The South Wales Coalfield runs under the land like veins under the skin. Deep mines, drifts and levels dotted the area and tapped the veins, drawing up the rich fuel from below. The mines were living, breathing places whose tunnels spread out like roots of a tree. Coal was the economic life blood of the whole region but, unable to compete with foreign competition, the wealth from this industry peaked almost a century ago.
Miners died for the coal, forgotten in ones or twos, but mourned by the nation when in their hundreds. A spark from a falling rock on metal, a faulty generator or an overlooked stream could snuff out a generation in moments. For others a slow death. Countless men, hands scarred blue with coal dust ground in every pore, had their lives cut short by blackened lungs. Every town has a memorial to the miners.
The coal is still there but the mines have all but gone now. In less than three decades an industry was eradicated. Pit heads sealed. Winding towers dismantled. Railway lines silent. The land has been patched over, trees planted, parks sculpted or wasteland allowed to cover the scars of industry.
The towns and villages that fed the mining boom still cling to the hillsides in thin urban strips along roads laid fifty years ago. In the edgelands new houses have been built to home a commuter generation, sold on a ticket of nostalgia but still reassuringly close to the cities. Now it is veins of tarmac and not coal that feed the economic heart. For many though there is no employment, no sense of hope, no chance to escape the claustrophobic looming hills. A valley blanketed in smoke was once the sign of industry and prosperity. Now the smoke only happens in the dry summer months, billowing from the deliberate wild fires ignited by the bored and voiceless.