiency.
Donned with ever-so-attractive plastic helmets complete with lights, around 20 people at a time are crammed into large lifts and sent 300 feet into the ground to experience typical mining conditions.
Of course conditions today are far better than they would have been at the turn of the last century. Large extractor fans at the surface mean a constant supply of fresh air and little chance of contracting the dreaded black lung. Even with the fans however there is a distinctly eggy smell which pervades the passage ways, a constant reminder of the potentially deadly gases which can gather below ground.
The passages are low and narrow, and for much of the tour even the children have to stoop. For parts the taller members are almost bent double, and even so there are a fair few bumped heads at the end of the tour.
At one point in the tour all the lights are put out to replicate the conditions children, often as young as seven, were expected to work in and even just a few moments of pitch blackness are eerily unsettling. These children would be brought to the mines in the morning by their parents, tied to the interior mine doors with a leather strap and left for twelve hours at a time to open doors for the coal as it came up through the mine. Usually left with just a single candle, they would sit in darkness for most of the day.
Another task reserved for children would be looking after the mine ponies which were used to pull coal around the mines. These ponies were kept in small sqaure stables and would never actually go above the surface from when they were brought down the mine as four-year-olds to their retirement at 13. Being confined to darkness for much of the day, pit ponies often went blind. Brutal as this might sound, Harris reminds us they actually worked shorter hours than any of the people, including children, as they only ever worked eight-hour shifts.
It is clear the miners here are proud of their coal, which apparently is the best smoking coal in the world, and proud of the heritage it has given them.
Though mining seems a cruel and primitive trade to modern audiences, it should be remembered that though it was undoubtedly a dangerous place to work, it was also a place of great friendship and camaraderie.
Big Pit is free and underground tours run between 10am and 3pm.